30/07/12 - The Great Ongoing Kindle Debate...where do you stand?

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators” – Stephen Fry.

As a recent Kindle covert, I am inclined to agree with Mr Fry on this point, as I am inclined to agree with him on nearly every point as he is a national treasure and generally a bit of a babe.  And his autobiographies are well worth a read if you get chance!

Personally, I put off getting a Kindle for a very long time for a variety of reasons, the main one being that the idea made me feel a bit like a sell-out.  I’m a massive hoarder of books (as are my entire family – there are books in literally every room of our house) and there’s just something about owning books that I really like – seeing them all lined up on shelves, piled around my room where there’s no more space for them, the action of actually turning pages to find out what’s going to happen.  Nothing beats wandering around a library or a bookshop, pulling titles off the shelves and discovering books you never knew existed.  Anyone who has ever borrowed a book from me will probably find it covered in green highlighter, indicating my favourite passages or lines that have particularly inspired me.  It’s something I’ve grown up with and reading has always been one of my life’s greatest pleasures.  So I wasn’t convinced by the idea of replacing that magic of paper and ink with a screen.  Reading was always the last refuge in my life that hadn’t been taken over by the digital.  It was my last form of entertainment that didn’t involve a screen.  Also, as the daughter of a librarian and a part-time library assistant myself, I’m not a fan of anything that will potentially start endangering libraries even more than they already are.  The threat of the e-reader to the publishing industry and everything connected with that (bookshops, both independent and chain stores, libraries, etc.) was something that I was in no way willing to sell into.

And then a very lovely friend of mine began to talk me around.  As a fellow English student, she knows the hardships of a course which requires spending an absolute fortune on books which you then have to lug around with you in back-breakingly heavy quantities.  Travelling to and from uni at Christmas and Easter with a suitcase full of anthologies and novels is no mean feat.  And then there’s the issue of storage – in university, you will study a novel for a week, two at most, and then it will be relegated to the revision pile for a few weeks of mad annotating for essays or exams, or it will be stuck on a shelf gathering dust for the rest of the term.  Not ideal when I already have enough books doing that to sink a small naval ship.  Then there’s the cost issue.  The Amazon Kindle Store very kindly provides a huge number of classic novels, plays and poetry are available for free…something to do with copyright and public domain, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that this has already saved me a lot of money on the Shakespeare anthology I would otherwise have had to spend upwards of £30 on for my third year module.  A lot of other books are also available at a much cheaper price than if you were to purchase the paper edition.

So I got a Kindle.  This lovely friend of mine was selling her very well-cared-for and almost new Kindle Keyboard 3G for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy from Amazon, and she threw in the case as well.  And by some stroke of technological wonder that neither of us understand, I was able to retrieve all of the books she already had on the Kindle to add to the ones I have subsequently downloaded.  So thank you Rachel, you beautiful human being, and thank you to the Kindle gods for whatever happened there!  Thus far, I have only actually paid for one book for said Kindle and that is one that I will need for my dissertation.  For this reason, I suspect that I will use it, in the short term at least, as an academic tool and little more.  In terms of reading for pleasure, nothing quite beats holding an actual book.  And I have so many around my room that need reading, I can’t justify buying more to read on a Kindle!  But I will say that I have found it very useful and reading on it as not as hideous an experience as I had expected it to be.  I think I’ll become more comfortable with it as I get used to using it.  Another plus; Kindles and BlackBerries have the same charger fitting - who knew?

I do agree that the rise of the e-reader has enabled a lot of people to read books in public that they would otherwise never be seen dead with outside their own home – I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey fans (and do not even get me started on that phenomenon).  Personally, I can’t think of a book that I would be too embarrassed to be seen reading, but nonetheless, if this shift towards digitalising everything in life will encourage more people to read, surely that can’t be bad.  Only time will tell how far the development of technology will affect the publication of physical books, but for me at least, it will never replace them.  Nearly everyone I know who owns a Kindle still purchases, borrows and reads physical copies of books.  A girl I work with has a Kindle, a Sony e-reader and a paper book all on the go at one time!  Some may call that overkill, but I think it’s a positive thing.  It will be a long time, in my opinion, before we move away from printed books altogether.

What do you think about it?  Are you a Kindle fan, or a reading purist?  Do you think you could be converted?  Let me know!

28/07/12 - Theatre review: National Theatre Live - Frankenstein

Having missed the sell-out performances of Frankenstein when it first played at the National Theatre – the result of living up North and being a poor student – and then again the first round of NT Live screenings last year, I thought I’d lost my chance.  Which means I was over the moon to find out that, due to its huge popularity, the National Theatre would be screening the production again in the summer of 2012.  After convincing my dad that of course this was what he wanted to do on Father’s Day, we booked tickets to the showing on Sunday 17th June, with Johnny Lee Miller playing the role of the Creature.  Because, for anyone who isn’t aware, that was part of this production’s immense appeal; the novelty of the two leading actors (Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch) swapping the roles of Frankenstein and his monster on alternate nights (or weeks, I’m not entirely certain on the details).

