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Top Ten Literary Characters

In Books, Top Ten on November 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I first created this list as a lightweight alternative to engaging my brain with daunting MA research but actually found myself very intrigued by what I felt were some of the strongest characters in literature – as well as some choices that may not appear to be the obvious characters to choose. This turned out to be a surprisingly tough challenge and had me consulting my bookcase (yes, I have thus far avoided caving in to Amazon’s demands that I get a Kindle) and choosing from a variety of texts ranging from airport/pulp fiction (Valley of the Dolls’ Neely O’Hara almost made the list) to historical classics (Dickens’ steely Estella from Great Expectations just missing the boat) to the new contemporary, theory driven texts (Jed from McEwan’s Enduring Love – perhaps the limp film adaptation scuppered Jed’s chances?).

Sadly in order to come up with the list I had to sacrifice the many wonderful characters existing in plays as it just became too many to comprehend – so apologies to the Mother Tulls, Miss Julies, Lord Gorings and Willy Lomans and my condolences to Shakespeare’s Iagos, Portias, Falstaffs and hunchbacked Richards.

Finally, before the list – just to say that one of the things that surprised me was that the list largely neglected some of my favourite authors – the characters in Douglas Coupland, James Baldwin, Don Delillo, Tom Wolfe etc clearly weren’t the dominating aspects of those novels.

Also I would like to say that I am very aware that I haven’t read everything! If you would like to suggest other classic characters then let me know! Email me at literaryjarvis@gmail.com – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Now without much further ado:

 

1. Holden Caufield (Catcher in the Rye: J. D. Salinger)
For me Holden Caufield captures the narrative voice of a post-war generation dealing with such grand anxieties as alienation, apathy and isolation. A cynic at just 17, Holden’s skeptical world view keeps the reader enthralled as he views a world that’s phoniness is finally being realised. However beyond these large themes – despite his wise-beyond-his-years criticisms he is also endearingly self deprecating, funny and his hopelessness with women highlights some of the more universal and humble follies of being young, horny and terrible with chat up lines.

 

2.Sebastian Flyte (Brideshead Revisited : Evelyn Waugh)
Perhaps I am only using Sebastian Flyte to express my love that that sad teddy bear Aloysius! More charm than Winnie the Poor with none of the anthropomorphism! Seriously though, Sebastian’s role attracts us with both it’s tragic self destruction and glamorous wit. The eccentric, aristocratic, (let’s face it, brazenly homosexual) alcoholic train-wreck that struggles with his relationships with his family, with poker-faced narrator Charles and the overbearing Catholic shadow that overhangs the Flytes and Marchmains. Through Sebastian and his sister Julia, Waugh’s wit flows sharp and fast. And of course, who couldn’t love a grown man with a teddy-bear…

 

3.Mrs Dubose (To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee)
I first read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the age of 9 and even then I loved the character of the cantankerous and sharp-tongued wheelchair-bound octogenarian first described as ‘Plain Hell’. At this age the reason why I loved her escaped me, though as I returned to the book and paid more attention to Atticus’ testament to her, I realised it was admiration for her bravery. A dying woman, she resigns herself to kicking the morphine addiction that has plagued her so that she may die beholden to nothing and nobody – “the bravest person I ever knew” – Atticus Finch.

 

4.Boxer (Animal Farm: George Orwell)
Did you cry? I cried. I was never able to look at glue in the same way again. The only non-human on the list, Boxer the horse is pure, dedicated, loyal and hardworking to a fault. In a book filled with loathsome human-like animals and grotesque animal-like humans, Boxer was one of the few characters you could truly feel for. Sadly, though all animals are equal, some are more equal than others and Boxer’s blind faith doesn’t protect him.

 

5.Daisy Buchanon (The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Surely Daisy deserves the mother-of-the-year award for her child, Pammy, who scarcely gets a mention in the novel….perhaps she was left in one of Gatsby’s wine cabinets or rolled under the sofa… The character of Daisy is a much more subtle attack on the American ‘old-money’ aristocracy than her heavy handed husband Tom, it is Daisy’s ultimate cowardice and inability to leave behind the only world she’s ever known to join Great Gatsby – the self-made man – that is his ultimate disservice. Not only is Daisy the unwitting and self-absorbed spider in the centre of the novel’s web, she also gets some of the best lines…. “I’ve never seen such…such beautiful shirts before” (whilst she weeps clutching at Gatsby’s sartorial extravagances).

