Should we swallow all literature?

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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.

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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.

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Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

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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:

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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.

 

 

 

Structural Racism in Britain: a case study

Elected Officials Introduce The Fairness And Equity Act Aimed At Reducing Penalties For Minor Marijuana Offenses

Some people declare that we live in a post racial world. Many insist that they are colour blind, whilst others refuse to engage with the idea of quotas for ethnic minorities. Which is unfortunate.

British society today is actively involved in racism, but it’s more unconscious and wide-spreading that anybody could have anticipated. In my last post on the consequences of Brexit, I discussed the mindset of those who were involved in the hate crime shortly after the referendum. Here, however, I can reveal that there is a further-reaching biased agenda is at play, and the worst thing is; it’s (mainly) unconscious.

After reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race, shocking figures were unveiled. The media often portray racism to be seen in two categories: one where people are in full-out equality campaigns, posters and all, and one where others are openly spreading malicious messages online. Two opposites. But after reading this book, it turns out that in reality things are much more subtle than this; it’s not simply a black and white divide of personal choice, but something which through societal cues has seeped into our everyday life. From under-represenatation of BAME actors in the media to the dubious dealings of police (yes, even in Britain), these are the things which shift our everyday perception of the people around us. Don’t believe me? An excerpt from Eddo-Lodge’s book points out that “In 2009, a study by the Department for Work and Pensions found that applications for jobs to a number of prospective employers were not treated equally: applicants with white-sounding names were called to interview far more often than those with African- or Asian-sounding names.” Uncanny, yes, but is it that really that unsurprising? The book is filled with many other statistical and even anecdotal examples, from discussing the Bristol bus boycott to the role feminism has to play in levelling out the playing field, all of which are used to illustrate the point that structural racism exists today.

The reason why this book is so impactful is because often people think that structural racism doesn’t affect them, that is belongs to angry magazine articles and indignant interviewees. Not quite; although America is rife with unpleasant events surrounding discrimination, with alternative figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. being held up history class, we need to look no further than our own country for information. Then there are other factors such as white privilege, which is an interesting example. Eddo-Lodge points out that if you don’t know what it means, it means it’s probably in your favour. This relates more to subconscious relativity than anything else: in an interview, if you share something in common with the interviewer, they’ll assume that when you make a mistake it’s because of nerves, not incompetence. If you are a different race or gender to the interviewer, it’s far more likely that a negative assumption is placed upon you, which could be as drastic as to have the consequence of increasing your period of unemployment.

This is an enlightening read because it reveals how the nature of Britain’s society is interwoven with biases, with countless examples from not only history but modern-day to prove this. This is instrumental in pointing out existing structural flaws which many might not concede exist. However it seems to me that the type of people who will be reading a book entitled something as seemingly abrupt as “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, probably aren’t the people who need to see this the most. But why is the title so unpalatable to many? The simple fact is that people with pale skin are unused to being called ‘white’; they have entitled themselves to so much pride and individualism, that to be pigeon-holed into a demographic almost appears to be rude. After all, the term is only accurate and it’s been illustrated consistently that pointing out other ethnicities’ skin colour is acceptable. (I won’t get started on the hypocrisy of the title, because that would take too long, although it seems that since publishing the book Eddo-Lodge has mainly been giving talks to white people about it… I don’t know, maybe it’s ironic.)

That is not to say that Eddo-Lodge’s book can sail past without any criticism though. Sadly not: firstly I would say that there is a lot of indication of the problems at hand; after all, if we are to discuss how to target a problem, we must not only identify the problem first, but get people to acknowledge the issue’s existence. Fine. Around 220 pages of this endless finger-pointing later, we have about 2 paragraphs of what can be done in the future. So, after lengthy discussions of structural rascism, what does the author thinks is the main way to solve this heart-felt problem? Talking. As simple as that.

