30 day book challenge – day 9

This list has been through so many edits, that in the end I just decided I needed to post whatever I had at that moment and be done with it. I could always change my mind…

101 Great Expectations

1. Your 10 favourite books of all time

This has been a very strenuous list to compile. Even though I can easily say when I don’t like a book, choosing only 10 out of everything I’ve read? Tough call… And what about all the other books? Won’t they feel betrayed? Left out? Racked with self-doubt? Okay, I may be taking this a little too far. In no particular order (aside from #1) are my choices:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’ve mentioned this one on several occasions, both on here and our other blog http://www.ithinkthereforeiamsterm.wordpress.com. It’s on the 100 best novels list and on countless others. A brilliant (only) novel from a notoriously shy author.


2. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A tremendous, outlandish, yet all-too-possible look at a hypothetical future. Atwood is one of the best novelists of this time, and if you are yet to discover any…

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Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht


Yep, a book shop in a church.


The internal architecture makes it really quite difficult to photograph this beauty, so just imagine a large church with, instead of pews, three stories of scaffolding which form the upper levels of books.


Selexyz is a stalwart of best book shop lists worldwide, for instance this Guardian article.


Selexyz is a behemoth, and starkly contrasts with the chthonic warrens beloved by many book store aficionados, such as Shakespeare and Company, Paris.


One could argue that the shear size of the place strips back some of the magic of a great book shop, but most things installed in former churches (clubs, climbing walls etc) make for an impressive spectacle and this is no exception. So if you find yourself in Maastricht, which is unlikely on account of it being on the way to just about nowhere, Selexyz is well worth a visit.



DoeDeMee is an art project which has a bigger purpose: to help fight illiteracy. A worthy cause; everyday I take for granted the easy access I have to the characters, images and worlds encased in literature.

They’ve redesigned the 100 book covers of The Observer’s greatest novels of all time using 100 artists from 28 different countries.

The website explains:

The result is not only a unique cross-section of contemporary trends in design and illustration, it is also a wonderful collection of posters that has you contemplating on those great reading moments we as literate people often take for granted.

If you head over to the website, you can flick through the whole gallery, but here are some of my favourites.

Wuthering Heights redesigned by Lara Crow

As so many artists and different books were involved, there’s a visual smorgasbord for you to explore. If you really like them, you can purchase them and some of the money will go towards fighting illiteracy. Crackin’.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde redesigned by Sandra Monat

To Kill A Mockingbird redesigned by Paul Boardman

Brave New World redesigned by Mark Alastair

Robinson Crusoe redesigned by Dima Boulad


My name is Laura and I am a bibliophile

There. I said it.

I love pretty much everything about books. What they contain, how they look, smell, feel. I like looking at bookshelves, spending time in libraries and book shops. I think my ideal job would be a book critic or an owner of a book shop. I have hopes of living in a house with a dedicated library that has shelves right to the ceiling and one of those amazing old-fashioned ladders which can move along the stacks. I was always jealous of Belle in Beauty and The Beast. I’d tell him I loved him if it meant I would get that bitchin’ library.

Due to our shared love of reading, Callum and I have decided to set up a new blog, devoted solely to working our way through one of those ‘must read’ book lists. None of the reviews have actually been written yet, so there’s no lovely content to share, so instead I’m going to devote this post to my favourite book of all time: To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve already written a review of the book, which you can find here, so this post is literally about showing how wonderful one of my copies of the text is (I own three).

The cloth cover with illustrations by Aafke Brouwer

If you’ve never heard of the Folio Society and you like books, then I suggest that you have a look at their website and get ready to find new editions that you have. To. Have. NOW. (A particular favourite of mine is their edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.) My edition of Mockingbird was a birthday present, which others are not allowed to touch. Especially if they haven’t washed their hands.

The lovelies keep on coming…

I’m not always in favour of adding illustrations to books; I like relying on my own imagination to conjure up the settings and faces of the plot but these really add something to the text.