 

6.Carlo Marx (On the Road: Jack Kerouac)
Ok, maybe I’m cheating here as a way to include my favourite poet – Allen Ginsburg. Jack Kerouac’s on the road may well be synonymous with the pocket-guide for figures of the Beat generation including Neal Cassidy, Alan Ansen, William S. Burroughs and of course Allen Ginsberg, all under thinly disguised pseudonyms (Ginsberg was accused of communist sympathies during Joseph mcCarthy’s reign of anti-Reds fire). For me, Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg was what Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy could never truly manage – a truly free spirit, reveling in free spirit without the torment of fatherly abandonment and beholdenment to a platitude of abandened women and children. The novel also contains many allusions to its contemporary piece of literature – Howl, the best knownpoem of Ginsberg’s – with Carlo’s waxing lyrical about the Denver Doldrums and many other similar themes.

 

7.Inspector Javert (Les Miserables: Victor Hugo)
Ever read Victor Hugo’s behemoth of a novel? it’s bloody hard work and seems never-endless – I’m still amazed that they trimmed it down to a two and a half musical. A novel spanning most of France and many decades, filled with historical and political backgrounds and acting as a true voice for France’s underdogs – the beggars, the students, the whores, the downtrod and the wretched, it is Hugo’s hymn to the human spirit. It is a mark of Hugo’s phenomenal ability to understand the human nature that it’s primary antagonist, the dogmatic and tenacious Inspector Javert, is not an evil spirit bent on petty revenge for saint-like Jean Valjean’s minor crime misdemeanors but is himself a victim of an inflexible and damning morality, a morality so ingrained in him by his hard-handed upbringing that when his world view is shattered, he can see no other alternative.

 

8.Pauline Mole (Adrian Mole’s Diary series: Sue Townsend)
I sometimes think my actual mother likes to base herself on the chain-smoking, pop-liberalist, Thatcher hating mother of Adrian Mole. Throughout his diaries we follow her three marriages to the same man, immersion in Greer-feminism, fierce maternal pride and contrasting brazen put downs of her social failure of a son – including her utter dismay when his marriage to smart and successful Nigerian Jojo disintegrates. I don’t really have much more to say about Pauline other than I love her and she has made me laugh more than any other fictional character.

 

9.Jean (American Psycho : Bret Easton Ellis)
When reading Easton Ellis’ tour de force, capturing the zeitgeist of late 80s/early 90s materialism and the anesthetization of violence, I remember feeling a constant anxiety for the wellbeing of Jean – the devotee Patrick Bateman refers to as “my secretary who is in love with me”. Possibly the only moral calm point in the book’s turbulent narrative and plethora of grotesque and self-involved consumerist characters, her banal conversation and demure attraction make her the most human character in this dark satire. Also she was played by Chloe Sevigny in the film adaptation. And she rocks.

 

10.Dr. Prunesquallor (Gormenghast trilogy : Mervyn Peake)
Gormenghast castle’s resident physician, complete nerd and self indulgent fop…and unlikely hero. Mervyn Peake reserved the very best of his wordplay for Prunesquallor’s self important babble, whilst we get the impression that he is indeed far more intelligent than the other comparatively medieval characters, his character falls and strange lonely existence with his equally virginal spinster sister make him as much a fool as the others. Nevertheless, it is his own deductions and attention to detail that ultimately saves the castle and its denizens from a Machiavellian villain!

by Daniel Jarvis

Daniel Jarvis is a postgrad student at University of Manchester studying Contemporary Literature. He also works part time in a children’s art centre. He’s a bit of a culture vulture and can often be seen in bookshops, galleries, theatres and cinemas. In his spare time he likes dinosaurs, walking and finding excuses to get chorizo into as many recipes as possible. His ideal pet would be a tapir.

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Top Ten Randomised Book Pairings

In Books, Top Ten on March 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

After years of having my books thematically organised I decided it would be much more fun to have them in no sequence whatsoever.  So I pulled them all off the shelves, shuffled them around, then replaced them completely at random, with absolutely no conscious engineering of which books might go next to each other.   I would strongly recommend this exercise, it’s very liberating.  Moreover, it’s also quite entertaining to look along your shelves afterwards, and see which books have ended up next to each other.  I came across some interesting “pairings”, some of them funny, some eclectic, some surreal, and some downright disturbing.

So here are my Top Ten randomised book pairings, in no order of preference.

1.         100 Great Lives

            Weird Deaths

It’s the juxtaposition of the two extremes in the titles that I like about this one. Life and death, side by side.  One book contains mini-biographies of 100 famous people, from Alexander the Great to Winston Churchill.  The other provides short and true anecdotes about bizarre and crazy ways of dying – about 150 of them (so death certainly has the edge).  One is supposed to be inspiring, the other will make you collapse in a helpless heap of schadenfreude.

