Metamorphosis (ode to trains)

Blue seats are bejewelled

with crisps,

old gum,

biscuits

the heart beat of punk music

overflowing from plastic pearls

and a symphony of mouthfuls as sandwiches

are consumed, breadcrumbs unravelling

whilst green washes windows

and cotton bud sheep

trim crayon fields,

until houses

spill onto the countryside:

perfect habitats:

trampolines, flower patches and barbeques

still sizzling with memories

of summer,

as the platform, coated

with reunion, appears

and my ticket is engulfed for the last time.

Advertisements

Alderman’s style is The Power to success

the power.2

The reason why The Power by Naomi Alderman is such an influential book in the media right now is because of the excitement is has generated, mainly in women. This is because books of this nature have never been written before, and if they have been written then it hasn’t been written with such skill and have been confined to the whimsical areas of Young Adult fiction. Admittedly there might be a seed of an original idea somewhere within the text, but it’s overpowered with dramatic yet uneventful scenes of badly written romance.

The interesting thing about the success of The Power is that it is almost an oxymoronic parallel to The Handmaiden’s Tale, that obviously has recently been in the mainstream media’s attention with the new TV series that just come out and all the press and interviews which  following that release. It strikes me though, that these narratives are capturing people’s attention at the same time because they are the inverse of each other and yet are starting very similar conversations.

Clearly one of attractions of The Power for many readers is the idea that they can induce lightening. It’s exciting in the same way that when you read Harry Potter you first adore it, and then hope that you will receive a letter announcing your place there. Unlike the Harry Potter series though, it’s the feeling that anyone, of any age, has the potential to ignite the Power within themselves, whereas with the Potter saga once you’re past having an 11 year old’s mentality, your hopes of becoming a wizard fade too. Also, it’s the near-plausibility of something like the awaking of the lightening within you which creates an even more vivid story. One doesn’t have to have a particularly active imagination to see something like this feasibly taking place with genetic modification being so visit pervasive in our lives: only one yield of crops could go ‘wrong’ and a whole chain of mass DNA altering could be set off. Yes, it’s never been proven before in biology, but that’s because humans are changing things globally at such a phenomenal rate that there isn’t time to stop and do long-term effects research. All this comes into effect as sowing the idea into people, giving them hope that maybe they have something like a skein inside them, that can be awoken in 5, 10, 25 years and change the status quo forever.

The Power offers an unusual approach to crime. Firstly, in most books a murder, burglary, or act of fraud will act as the centre piece of the book. The book might even be a murder mystery or called “The Grand Heist of George Ned” or something like that. Here, crime actually serves as a catalyst in the plot, instead of as a show-piece, which is strange and yet refreshing. Allie kills her adoptive father early on in the book: the rest of the novel isn’t about her internal demons (although perhaps that might’ve been interesting and accurate to feature, as killing someone would have a psychological effect on you even if you did despise them). Instead of dwelling for chapters on the murder, it’s treated as a necessary event but not a predominant one. Most writers feel like a mugging in their novel needs a thesis from each of characters about it before they can move on, which means that crime is rarely used as an effective tool in literature (except in detective/ mafia style stories) and that is why The Power is so interesting.

One of the crucial literary-based things Alderman has done is that she has made the characters – if not relatable – then at least understandable and has given us a way for the reader to be sympathetic with them. The scene where Roxy kills a man in his pool, in normal society, would be seen as horrific and shocking. But the reader can understand why Roxy feels like she needs to kill the man, and many wouldn’t feel like his death was inappropriate or uncalled for, whereas in a real-life context no-one would necessarily condone that same murder. (Don’t write in a say that readers feel sympathetic to Roxy because they know it’s not a real life situation. Obviously, they subconsciously know this, but if your heart has ever raced whilst reading a book, then you should know words can trick you into thinking they’re reality.) An example of this is that you don’t view Allie or Roxy as murderers. You don’t think to yourself as Roxy speaks, you are a serial-killer, because even though it’s accurate, that language is reserved for people in society who are portrayed as violent, distasteful and unlawful. All very interesting stuff.

As for the characters, Alderman employed the classic multiple point of view. It was used skilfully, and one could notice the various speaking styles the characters had, without it appearing too overbearing or obvious. Often writers read in books or on blog-posts that you need to have clear voices that distinguish each character, and whilst this is true, the result is often unnatural with each character speaking in wildly different stereotypical dialects. In this respect -given that many before her have tried and failed with multiple POVs- she strikes a great balance between differentiating the characters and having read the prose seem natural and not like it fabricated from behind a desk or a computer screen.