Now, that might be useful for spreading the word amongst friends, must realistically this can’t be implemented to a life-changing effect on an international scale, which presumably is the result she wants. Talking, whilst powerful amongst small social circles (we all know what a rumour can do), or even, taking this example at it’s best, flitting past the newspaper headlines, is not going to change people’s innate societal biases which Eddo-Lodge has so expertly referred to earlier on. There are such sweeping statements such as: ‘The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people.” Yes, I understand now. Excuse me, I thought the issue of structural racism could be solved by walruses. It seems a bit poor to devote such a pitiful few sentences to a solution, because what use is highlighting a problem when you don’t as equally highlight the way the tackle it. If Eddo-Lodge had been a bit more specific in a mechanism for implementing this societal change, I would be satisfied, understand how we can all move forward because I know that vast swarms of people who are currently reading this book will sincerely want to help. Some may have massive platforms, other funds, and if they knew where to channel that maybe some work could be done. However, most people aren’t like Eddo-Lodge, and will only remember the injustice the book made them feel, not the facts or insights. Many won’t want to, out of a fear of public speaking, not the topic, speak to a large crowd about what they’ve learnt. If the reader is captive in the text, so to speak, at least they could have been offered alternative ways of spreading the word, such as specific organisations or campaigns. I’m not writing these things out of anger, but because we as writers have a limited chance to make an impact on an audience, but I wanted to see Eddo-Lodge use that literary platform so that it had the most influential outcome. It was borne out frustration at the missed opportunity more than anything else.

Also some of Eddo-Lodge’s comments made me prickle. For example, she writes in the section entitled ‘The Feminism Question’ that feminism “must demand pay for full-time mothers and free childcare for working mothers.” As somebody heavily involved in economic affairs and moral values in modern society, believe me when I say I have spent hours debating this topic. You cannot simply mention something as complex as the subject as the financial struggles of mothers in a single sentence then fling yourself off onto another world problem. Each of these issues, such as “Feminism must demand affordable, decent, secure housing” seems to be shoved into the text as the author attempts to find ways through an ideology to solve every global issue. These are problems which demand the respect of being fully explained, that each require countless books of their own to be fully comprehended and palming them off for feminists to fight for as well as gender equality seems groundless. Then there were mystifying phrases such as “I have no desire to be equal” and “It’s clear that equality doesn’t quite cut it.” This is fine for a personal preference I suppose, but the latter sentence doesn’t sit right with me. I understand what the author means when she says that the “onus is not on me to change. Instead, it’s the world around me.” but that doesn’t mean that she can just cast off equality as some dirty word. What more should anyone in society want than equality? What else is there to strive for?

Having said these things, it is generally a superbly written and eloquent read that is essential for those interested in economics, current affairs and psychology. Or everyday life really, but there were flaws nonetheless, which I think many critics have ignored due the heavily moral aspect of the book, so they feel if they attack a part of the book, they are in some way defending structural racism, which obviously is a false claim. Sincerely though, it was a relevant and pertinent piece.

What do you want to read on The Ink Cloud?

Hi Everyone,

I hope that you’re having a wonderful summer; I have just attached a quick poll below  because I would love to create more content that you will enjoy reading, so I’ll use this to get a rough idea of what to post in the future … if you have any additional requests, please add them in the comments! (Thank you so much for participating, it’s hugely informative and I look forward to catering my future posts to the results!)

The book Brexiteers should be reading…

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2017 and still there are marches for refugees to be accepted

The B-word. The British Exit. We all dread it now, eyes flicker over headlines over delays and arguments caused by it, before reluctantly scanning the article- our livelihoods will depend on the outcome of it, on a global spectrum.

The racism and xenophobia that the fateful referendum has unpeeled in British society is horrifying. In the preceding days after the vote, there were over one hundred recorded incidents of hate crime, all unashamedly open. Brexit had revealed in many Britons an underlying fear and hatred for immigrants, refugees and people who don’t fit into the British stereotype. It gave them an excuse to be ‘patriotic’, if their idea of patriotism was to threaten people unlike them. Many talk about the supposedly apparent ‘taking of resources’ and demanding to send them ‘back where they came from’, unsatisfied at the answer that they did indeed live in Stoke. To have any skin colour apart from white, to have any heritage apart from fully British to the dawn of time, suddenly made people targets. I understand that firstly a large number of people voted to remain and moreover some people who did vote Brexit did so because of other reasons, but I can’t help but notice how society has transformed in the days since.