2.         Wild Swans – by Jung Chang

            Tragically I was an only Twin – by Peter Cooke

Jung Chang is a clever woman and an excellent writer, but she can be stern and serious, and I suspect she would be rather grim company (well to be fair she did have a rotten childhood growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution).  But being next to the anarchic and foul-mouthed Peter Cooke might do her good and lighten her up a bit.

3.         Weaveworld – by Clive Barker

            Very Good Jeeves –  by P G Wodehouse

The master of gruesome horror fantasy is now sitting alongside an English upper-class dimwit and his forbearing butler.  What a strange conversation that could be.

4.         River out of Eden – by Richard Dawkins

            The autobiography of Roy Keane

This could easily end up in a punch-up: angry Catholic footballer versus angry atheist academic……

5.         Among the Believers – by V S Naipaul

            Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst – by Barbara Castle

            A Room of One’s Own – by Virginia Woolf

V S Naipaul is a male writer who recently spoken rather disdainfully of female writers.  Now he’s sandwiched in between two forthright and formidable women, Virginia Woolf and Barbara Castle, not to mention the Pankhurst girls. Serves him right.

6.         Writing Home – by Alan Bennett

            Selected Letters and Journals – by Lord Byron

Two gifted humourists together – they could have been very amusing together, but I fear Alan Bennett would just be too incoherent with excitement over his new neighbour to make a decent contribution

7.         An English Madam: The Life and Work of Cynthia Payne – by Paul Bailey

Stories – by Oscar Wilde

Cynthia Payne is the cheerful lady who devised the ingenious sex for lunch vouchers scheme, which were apparently popular with high profile judges and political figures.  I’m very happy to say that she is now in the witty and genial company of Oscar Wilde. What a delightful pairing and what bawdy gossip they could exchange!

8          (Oh dear!)

Heidi – by Johanna Spyri

            Justine – by the Marquis de Sade

I felt so queasy when I came across this one – little Swiss Heidi in the company of the man with the filthiest imagination in Europe – that I broke my rule and rearranged them.  They’re no longer even on the same floor – the Marquis’ new neighbour is a book about the rules of the game of boules, which should keep him out of trouble, and Heidi is now safely snuggled up to Squirrel Nutkin.

9.         Candide – by Voltaire

            A Drink with Shane MacGowan – by Shane MacGowan & Victoria Mary Clarke

A sophisticated philosopher and a permanently rat-arsed songwriter, both geniuses in their own ways, a shame they will be mutually unintelligible.

10.       The Marx Brothers Scrapbook

            The Second Sex – by Simone de Beauvoir

Although none of the foregoing are in any order of preference, I think this one is my favourite.  I keep imagining the austere de Beauvoir playing the Margaret Dumont role, stoically forbearing,  as Harpo tries to steal her turban, and Groucho makes insulting remarks about the size of her feet. It’s a wonderful scenario.

By Mary Redshaw

Former public servant and international relations practitioner, now cheerfully unemployed and keeping busy with reading, blogging, pratting around on the internet, walking the dog, and watching telly.

Top ten things I did whilst writing an essay

In Books, Essay, Top Ten on January 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

10. Drew a picture of a pig in a pirate costume and named him Geoffrey. Developed Geoffrey’s character a little, FYI – he’s had a sad past because both his parents were eaten by rival pirates. He wants to be vegan but he eats a lot of swill and can’t guarantee what the ingredients are. He’s a good pig really but he has got quite an unshakeable addiction to rum and accidentally killed his little sister, Mollie, who is a Hello Kitty doll that I won in a grabbing machine in the student bar.

9. Rolled a cigarette out of three rizla papers like I used to do when I smoked pot. Got half way down it and felt a little sick.

8. Tried to learn origami, made a swan, then considered buying lots of construction paper and making a whole army of swans. Put that on my list of things to do. Could be one of my “things”.

7. Got involved in a heated Direct Message argument regarding Posh Boys – their pros and cons. E,g

Pros: Sound a bit like Hugh Grant, sometimes are quite moneyed, sometimes have a bit of
homosexuality lurking in their history which excites me, often dressed like farmers /
croupiers, have such a lack of awareness of the world that they are borderline autistic,
are endlessly fascinated by things like Greggs and fish fingers, sexually quiet submissive.

Cons: there’s a  risk they vote Conservative / are in the Conservative party, are often much
cleverer than me which threatens my fragile poetic ego, not used to not getting what they
want / perhaps too demanding in the bedroom, pronounce “house” as “hice”.

Came to the conclusion that the pros outweigh the cons and resolved to move to London and meet a young aristocrat, marry him, and seduce him out of his millions.