One of the essential components of this book was seeing the characters, particularly Roxy and Ali, grow up. All bestselling books or series will tend to share this component of age within their work because, for the most part, the readers will tend to be of an older age and it’s a classic tool which creates more engagement. This engagement is created when the reader, even if they’re not a criminal, sees Allie turning up at the convent with no friends. They remember their first experiences at school. Or when they get into a fight with their parents, or there’s trouble going on at home, and this doesn’t have to be as dramatic as having your own brother rip an organ from you but that sense of betrayal and disappointment can be the same. Yet as the characters grow more mature they come across different situations- which they wouldn’t if The Power was set when they were in their 20s across a 3-day-peroid. You wouldn’t be able to witness the creation of the NorthStar camps, the riots in the Middle East and the creation of Bessapara. Roxy wouldn’t be able to be both the clueless yet eager teenager and the dominating dealer that she was. Yet all these moments evoke priceless emotion in the reader, so not only are they able to relate to them in some way to each part of their lives, but they’re able to see the characters mature and develop to enrich the narrative.

In books giving advice about writing, they often say that the readers want more than anything to see development in a character. In the Hunger Games, seeing Katniss go from a selfish, hard girl to a steely and emotionless to a romantic and sly one is fascinating. Yet in real life this is hardly the case. When people tell you in high school that the bullies are jealous and will grow out of throwing food at you and spreading rumours, it’s true that whilst the methods will evolve, the motivation will remain the same. Whilst ordinarily this character transformation is implausible, the way Alderman artfully went from each time-frame meant that each quirk of each character could be exposed, and that a believable and subtle change over time could be seen.

Now for the characters themselves; there was diversity within the characters, which is important to me but not necessarily for all the reasons in which diversity is important for most people. So often in modern literature you do find this eagerness to over-compensate for the lack of diversity in the past, and I have spoken about this topic at length in my other posts. To this extent, I find that The Power has the perfect balance. The character Tunde is one of these, as he does add new perspective, being male, which is crucial for multiple reasons. It’s important because although it’s a female-centric novel, the impact of The Power is on everyone, so to be able to explore how a man feels not only adds variety but is vital to give the reader the full experience of the revolution that the world is going through.

I recently went to a screening of Journey’s End and I asked the producer afterwards if they were worried about what people would say about the lack of diversity in the film. I have studied WW1 to a great extent and I understand the context that the film has, but many people won’t, and it could potentially cause some backlash because in society at the moment people feel so passionately about this topic. He replied that the board had considered including multiple ethnicities, but ultimately felt like it wouldn’t be true to reality. This is a line that I completely support, because I was genuinely curious and (unlike my friends’ firm beliefs) didn’t ask simply to make the producer feel uncomfortable.

To that extent, I’m glad that Alderman wasn’t trying to address all the problems in society in her novel. She focused very clearly on the female role within modern society, allowing that theme to take precedence instead of including lots of random characters and rogue traits which you often feel like are only included in books so that they can win some obscure prize based on the issue on the character has. The Power is  revolutionary because it asks what if women did have more power, what if the tables had turned and they represented more than angry feminists and people who couldn’t vote just over 100 years ago. Alderman’s not trying on top of that to address alcoholic parents, abusive relationships and mental disorders.

This book should be on a pedestal for all others for the fact alone that Alderman took one problem, turned it on it’s head, and made a best seller. You don’t have to include the entire LGBT+ community and organic vegetables to create a conversation.

Overall, though, the success of The Power is cannot be attributed to the great writing, the vivid use of crime, the development of characters nor the sustained focus on the original problem if one does not consider the timing. Now clearly this book has been in the making for years; yet the timing of its release could not have been better planned. Why? With the recent Hollywood scandals and the whole #metoo campaign, the conversation about women in society has been generated again and this means that The Power is going to be read by people who have this topic already on their mind by simply scrolling through their tweeter feed, meaning that they’re much more likely to be perceptive to the ideas that Alderman is grappling.

 

This is Why Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

maxresdefault
Yes, sometimes people with questionable opinions get into power. Luckily, this won’t apply to most people. Probably you, too.

I’ve said it. The words that millions of people across the world have been waiting for. In an age of social media where you can directly contact the President of the United States through a tweet, it’s easy to feel like your voice matters and that your voice is powerful. Which is true: in a way. Activism is a necessary and intrinsic part of society, ensuring that negative aspects are tackled but that in particular is not what I’m discussing when it comes to opinions. It’s those of individual people on an individual level.