Perhaps it was cognitive biases of the prediction market, leading people to believe that we were to remain until the last moment, or maybe it was just people waiting for a confirmation of their beliefs amongst others in society, but the surge in hate crime ever since Brexit has revealed one thing: there needs to be more information given to those who have unreasonable prejudices against those in society who are in the minority. Hence The Good Immigrant, whose blurb is simply; “What’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?” It is a powerful selection of essays from 21 authors who are black, asian or minority ethnic in Britain today. From an actress who was told that she’d only be cast as a terrorist’s wife to the westernised evolution of the word ‘namaste’, it brings into perspective the lives of those who often are most targeted today. And actually, even if you do win the famous Great British Bake Off, as Nadiya Hussain says, she still “expect(s) to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused, because it happens, it’s happened for years.” Despite the blurb, it turns even if the famous aren’t even exempt.

It was edited and complied by Nikes Shukla, who has commented ‘I’m really sick of talking about diversity because I feel like we were beyond that conversation decades ago and we’re still having it and it doesn’t move on. People throw knee-jerk reaction panel events and money at diversity so we can all sit and talk about it rather than actually doing anything that has any long-term benefits.” I think that this book has long term benefits, though: it was the winner of the Books Are My Bag readers’ choice award 2016 and has sold nearly 10k copies in paperback. It challenges the idea that many from the BAME community say they feel about the imperative they have to prove they deserve a place in the UK, that they are worth it: an example of this is BAME actors. Representation is an issue, as Darren Chetty in his essay pointed out: “According to the 2011 Census, inner east London boroughs have populations that are somewhere between 45-71 per cent BAME. So, how many of the top 50 most impactful characters in this programme (EastEnders), set in the East End of London and aiming for realism, were BAME? None.” It’s a shocking but representative fact of the media today; it’s why questions like Could Iris Elba really be the next James Bond are circling, because it seems like he wouldn’t get the role on merit alone. No, people have to have a reason for being on the stage, because ‘being quite good’ just doesn’t cut it for some people.

Well, those type of people should read this book, or simply those who are interested in an enlightening, humorous and illustrative read.

I can thoroughly recommend The Good Immigrant.

A review of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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Paul O’Rourke is a dentist who believes that flossing is pointless. He lives in New York, owning his business without having an office. He likes watching baseball. Until someone creates a website for his company, creating false bios about himself and even starting up a Twitter account in Paul’s name.

Whilst Paul meanders the implications of the religious messages spread as though from him, his relationship with others in his workplace unfold- ex-girlfriend receptionist, maternal hygienist and blank-faced assistant. As Paul flounders in the face of relating to other people, his lack of a personal life becomes entrenched as his dedication to dentistry fills in the gaps in his life. Paul denies himself the internet and is an interesting 21st century specimen (I feel like this word is appropriate), who articulates the fears that everybody has lodged deep within themselves, but aren’t willing enough to confront. One of the reasons why this is notable, is because it means that the person who has stolen his identity can operate for a vast length of time before Paul even identifies any issue.

I was already at one remove before the Internet came along. I need another remove? Now I have to spend the time that I’m not doing the thing they’re doing reading about them doing it? Streaming the clips of them doing it, commenting on how lucky they are to be doing all those things, liking and digging and bookmarking and posting and tweeting all those things, and feeling more disconnected than ever? Where does this idea of greater connection come from?

It’s true though. Why in society today do we genuinely need more connection? How is my life made any better by knowing that Charlotte did 500 squats in the gym? If tt make me feel inadequate,  I should abandon Facebook, and if it does not invoke a response at all, what’s the point in engaging in the first place?

Paul has a fascinating take on religion. He admires churches and synagogues and rituals, although being an atheist himself. The saddest thing about the rejection of religious practice to him, is not the lack of a guiding figure or book to lodge his thoughts in, but instead the vocabulary. Faith, charity, hope. These are ingrained in religions and it is these words he desires the most in life.

This is no surprise as Paul is an inherently lonely person; it is a winding novel and there is a plot, but it is padded with flashbacks and stuffy bits of information about the protagonist. One of these things are his relationships; he has no friends for certain, but his two girlfriends were heavily imbedded in religious communities and it was these things he was truly attracted to: the sense of belonging, of a wider place in society. Subconsciously, he saw that these girlfriends were his ticket to spot, to becoming enveloped in the Jewish/ Christian way of life. Now, two breakups later, religion is back in his life again as Ulmist messages are being spread across the web; not that he even know what an Ulm is.

The novel takes us on a journey of self-recognition and of realisation of others around you, as well as a reflection of life (and death) itself. This is more of a thought-provoking piece than anything else and although there is notable humour, the selling-point for me is the examination of Paul. He isn’t real. But his portrayal invites the reader to examine their own selves to identify flaws and to try to improve them. What better type of writing can there be?