7. Watched every single episode of Peep Show ever made. Felt an enormous sense of achievement. Said: “This is bullshit, Mark” in the voice of Johnson to the essay staring at me from the computer screen. Laughed at my own impermeable wit.

6. Thought about setting up a separate Tumblr account reserved entirely for pictures of dogs in party hats / the pictures of dogs are interspersed with quotes attributed to Gustave Flaubert adding a sort of deep yet haunting quality to the pictures.

5. Painted my nails black, waited for the polish to dry, scraped it all off with my teeth, painted them again and remembered how when I  was at primary school I’d put that weird paste glue on my hands and then wait for it to dry and be wholly fascinated and satisfied with peeling it back off again. Like putting your hand in a bag of rice, that level of satisfaction.

4. Downloaded an app on my phone that helps me to learn German. Hated the app’s condescending tone and developed many negative opinions on the woman narrating the app and why she has such a fucking hectoring, superior tone.

3.  Thought about my future in academia, worried that if I can’t even write this one stupid essay then I should probably give up all together; imagined I could be a famous poet and live in and out of decadent squats in Mayfair and Chelsea, make friends with people called Allegra and Thibault, imagined the reality to be more like signing on the dole and working as a checkout girl forever, repeating witty epigrams to the more articulate of my customers without warning, getting a reputation as “crazy Asda lady”. Still it’s a possibility I wouldn’t entirely shirk from.

2. Tried to make a secret compartment in a book to hide secret things in. Ruined a book and have nothing small / secret enough to hide.

1. Went to write “Twitter” into my browser but autofill suggested “TW Adorno Holocaust theory” and swore aloud at my computer for eating into my social networks. Seeing this as a sign of such commitment to my research, bought a bottle of wine and drank it to reward myself for all my hard work.

by Sian Rathore

Sian Rathore: 22 years old, recently published by Bad Language, Cake and Stride magazine, forthcoming work appearing in Up Literature, newly appointed fiction editor of Metazen, poet and critic. 

Top Ten Strangest Books I Own

In Books, Top Ten on January 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Books that are either weird in of themselves, or books where the ownership of them is odd. Presented with sample quotes and commentary.

10. The Twelfth Anniversary Playboy Reader by Various. An incredible compilation of short stories and interviews from the late sixties and early seventies. Includes fascinating conversations with Nabokov, Martin Luther King, short fiction from Matheson and Bradbury.

King: “I should have stayed in prison.”

9. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. No, I have no idea how or why I have this book. I don’t know where it came from. It just appeared one day. I think perhaps that’s how all households get hold of it.

“This is an example of what can happen when the wave and the rubber band occur around the same time.”

8. Short Stories by William Shakespeare. They are not by him. There is no real author credited. A neighbour gave this book to me. It features each of Shakespeares major dramas turned into short stories. As expected they are terrible.

“Katherine, the shrew, was the eldest daughter of Baptista.”

7. The New Unofficial X-Files Companion by N.E. Genge. An in depth analysis of the third season of the nineties sci-fi horror show. Features absolutely no information of any consequence. Is enough to make even me feel a little nerdy.

“EAT POPCORN

EAT POPCORN

EAT POPCORN”

6. Angel by Katie Price. An embarrasment of riches. Obviously. The result of an over enthusiastic neighbour learning that I owned books.

“She whispered in a voice full of emotion.”

5. The Science of Self Realisation by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Seriously, why don’t I own two of these?

“I never expressed nor felt disgust at the chanting of the name of Krsna.”

4. The True History of the Elephant Man by Peter Ford. Actually rather brilliant, the inspiration behind the David Lynch film and Alan Moore’s From Hell. Track it down, kill for it.

“As a specimin of humanity, Merrick was ignoble and repulsive; but the spirit of Merrick, if it could be seen in the form of the living, would assume the figure of an upstanding and heroic man, smooth browed and clean of limb, and with eyes that flashed undaunted courage.”

3. Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsey. Neighbour again. Contains arrogance and the following sentence.

“We were used to second hand shit.”

2. The Know by Martina Cole. A weighty tome, with a title that makes little to no sense. The cover has one of those strange photographed covers, with real actors. Possibly so that idiots purchase it thinking there’s a film of it out soon.

“Listen to me Mum, he’s a fucking nonce.”

1. World War 3: A military projection founded on today’s facts by Shelford Bidwell. Predictions from this ex Brigadier General include the idea of spaceships and light-weapons fighting wars for us.

“West Germany is the predestined battlefield of World War 3.”

by Daniel Carpenter

Daniel Carpenter is the current fiction editor for blankpages and one of the editors for Bad Language. He runs this blog. He once went to the future. You turn out alright.