This concept (jarring in the optimism of the 21st century) came to me as I was reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing. The book didn’t appeal to me; there were odd loop-holes in the plot (such as if the boy was to die of a brain tumour why weren’t there trained nurses looking after him- why was he abandoned by the doctors to the care of his psychotic family? Or how could the protagonist even afford to be at home all the time without a job when their family were desperate for money, and then suddenly said finicial problems were never mentioned?) Anyway, these critical thoughts were tumbling through my mind when I realised that all this was irrelevant. Absolutely and utterly irrelevant. It’s not to say that I’m writing off all my past book reviews, but I just thought- who cares? As in, this is my opinion, and in the end if McBride is satisfied with her work, does it matter what I think?

Part of me thinks of course it does. I am a reader and therefore a customer and therefore someone who could pay her for future books. On the other hand, my opinion is formed due to billions of experiences and interactions that have happened up to over a decade ago which dictate my preferences and standings on all conceivable topics. Ultimately, even I cannot control what I enjoy, so are ‘my’ opinions even really my own? Even if McBride read my feedback on a hypothetical review, should or would she change her work just because I asked her to?

I hope not.

The process of editing is laborious, so her book would a product she would have to be absolutely content with, so even if I said I didn’t like certain parts, it wouldn’t matter. There will be other people who do like it. Who don’t mind loopholes. This theory of the devaluing of our opinions comes from the idea that you can say what you want, but that doesn’t mean something will change. There is crucial difference between saying something, people listening, and then something happening in response. People like to think that when they speak, it’s like to a room of open-eared fans, when in reality it’s more like shouting at a few seagulls who just stole your chips and are coming back for the fish later.

A billion people could read this blog post. Imagine. All those people I could reach just through a single post- the influence I could have on the world through my thoughts. But realistically it’s this kind of self-entitled thinking which should be prevented. Not dreams or aspirations, but more people understanding their place and influence in society.

And it’s not just about me. It’s about you, too. Having just watched one of Simon Sineck’s speeches about the millennials, (which you can watch here) it made me realise how people truly do inflate their sense of purpose and self. They are egoistical, some might say, but through no fault of their own; how can we not expect ourselves to achieve great things when “every single one of us is special and can do what we want simply because we believe we can”. This is the type of rhetoric being told to the millennials. It was (and still is) chanted in schools. To the generation who now has the highest rate of depression and suicide ever. It doesn’t quite add up, does it? I won’t paraphrase Sineck’s interview but it linked into my earlier thought about overestimating one’s impact on the world. You are allowed to have opinions, thoughts, stances on things- I just urge you not to expect it to make a difference on a global scale. It’s like being a child and writing to your local MP, adding in the essential drawing of a melancholy polar bear on a lone icecap. Yes, you will receive full marks for initiative, but don’t you think that the Houses of Parliament realise that polar bears are dying and actually yes there is a war on and refugees and protestors outside their door and-

I want to tell people to stop waiting around for modelling agencies or Ivy League universities to magically be attracted to you by your sheer brilliance. That’s what  a lifetime of unfounded but well meaning praise has led them to believe will happen. It may seem like a pessimistic article, but a necessary one. When people (at least those I know) are wracking up thousands of followers on social media it is easy for them to feel powerful; when people don’t immediately reply to emails, or you have to wait to talk to someone as they’re in the middle of a conversation, it’s easy to feel annoyed. To feel like the world isn’t quite functioning as it should. Or is it your mindset which isn’t quite functioning properly to fit into a cohesive society?

We all want a podium to stand-on and whilst a dream is fine if it helps you through the wild current of life, don’t expect it to stop you from drowning.

pomegranate seeds

the scars on your hands

fresh like spilt blood that slipped

between cracks in the pavement

as I tripped last summer, grazed by worries

family

work

friends

but sharper than that,

although we’re only fifteen,

you having the upper hand back then, with four

months of breathing more than me.

how much longer that lasts, I couldn’t say because

 

you wear those fears around your wrist

locked into the skin

death will end our lives

but the fear will destroy it. you weigh up

calculus and counter-top drugs

sitting in class and sobbing alone in your room.

 

I hear you sometimes

I hear it in the quiet of your red-rimmed

eyes, unlike the space where your coffee used to

stain on your favourite lunch time table.

