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It sure feels good to not have an academic reading list again! Much as I loved my course, I missed picking out books on a whim. Here's what I've been reading:

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Loved the first, not so keen on the second. Her insights and perceptions of war and troubled times were especially well presented, and it wasn't difficult as a reader to get absorbed and remember my childhood, free as it was of the oppression in hers. But part two put me off a little; Vienna became the stereotyped "West" = liberality in its extreme = sex and drugs. I think my problem with it wasn't the events and experiences as they unfold, but that somewhere along the line, it lost me. Not necessarily a bad thing, and definitely recommended.

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Supposedly a feminist rant, but no. Too many generalisations, too many assumptions of What It Means To Be A Woman, too many unnecessary words and capitals thrown in for emphasis which only become distracting, and not quite funny. Admittedly some chapters and ideas had me nodding in agreement and You Go, Girl! moments, and this might have worked if it wasn't Mostly it just feels like a long list of "this is what women are doing wrong, but I'm different and awesome, and here's what I did, and so should all women".

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Much awaited, and did not disappoint! Wonderfully written, with a strong character-driven narrative and a very different style from her previous work. It's not exactly fast-paced, but the painstaking details and backstory are not fluff: without these, it would be nothing. Without these, the characters would just come across as petty and emotionless, rather than very grey. Pagford is the perfect setting: starting out as the typical small town where you would think everyone knows each other, but as the story progresses, we find a town built on the cracked foundation of dark secrets that gradually begin to spill out. She consciously and expertly builds up the story to a volcanic climax, and by the end, I felt as though I'd lived in Pagford with all these fleshed out and charred characters. The thing that made me happiest was that much of the time, I was so absorbed in the story that I forgot who the author was - so different was the language and style - which I'm willing to bet is exactly what she wanted.