The Ewells’ house

Atticus on guard duty

Helen Robinson when she learns of Tom’s death


They’re coming to get you Barbara!

And John. And Mike, Natalie, Tania, Greg. Everybody really, no one’s brain is safe.

So, I’m talking about zombies, specifically Max Brooks’ guide to surviving them. You may not be taking this subject seriously (because most people don’t) but give Max a chance and he’ll have you feeling like a sceptical fool, like a fool I tells ya.

Image courtesy of zombieheaven.co.uk

Before I had read any of Max Brooks’ work on zombies, I was already pondering how to survive a zombie apocalypse (only on occasion, not constantly. I’m not weird…) as my favourite film is Shaun of the Dead and I think I’ve watched it approximately 287 times.

The end of the human race does seem to be a morbid fascination for a lot of people and the zombie hypothesis is very “now”. Zombie walks seem to be catching on in more cities (they have one here in Amsterdam) and the success of the US tv show The Walking Dead appears to be continuing public appetite for the undead.

So, back to the book… I’ll be upfront, it’s been a while since I’ve read Survival Guide so if a zombie outbreak does happen, I’ll need to put my speed reading pants on while maintaining a sharp lookout for any incoming ghouls.

The book begins with a section entitled ‘The Undead: Myths and Realities’, where Brooks starts off with an explanation of ‘Solanum’, the virus which can turn people into zombies (your scepticism level is at a 10 here), zombie types and attributes and finishes with the different classes of zombie outbreaks.

Aww aren't they adorable? Still from Zombieland, another decent comedy zombie film. Courtesy of zombiecommand.com

Now he’s got you settled in this hypothetical world, Brooks moves on to more practical matters: weaponry and combat techniques. He evaluates each option, accompanying them with simple manual-style drawings so you can better imagine which you would choose to help you fight off the hoards of blood-hungry undead. (Scepticism level has dipped to 7 here as you start to think “Even if it’s not zombies I need to fight off, I’m probably not as bad-ass as I’d always imagined”.)

Found this on the internet a while ago, but have no idea where.

Survival Guidecovers pretty much any situation imaginable: defending, attacking, being on the run, living in an undead world. He gives you general rules for each scenario, along with evaluations of terrain, vehicles, strategies, duration, buildings and weapons. Again. (Scepticism level is now at 4. “28 Days Later seemed a little far-fetched at the time but now I know all this, maybe it’s not so ludicrous…”)

Okay, so he’s written in a sufficiently sober tone and covered any area you could think of. You’ve unwittingly found yourself choosing and discounting weapons and tactics but there’s not anything else he could pull out of the bag to undermine your better judgement. Is there? How about a list of recorded attacks, dating from 60,000 B.C. to 2002.

A still from Shaun of the Dead, courtesy of best-horror-movies.com

Of course, it’s pseudo-history. No one really believes there have so many attacks from zombies that have been either lost to history or covered up by governments. Governments are, um, honest. Sometimes. Shit. (Scepticism level: 1.) Uh-oh, he’s reserved a space at the back of the book for a journal of suspicious events. Which weapon did he say would be best…?

What sticks with you after you’ve finished Survival Guide is rampant paranoia; you’re actually starting to listen out for the sounds of society breaking down and raw flesh being ripped from bone. Brooks’ tag line is ‘Complete Protection from the Living Dead’ and he’s not exaggerating – the only things he’s left for you to do is stockpile the canned food, choose your best weapon and lie in wait.


If you just can't get enough to satisfy your undead cravings, try World War Z

P.S. If you hadn’t heard of Max Brooks before reading this post, the name might be a little more familiar after next year (possibly, I don’t think there’s an official date). Brad Pitt is starring in a film adaptation of another of Brooks’ books, World War Z, which is set in an post-zombie apocalyptic world

Nothin’s real scary except in books

If you know which book the above quote is from, I applaud you and give you permission to look about you smugly, even if you’re alone. Done? Okay, let us begin…

It really was only a matter of time until I began using this blog to babble away about the books I like and I’m starting with what is my favourite book: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. More than 30 million copies of Lee’s only novel have been sold worldwide, so I’m well aware that this isn’t the most original choice, but if there’s someone out there who still hasn’t read it, maybe this will impel them to pick up a copy.