 

it’s not like you drifted

away from me. one day it’s summer,

my shirt red from blood and pomegranate seeds,

the next you’re gone, your mind a foreign territory

and I’m left at lunch

alone.

 

but you’re not.

you have your fears with you,

after all

they never seem to leave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distillation of thought

We sit.

We sit and we think.

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Or we stand in the train, the tears of a child seeping into conciousness

a stranger’s anger twisting

into our minds at the half-line of a phone call,

eyes darting away to avoid the shadow of confrontation-

we grip the book tighter trying not to think about

yesterday or today or the taxes or the work or the-

we mumble excuses, push past other people with other problems,

stepping onto the platform, book still clutched in our hand

like a medicine against the pain of reality,

the page now lost.

 

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Arrive at bookshops with hours to shed, looking for a book

like we’re looking for a new life

They pile in your mind, the weight of unread masterpieces

dragging down your social confidence, because what if that was

a line of a Wilde novel, slipped into a party conversation to ignite a laugh,

but us being the fool

(always the fools, aren’t we)

we miss the joke because we hadn’t spent enough time alone,

alone with a book

which isn’t the same thing, is it?

 

That time spent thinking about stolen money,

stolen dreams,

stolen people,

the time spent crouched over pieces of paper that spout

lies, glorious lies but lies all the same,

is like a drug for curiosity. We read to escape,

to deduce with Holmes and

make spells with Harry

or ponder with Hamlet

because our world isn’t enough, too cramped

and busy

and stuffy with mortal problems

to be valuable.

 

Instead of searching for a cape of words-

a place to hide whilst problems fester and grow

(the thoughts pushed frantically to the back of the mind)

we should spend more time on returning from our imagination.

Searching for a plan, a solution, a way

instead of the right chapter, because when you return

from altars of blood and planets of moonlight, the problems will still exist.

The father will still be crying in the corner, untouched.

The girl’s fists will still be clenched, blood bursting into her palm

The woman’s face will still be etched into marble, and she won’t speak anymore.

 

 

The world is fractured, humanity splintering

into shards of terror and fear and horror

at it’s ends, but the ends will only become sharper

if we try to hide

behind pieces of paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thwaites undergoats an udderly ridiculous joureny

thomas-thwaites-goat-man
Goat and follow your dreams; if a man can become a goat, then you can definitely become a popstar

The concept behind GoatMan is ingenious. It sounds like an invention only someone desperate, determined and open-minded would do. Which is Thomas Thwaites in a nutshell, or should I say, goat’s cheese wheel.

Stumbling along in life, with no job and acting as a unwilling trustafarian, Thwaites decided to turn his life around. Somehow, he thought that becoming an elephant walking across the Alps was the way to do it, with a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Which does still sound decidedly trustafarian-like all things considered, but at least the author wasn’t dog-sitting anymore.

Having trekked to Copenhagen and given some shamanic guidance in a hut, Thwaites realised he should’ve been a goat all along. It would’ve got my goat to say the least if I was part-way through an elephant design project and changed animal, but Thwaites didn’t seem to mind. Throughout the book we are guided through his process of realising his goal: visits to goat farms, creators of prosthetics, animal dissections (ft. snow leopard and an alpaca with practically tuberculosis) and a psychologist all feature. It’s exciting stuff.

Winning the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for the project, as seen in the book GoatMan by Thomas Thwaites, this goes far deeper than merely thinking ‘goat-like’ thoughts. Impressively, Thwaites commits to the project with a level of dedication seldom seen elsewhere, and the documentation of this is displayed aesthetically, which appears to be the designer of Thwaites coming through, or in any doubt, a great publishing house. For every notable event, there is a technicolour image to boot, my favourite being (not the goat’s rumen spilling everywhere in graphic detail whilst I thought about my last meal, but in fact) Prof. Hutchinson’s freezer. It’s filled with hundreds of plastic bags with mysterious lumps and it’s all rather intriguing. Lumps being dead animals and intriguing meaning including giraffe necks and elephant feet. Check out his blog here: http://www.whatsinjohnsfreezer.com

As a concept it’s fantastic; sometimes it’s wonderful to do something just for the sake of it, not because it will ‘look good on my CV’. I hear this so often, with people wandering off on Duke of Edinburghs (it’s overrated- I ran out of food because my porridge pots broke and I woke up with frost on the inside of my tent), or attending up to 8 hours of extra curricular activities a week in the hope of impressing someone later in life in an application. Whilst pursing interests is important, I find that since the only incentive is to gain a place at an academic institution, it seems like a waste of time. Most people I know don’t even know what they want to do next weekend, let alone for their degree courses. Yet societal values have convinced us that the only path to success is: go to university, have a long working career- establishing yourself as upper middle class whilst you have a family, then retire. That’s the conventional measure of a happy lifestyle today, with the amount of wealth accumulated punctuating that achievement. But what if that isn’t true? There are so many assumptions in there, and now people automatically think they want going to university, but with no real incentive of their own except that that is what everybody else is.