I went into the cinema with absolutely no preconceptions.  I have never read Mary Shelley’s original novel nor seen any of the many screen adaptations.  I was aware of the stereotypical Frankenstein image – tall, green, bolt through the neck – but I knew that wouldn’t be what I was about to see.  What I did witness was a spectacular production which raised some pretty heavy moral issues, despite some inconsistency in the abilities of the supporting cast.  Danny Boyle's direction was innovative and there were actually some elements in the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony which were reminiscent of Frankenstein.

I thought that Johnny Lee Miller, an actor I had heard of but never actually seen in anything before, did a spectacular job of portraying the development of the Creature – both moral and physical.  The first ten minutes involve Miller emerging from what can only be described as a “womb” of sorts and then giving one of the most impressive physical performances I think I have ever witnessed – the movements and sounds are those of an infant becoming accustomed to their new body and to the things it is capable of.  There is something almost distressing about witnessing this lack of control in a grown man, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the production as he is harshly sent away by the man who created him, Victor Frankenstein.  The moral implications of the role are also sensitively handled by the actor’s portrayal – his horrific, crudely stitched-together appearance means that the only kindness he meets is from an elderly blind man, De Lacey, who teaches him to speak and read, and essentially civilises him.  However, when De Lacey’s son drives the Creature away, he becomes wildly destructive and reveals a much more brutish side to the character who had previously seemed so innocent and misunderstood.  These two aspects successfully combine throughout the production to create a dangerously unpredictable character, one who switches from displays of bestial violence to reciting Milton’s Paradise Lost in mere seconds. 

I was very interested to see Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Creature – as soon as we got home from the cinema, we booked tickets to see the reverse casting on Thursday 5th July at FACT in Liverpool. Anyone who knows me can tell you what a huge fan I am of Benedict’s work, particularly in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series.  However, I was a little apprehensive to see his handling of such a complex role.  I had no doubts in his abilities as an actor, but Miller’s Creature was just such a sympathetic character and I couldn’t quite imagine Cumberbatch living up to that.  Benedict’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein was superb – he was well-suited to the role, and there were aspects of the performance which were reminiscent of the ‘tortured genius’ vibe he gives off as Sherlock Holmes.  However, whenever I found myself starting to feel sympathetic towards him, he would do or say something which undermined it.  I felt that that was incredibly effective as it really raises some questions about the nature of good and evil, and who is truly the “monster” in this situation.

In contrast to this, I found Johnny Lee Miller's Victor a little...lack-lustre.  He was good, don't get me wrong, but I felt that Benedict was much more able to do the role justice.  I found Benedict's Creature to be a little more difficult to pin down.  He was certainly a sympathetic character, although not quite so much as Miller's was, but the more animalistic side seemed to be emphasised.  Overall, Benedict was much more consistently good  between the two performances, whereas JLM's Creature vastly outshone his Victor.

Although there were elements of Nick Dear's script which I felt let the production down a little, the overall performance was stunning enough to distract me from that.  The combination of the stellar leading performances with an impressive set and amazing use of light and sound left me feeling incredibly moved.  When we left, my mum asked me an interesting question – “Would you say you enjoyed that?”  It wasn’t something I found easy to answer.  The production was visually spectacular, the moral message ambiguous enough to spark a healthy debate on the car ride home and the whole thing was a complete departure from what people have generally come to typically associate with the idea of Frankenstein.  But did I actively enjoy it?  With some distance from it, yes I did.  Immensely.  But at the time, I felt slightly like I’d lost the ability to function.  It was a pretty harrowing experience which raised a lot of questions I did not, and still do not, feel equipped to answer about the nature of humanity.  I feel like seeing the production a second time and getting to experience a slightly different interpretation helped me to get my head around it a little more.  Although it’s most definitely not a production for the faint-hearted, featuring a lot of violence, pretty distressing scenes from the start and culminating in a completely unexpected rape scene towards the end, I thought it was a wonderful production.  There have been rumours that the National Theatre are considering releasing a DVD of the performances and I really hope that this is true.  I know a lot of people who would have liked to see the screenings missed out for various reasons, which is such a shame.  So come on, National Theatre, let's make this happen!

If you want to watch the official trailer, you can find it here.  Did you see this production, whether at the National Theatre or one of the NT Live screenings?  What did you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments section!

28/07/12 - So here it is...

No comments:

I've been struggling to write some form of introduction post for this blog for a few days now.  I have a couple of posts already drafted, a couple more ideas in the pipeline...but this first post has really had me stumped.  What am I meant to say?  Whatever I write here will be very similar to the 'About Me' section, but it seems a cop-out to just redirect you to there.  So...

Hannah, 20, English student, currently splitting my life between the North West and the North East of England.  I'm a bit of a nerd, but my interests range from musical theatre to Doctor Who to make-up and fashion.  I read a lot of blogs, watch a lot of YouTube videos and generally spend too much of my life in front of a screen.  I love travelling but unfortunately don't get many opportunities to do so.  I am about to start writing my third year dissertation (eek!) on the Harry Potter series, which is turning out to be a more daunting task than I originally anticipated.  I'm turning into a bit of a foodie recently, which some people find hard to believe because, as a vegetarian, I'm narrowing my food options by a large proportion from the outset.  

This blog will be a mish-mash of whatever comes into my head - reviews, recipes, general updates of my life.  Whatever I fancy really.  I hope you like it!

I don't know what else there is to say really.  Proper blogging will be up and running soon, and if there's anything more you want to know, don't be shy about asking in the comments, etc!