 

This is my favourite quote from the entirety of the novel:

She no longer lived in a world of speculation or recall and would take nothing on faith when the facts were but a few clicks away. It drove me nuts. I was sick to death of having as my dinner companions Wikipedia, About.com, IMDb, the Zagat guide, Time out New York, a hundred Tumblrs, the New York Times, and People magazine. Was there not some strange forgotten pleasure in reveling in our ignorance? Would we just be wrong?

Brain on Fire- Susannah Cahalan

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A month of being somebody else. A month of confusion. A month of paranoia.

It might sound like the premise for a murder mystery involving stolen identity, however when renowned journalist, Cahalan, was overtaken with a mysterious illness, that is precisely what ensued. It started with seizures, rapidly, suddenly, then strange fleeting moments of outer-body experiences, thrilling highs and bursts of tears. Nobody understood what was going on. For the rest of her life, Cahalan was an ordinary person. Throughout the onset of her symptoms, she was diagnosed with everything from excessive alcohol consumption to bipolar disorder. The severity of these symptoms soon rose though, and she was confined to a hospital for a month, leaver her with only the vaguest of memories from that time: videos revealed her psychotic nature, doctors reports highlighting her inadequacy at even speaking. This breathtaking book takes  us through Cahalan’s shocking journey, revealing every aspect from her family’s grit and support, to the doctor who saved her life when many had abandoned her.

The style and fluency of this is outstanding. The way Cahalan illustrates the finer details is truly absorbing, with the balance between detail and factuality struck ideally. Of course, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as she is a journalist, but still you shouldn’t take eloquence for granted.

I am avid fan of neurology books, as frequent readers may have ascertained, and this book pleased me thoroughly. Due to the nature of Cahalan’s illness, it was unusually troublesome to pinpoint, so to read about all the various tests she had to take, such as memory recall (and how that deteriorated to an overwhelming extent) and the extract of spinal fluid both interested me. Can you believe, for example, that when Cahalan was asked to draw an ordinary clock, she drew this:

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People should read this book. Not because they might care about the science or even the tale of survival of a bright young woman. After all, in my opinion there was a distinctive lack of in-depth scientific knowledge- it would have been more interesting if there could have been a little more knowledge relating to her condition. No, people should read it because it will crush their complacency. Today we live in a push button society- you already know this. Change your appearance? Trip to the plastic surgeons and you’ll be fine. Change country, climate, job, life. All possible. What cannot be manipulated to such an extent is your health: there are still a lot of things that scientists and doctors simply do not know. There a thousands of illnesses with no cure. Some people claim bizarre diets work for them, others religion. But the truth of the matter is that for most people, once that disease is contracted there is nothing to be done; as a species we have much further to go before we can be satisfied with ourselves medically. We must never forget it might be us next- nobody grew up expecting to be that person falling ill.

This concept is conveyed expertly: multiple doctors gave her wildly inaccurate diagnoses. Many refused to treat her or gave up. One such thrilling element in the book are the red herrings, the missed clues and painstaking search to find a name for her condition, to identify it.

One notable issue is that there is no baseline character, so that when Cahalan does descend into a psychotic state, although things are clearly not as they ought to be, we don’t have a clear cut idea of the behavioural changes that been undertaken. Also, Cahalan has quite a forceful character, with this showing prominently in her writing and the episodes she describes. If you don’t enjoy people with that behavioural trait, it will make reading this slightly tougher as you lose a large proportion of the sympathy you would have had for her.

Generally, a great insight into a rare illness (Dalmau’s disease), that reveals that our brains are much more complex than anyone can fully comprehend.

Dear Lupin by Roger and Charlie Mortimer

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The book has also been turned into a play, which had a successful run at the Apollo Theatre

 

Dear readers,

Some say the message is medium: Dear Lupin is a collection of letters that span nearly 25 years, and through this form offer the most intimate insight into the Mortimers’ lives. If intimate is the right word- it seems like multiple opportunities to be delighted at the sheer hilarity of it is more suitable.