So this book appeals because it is a rebellion of that. Sure, Thwaites did it to drag himself out of a pool of unemployment, but he could have worked as a waiter to do that. He didn’t know that he was going to win the Ig Prize for the Project. He received (and still does probably) uncertain comments from people around him surrounding it, but he preserved because that’s what he wanted to do. To live a simpler life is a noble aim, I suppose. It’s difficult to let go of everything, of contacts, the internet, unnecessary material objects. There’s an underlying fear of making that decision and getting so far behind with the world that if you don’t hurry, it’ll be too late to return.

Yet to take the time out and simply read this project counteracts that. You’ll never put reading this on your CV, and you’ll be so enraptured that you won’t think of your phone. Think of reading this as a little rebellion, your own holiday from being a modern Homo sapiens.

Why did The Sellout sellout?

2016_44_paul_beatty
Beatty is the first American author to have won the Man Booker prize

Today the 2017 Man Booker Prize winner will be announced. The award has a stiff atmosphere of prestige surrounding it, with a hefty £50,000 cheque for the winner. Yet the winner is only crowned because their work has pleased a small group of people, the Judges. If another group of people read the same few books, perhaps the winner would be different. So to check if this set of judges had good taste, I decided to read The Sellout for myself.

It’s a visceral novel. But before delving into that, it’s dotted with Americanisms and little witty quips that someone foreign to the culture would miss: being part of that cultural clique adds to the attraction of the book. Basic psychology, one could argue; the ‘in’ and ‘out group’ theory- relating here to understanding the pun, or not. Aside from that the subjects in it are incredibly intense. It’s about the reintroduction of segregation and slavery in modern-day L.A. A very fine line to tread, even when the characters hold entirely different views and are a separate entity to the author, because although the West might think themselves above both of these things- that they’re buried safely underneath the weight of history- the truth is far from it. There are an estimated 40.3 million people in slavery today across the world, including America and Britain. To start to toy with the idea with ownership if a human is a calculated risk, but the manner in which Beatty did so was considered enough to distinct itself from satire on that topic. Perhaps he deserves merit in his own right for handling that suitably enough. Maybe he thought was ‘on a roll’, or held a level of conceit for his skills (rightly so at any rate) but he decided to lump in segregation too. The segregation of the city, Dickens, of the protagonist. It’s a polarising topic, in my head at least. The topic of segregation was approached much more bluntly than slavery and it was intrinsic to the plot. I believe that in all honesty there would have been mortified and incensed reactions to Beatty’s work if he hadn’t have been black though. In Western culture particularly there has been a rising trend in the embracement of minorities, women and LBTQ+ (basically everyone bar privileged straight white men), with this book no doubt falling into this category. Whilst I wholesomely advocate this movement, still today in society there are copious amounts of racism, so approaching topics like this have to be done with care.

For the actual details of the book; it has a plot certainly, but is mainly made up of factors that appeal to the aesthetic more than literary rhetoric of any kind. Little twists in fate like Marpessa having the bus where Rosa Parks famously denied to move are in all honesty fascinating quirks, but don’t add substantial to weight to the storyline on their own. There are many other instances of this, such as the protagonist of the book having the last name “Me”, so that when he was in court it was “Me vs. The United States of America”. A fun, if somewhat extravagant touch, which is mainly how I sum up the novel as a whole. Things happen, of course, but I don’t feel like there’s something I can tangibly take away from the experience at the end. It’s not like you can close the covers saying to yourself, thank goodness he got the girl. There’s a resolution, certainly, but it’s not life changing, not pivotal to the sense of closure in the conventional manner.