A first edition cover

For those out there who are not familiar with the plot of the book here it is: a lawyer named Atticus Finch attempts to defend a black man charged with raping a white girl. So what makes Mockingbird different from any other book written about racial discrimination? It is Lee’s layering of Atticus’ eloquent intelligence with the naivety of Scout and Jem; it makes the message behind the book sing out at the reader.

‘Atticus, you must be wrong…’

‘How’s that?’

Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong’

We’re fully aware of what Atticus is trying to do, the stained-glass walls he is attempting to chip away at, but just like Atticus we know that change will not come quickly enough. I would argue he is one of the greatest heroes ever created. (And it’s good to know that someone else agrees with me, even if it is a film institute, rather than a literary one.) Unlike most inherently good characters in fiction, we don’t need Atticus to have a significant flaw to make him seem more ‘human’. He represents enlightened and honest thinking and to mar that would be akin to proclaiming that positive forces do not exist in the world.

As Atticus explains to Scout when she asks why he has to defend Tom Robinson:

‘If I didn’t I couldn’t hold my head up in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again’

When a father can, and will, admit this to his young daughter, you want him to prevail.

Another facet of Mockingbird which makes it a joy to read is that none of the characters really irritate me. Undoubtedly there are those whom I find frustrating and ignorant, but if you don’t feel that way about the prejudicial and hypocritical views of the Deep South in the 1930s, then frankly, the whole point of the book is going to sail straight over your head. Even the narrator, Atticus’ daughter, six-year-old Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, doesn’t make my inside scrunch up with frustration as most literary kids do.

 ‘I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers… Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.’

You might be put off by the thought of a child narrator but positioning the story through Scout’s eyes only highlights the absurdity of the time in which she’s living. One prime example of how racial prejudice warped societal reasoning is Mr Dolphus Raymond. A white man living with a black woman and their children, he pretends to be an alcoholic because other people ‘could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live’. When Scout asks why he is sharing this secret with her and Dill, he simply replies: ‘because you’re children and you can understand it’.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the Universal film adaptation

However, what I most like about Mockingbird is the unassuming air it appears to have. You’re told it’s a tale written by a 46-year-old woman, set in a small town of 1930s America, narrated by a 6-year-old girl.  On the cover of the edition sitting next to me is a simple black image of a young child swinging on a tyre. Without reading the description on the back cover, I think there’s little indication Lee’s novel shines a light on prejudice, class, poverty, gender roles, race, religion, education, family and the perceptions we harbour about others.

I’m probably looking for a phrase about books, their covers and not judging them but nothing is coming to mind right now…

In short, Lee’s book is heartfelt and funny, with sharply outlined and uncomfortably believable characters.  She holds up a mirror to a world we hope we’ve left far behind, but in reality we’re aware that vestiges of it still remain in our society. Lee envelops us in her small town; we can map the geography in our minds, feel the stuffy air in the court room and, if you’re a girl with an older brother, share Scout’s desire to disparage anything feminine.

Every time I read To Kill A Mockingbird, I am reminded of just why Lee’s only novel has become such a well-loved and renowned text… whilst futilely wishing for a different verdict.

‘This case is as simple as black and white.’

If you’re wondering whether the film is worth watching, I thoroughly recommend it. I’m normally disappointed/irritated by at least one aspect of cinematic adaptations of books I really enjoy but the Universal film version seems to have been made in a time when film producers didn’t feel the need to recast the dowdy female character as a man-eater and insert fight scenes for no logical reason. And Peck is perfect as Atticus.