In Western liberal democracies, there are often issues with renowned institutions, be it government (in general) or something as flippant as the Oscar Awards; creating cultural diversity without appearing to fall for tokenism is one of them. I admit that I have only read the Man Booker Prize Winner from last year, and none of the other competing titles, and yet bearing this eagerness to create a diverse playing field in mind, it does not surprise me that Paul Beatty’s piece had won. Because it is a book by a black author about a black protagonist talking about racism. Much in the same way that a few years ago the book Lies We Tell Ourselves (read my review of it here) got onto the Carneige Shortlist when frankly it was awful- the actual prose of that novel itself couldn’t have been strong enough to merit a place on it’s own- so it suggest other factors were influences too. Bearing in mind the large amount of children reading the Carneige Shortlist in shadowing groups, the exposure to a vetted book about mild racism and lesbians would have been an eye-opening experience for them. The judges have a far greater responsibility on their shoulders than simply choosing the best book; it’s worth remembering that when considering titles with awards. Now whilst I’m not suggesting that Beatty won on these grounds, it wouldn’t surprise me if these factors did work in his favour. As The Man Booker Prize is a prestigious award, of course the winner is going to be highly scrutinised, so it is going to have to be a high quality. Yet given the amount of exposure that each novel gets after being awarded, it seems that handing this American satire this opportunity to reach the masses would, as with Lies We Tell Ourselves, be a wise idea.

The subject and morality of racial quotas can be discussed in another post, but it’s clear that we’re not living in a post-racial, post-judgemental world. It seems obvious to me why The Sellout would hold such an attraction to the Man Booker judges; because it openly grapples with subjects that people are too afraid to articulate themselves for fear of being called a racist. Now noting someone’s skin colour, calling them a ‘white person’ or a ‘black person’, is unfortunately now synonymous with racial slurs because people have have been brought up today to be so considerate of others, to rectify the horrendous attitudes of the past, that no one knows where they stand. It’s like social media posts where people make racial jokes that ‘my (coloured) friend laughs at as well’ and then are grilled by the international community for their words. The appropriateness of the joke is beside the point; it’s the cautiousness that society is now trained to adopt which is the important factor. The Sellout isn’t cautious. It doesn’t care about social convention or pleasing the crowds- which is why it does hold that level of attraction. This year all the novels on the 2017 shortlist are experimental, and this one certainly is too.

So the Sellout. The Man Booker judges certainly picked an appropriate novel, but would I read it again? Probably. It seems like something which has to be read several times to be understood fully. Or maybe it doesn’t. I’ll just have to take the risk and find out.

Freakonomics- is it worth it?

econometrics-economics-hero-credit-istock-1160
The unique interpretation of Economics here is perhaps far-fetched

Freakonomics. The despair of every Economics University admissions officer as they scan personal statements. At this point in time, who hasn’t read Freakonomics, and even if they had, would flaunting the fact their eyes have skimmed over 211 pages make a difference to their knowledge of interdependence in Oligopolistic Markets?

It, like the pocket-sized physics books which were all the nerdy rage last year, was part of a half-hearted trend to revive the intelligence of the nation. Perhaps publishers had had enough of talking about the weather over their tea break and thought, if only we could talk about something interesting, something like why drug dealers still live with their mothers, then life would be better. So let’s publish a book so people know about this and can then discuss it. Or maybe Steven D. Levitt was good enough at economics to know that:

Lots of books sold – (tax + publisher’s cut) = A FUN HOLIDAY

Or so it seems. So down to the content; there’s not much of it. There are only 6 different chapters, which were more like 3 broken in half, where the authors tried to pass the second half off (sometimes) as an entirely new subject. Which they weren’t. The issue was also that there was no unifying theme. There’s no satisfaction in covering lots of ground when you’re moving too fast to pick anything up. It’s a shame. Maybe Steven should have proof-read it.

Initially, it was gratifying, if slightly pointless, to see that there was a link between a sumo wrestler and a teacher, but I was left with one question. The authors repeatedly say that you have to look for the right question, then the rest will follow. I’m not sure about anybody else, but it seems that obviously when you have masses ‘data’ and know about separate ‘studies’, it’s articulating the link which is the only mildly tricky part. There was no research done into either profession in order to find the bridge between the two: Levitt simply had to scan a few pages from studies done on teacher and sumo wrestlers, find a tenuous loophole to sling the two together, then gleefully stuff the pages with irrelevant facts about nepotism in the University of Georgia.

It seems like although Freaknomics is the adult version of a ‘fun facts booklet’, there is nothing tangible that can be taken away from reading this. Nothing that you can flaunt to your friends except that somewhere in New York, a few decades ago, a father named his sons Winner and Loser Lane. But perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, it offers great insights into sectors of human thought that would never normally cross our minds, such as how humans more intensely fear things that they’re unfamiliar with: an easy example is jumping into a car vs. taking off on a plane. Yet that’s not much a revelation, is it?

It seems that at times the evidence, whilst sounding impressive with their acronyms, because the companies are too important to have their names squeezed into a single word, is flawed. Sometimes the evidence was too superficial- hardly reliable when trying to make grand posturing claims about contradicting prevailing wisdom, and at other times foolhardy. Scores of their ‘evidence’, once you trudge to the footnotes of the book, seem to be laughable or dubious at best. And is this really book really covering Economics, or merely palatable Sociology? The latter for sure, but given that these supposed ‘findings’ were so ‘obscure’ (i.e bound together by the most far farfetched pieces of data), it’s no surprise that instead of being crafted into a respectable journal, it’s been churned out as a commercial book.

I was at first steeling myself for this review; I had the general impression that people liked Freakonomics and thought of it as their intellectual lunchtime companion, but soon it became clear that elsewhere people were having the same thoughts as I did, and that I wouldn’t be the only personal trying to articulate my distaste.

My final word is that, despite the hype, I didn’t buy into it. So no; it’s not worth it.

Should we swallow all literature?

images
Unless you read awful books, then you can alternatively die of boredom quite a few times as well…

Short answer: No.

Now that I have weeded out all the non-commited readers (or those with a stereotypically 21st century attention span), we can begin. There is talk of reading everything you come across, as it’ll make you more appreciative of the better crafted books and if you’re a writer, enhance your skills. You can envision it now; a class of nervous looking graduates, ink pens resting atop leather-bound notebooks, almost crushed by the weight of the student loan that uneasily allowed them to attend this class. “Read” rasped the teacher, her hair like tendrils twisting down her back. “Read everything, let the words encompass your soul and sift through the goodness…” she jutted out her chin, dramatically clawing of the air in front of her bookcase.

No thank you. Although it was meant to be a demonstrative metaphor, I suspect that I might have just exposed to some rather poor literature right there. Swiftly moving on, it seems strange that people should advocate for wasting their time. Thanks to the internet, we seem to be procrastinating unwittingly most of the day anyway, so adding to this intentionally is going to help nobody. I suppose the argument is that it’s going to help with technique, that once your retinas have been scarred by such a disgusting use of a semi-colon you’ll never dream of copying it in your own work.

However I don’t exactly need to read other’s work to experience poor writing. The first draft of any novel I write (publishers- I know this is a long shot- but I’ve got a manuscript for one I’ve recently composed and if you email me I can always send it over) is going to be shocking. Who has a first draft that isn’t? (That front-row student puts her hand up, 15 different highlighters lined up on her desk and already 3 supernovas to her name; she had found them causally doing astronomy before school this morning.) Alright, apart from her. Regardless of the number mistakes I’ve made, I’m still going to do a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. (Yes, all publishers out there, I am thorough.) I’m going to inevitably correct my grammatical errors if my laptop doesn’t do it for me so I don’t need to suffer anybody else’s. Think of it this way- compared to the classic cult film Mean Girls if I may. Reading someone else’s poorly written book doesn’t make mine any better, just as making Regina gain weight didn’t make the girls any skinnier.

tumblr_mbmvo17F0f1qbdq9so1_r1_500
I’m guessing it’s Wednesday too…

It just gave Lindsay Lohan the high school epiphany that trying to sabotage other people would not make her a more welcoming person, whilst it’ll give you the epiphany- as your thoughts wander again- that actually you still have 6 different preps to do, it’s nearly 1AM and you’d probably be better off watching Narcos with your roommate in Spanish (even though you can’t speak it) instead of forcing your writing synapses to cry.

“But how will I know if I like it?” Obviously, if you haven’t started reading it, you won’t. Yet I think sometimes skirting the blurb is enough- and here’s why: I, with the extreme caution of one handling an unsanitary item (even though I was looking at images online,) read the back of Fifty Shades of Grey. Whilst I’m not going to plague my blog with an image of the book, needless to say, you can get a sufficient idea of the type of story it is simply by the type of audience they’re trying to appeal to. If you don’t see yourself as the type of half-ravaged person who is going to be lured into buying some ink on paper simply because the blurb used copious amounts of alliteration and the rule of three, then don’t be. It’s as simple as that.

Also, I find that I read some rather displeasing items enough as it is, without even trying to go out of my way. I was going to write a book review of What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murkami, true to Ink Cloud form, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Thanks to the wildly successful poll I ran a few weeks ago, I was recommended to tone down the reviews a bit and ramp up the opinion pieces, so here we are. Anyway; it was such a self-indulgent book, simply going on about how the author had building work done to house in Boston and about how he had a connection with Olympic athletes because he saw them on his daily morning run. I know that his running habits are the basic premise of this book, but I was hoping for something more generalised, like how Japanese culture has ingrained running into it, but on the contrary it simply included regurgitations of articles written for running magazines. If I wanted them, I’d look in the archives! It was simply a long, dull (I would say vomit, but that would be unfair) mass of words which have struck precisely zero sympathetic chords in me. Which is strange, because I’m a runner. And Murakami is one of the greatest writers of the 21st century (according to other people).

Unlike you, however, I had to stick it out, because unlike you (well, who knows, maybe I’m wrong), I have a blog where I write about books. That means reading the entirety of it before I can ‘write it off’. I’m not completely cruel. I will give the book a chance to redeem itself after a shoddy start before eloquently reminding the world how awful it is. So, reader, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to finish terrible books and suffer through to the end. Why? Because I do all the hard work for you.

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

rebecca_ver4

Even a battered, £2.50 book can fill me with delight. In the spare moments of my ‘very busy’ summer holiday, I found time to read Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca. Which is just as well, because ten years ago, skirt askew and blazer crumpled,  I was in a house at school called Du Maurier. We all got little green pin with a gold lined book and a pen engraved into the  enamel. Along with various other inspirational women whom the houses were named after, the name meant nothing more to me than that it signified the colour shirt I wore on Sports Day. Now, sufficiently literate, I have decided to finally pay attention to Du Maurier, and pick up one of her greatest pieces (although, admittedly, not enough to buy a copy at full price)!

There is the magnificent setting itself, Manderely House, where the protagonist a Mrs de Winter and Max de Winter live. Although it’s precise location is never revealed, in the author’s note I read that Du Maurier’s old home Mandabilly was the main inspiration. It’s a brooding place, full of complexities and has such an animate character that if the plot was set in a cottage, or some other half-hearted building, it would simply be an awful reading experience. Much like pathetic fallacy with the weather, it is seen with the house and that is what makes the novel so impactful. Also, the description reminds me rather a lot of somewhere I go often, Endsleigh House so the nostalgia and memories of that trip trickled perfectly into the narrative:

Bride-on-terrace-at-hotel-Endsleigh
The Endsleigh hotel, or Manderely? There’s even a dog and roses!

There is something so dark about the narrative, so wonderfully obscene about the twist of events that I cannot help but find myself, like a child drawn to the trigger of a gun, mesmerised by it. It’s an oddly comforting storyline, in all honesty; after all, it confirms humanity’s vulnerability, that no relationships can be idealised, except perhaps when you are judging other peoples’. That’s precisely what the second wife, Mrs de Winter, did. She was swept away by the façade, daunted by the expectations following Maxim’s previous marriage, that it choked her potential. It’s needless to say how to many teenagers can find this book liberating; think of Instagram accounts of the rich and famous as one huge Rebecca and Maxim marriage, except without the honesty and the murder trial. Agreed, that a minority of famous bloggers unveil the reality behind the laborious process and their undying emotional instability even though millions of people comment about how much they want to look like them, but it’s just that those that don’t, lead us to believe that the images are their true nature, therefore forcing our own standards higher.

So, the novel’s called Rebecca. But what is the name of our protagonist, the young school girl? It’s one of the best plot devices of all; how du-Maurier neglected to mention her name, left us hanging on a string of anticipation. In the end, though, we aren’t troubled by this absence, but are riddled with speculation, with the sheer curiosity of this. After perusing the internet, some thought that she was called Daphne, after all it was cited early in the book that Maxim said she had an unusual name, and many believe this story was written to reflect the author’s own experiences. Others think that du Maurier merely forgot. But if you’re composing such a masterpiece, sifting day upon day on material, now stale from being constantly looked scanned for improvements, then of course you simply wouldn’t have forgetten. It’s almost farcical to suggest such a notion. Personally, I believe that it’s a reflection of Mrs de Winter’s own shyness, own timidity that she couldn’t even draw that much attention to herself to speak up on the number of occasions where it could have been mentioned.

So, reader, give it a try. I had put off reading Rebecca long enough, unexcited by the drab premise, but I have to say it’s now officially my favourite book (yay! Finally something to say at dinner parties… well, not dinner parties, but you know what I mean). It has affected me so much I have even named one of my bonsai trees (I have a few) Maxim. Yes, the level of adoration is serious.