Letters. Seems dated now, doesn’t it? Something you only tend to at Christmas out of obligation, not because the simple act offers any sort of satisfaction. (I bet many people have said the same about over-indulging in mince pies, but there you go.) Here, it conveys admirably parental despair. In reality, nothing in our modern day with the prevalent technology could genuinely reveal to the same depth any relationship. Imagine being a historian, sifting through the one line texts. There’s no detail behind what we communicate now, because who has time to go into the neighbour’s health? Why bother? It’s this offhand thinking that not makes it difficult not only for people in the future to discern who we really are, but it makes life clouded for ourselves when we can’t even engage with each other. What does anything mean to us?

Roger Mortimer typically humoured the pages with self-deprecation or painstaking accurate remarks. “Doubtless you regard me as monumental bore, tolerated only at times because I fork out some cash, but senile as I am I probably know a bit more about you and your friends than you seem to realise” Hm. Bet a lot of parents today would be much more success in talking to their children if they realised in themselves these words.

Anyway, it is rather clear to see that although Charlie entertained a school career at Eton, it wasn’t exactly the most successful, as he was constantly reminded to try and get through a term “without a chorus of disapproval and despair from the unfortunate masters who have to try and teach you something.” Joyfully Charlie moves through life though, and it’s almost bizarre, like watching a time-lapse of a plant, to see the style and tone of the letters change. One moment it’s from a reprimanding father, another it’s from a more- well, still reprimanding father, but with a rather letter edge to the words.

“Dear Charles,                                                                                                                                        I am very impulsive. Your mother is also very impulsive. That is quite enough for one family. Let us have a little… deliberation from you. So to start with, get rid of that motorbike. I did not give you £40 for that, as you well know!”

But, like everything, things start to break down and crumble, and although the earlier letters were cheerful and lighthearted, punctuated with concerns, the hilarity seeps away towards the end of the collection, where above all Roger voices his fears of ageing, of dying. It is poignant and raw- often a gruff acceptance of fate that retells all our own fears. This is a book which will not only inspire you to laughter and morose reflection, but to start writing letters again yourself.

Best wishes,

Melrose

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (July Book of the Month)

gaimanpratchettheader

A darkly hilarious and witty novel exploring the day the world will end.

In a typical science fiction style, there is a concept, widely known- such as the end of the world- but through the lens of literature is spun around and examined deeply. Here, the embodiment of Good, Aziraphale an angel and Evil, Crowley a demon (formerly Crawley the snake from the garden of Eden) battle over who can manipulate the Antichirst into siding with them, so that when the fateful Judgement day arrives with the expected war, the child would launch a particular side to victory.  Not that the pair wanted a war. Both the angel and demon rather enjoyed being on Earth, having gotten used to human schisms in the way that their compatriots hadn’t. In fact, the Crowley and Aziraphale have a close friendship: not only have they known each other centuries, but they realised that they actually had more in common that anyone could imagine. Yet thanks to a mishap in the baby-swap securing the Antichrist, the forces shadowed and prodded the wrong child for over a decade, meaning that instead of bursting with virtues or spewing threats, the 11 year old antichrist Adam was just a defiant country boy, and an ordinary boy Warlock had been wrongly harassed by demons and angels his entire life. That’s where the trouble started.

When two of the funniest, most renowned authors in their field join to write a novel, it will produce something glorious. There are a wide range of characters, from Metatron (the voice of God) to KGB agents who feed ducks. The hilarity, but not obtuseness, that pervades this novel is astounding, and is guaranteed to provoke reactions from even the sternest of readers. (It even says in the Afternote that all the pair were trying to do was to make each other laugh.)

It started off as a parody of the Just William books, where William was the Antichrist, but soon evolved into something much smarter and engaging: after all, on the Judgement Day there are Four Horsemen, although as it’s modern day, it’s now Bikers. Famine, for one, sells diet books and invented nouvelle cuisine, whilst War was a war-correspondent, who somehow always managed to be in areas of conflict before they even started (the other two Bikers can be a surprise for you to find out). All said, it’s amazing. Even better is Anathema Device, a self-procclamed occultist with a book from her ancestor- The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter- that predicts correctly the future. (As it was so accurate, nobody bought it.) This supernatural element is counter-balanced by Newt Pulsifer though, who is a begrudging member of the Witchfinder’s Army, and has the awkward history of his ancestor burning alive Agnes, making the union between the two incredibly interesting.

The highlight of this book for me was undoubtedly the intricate footnotes. Apparently Gaiman and Pratchett would write footnotes for each other’s work, resulting in quips  bursting with puns, which always lightened the mood. On the other hand, the subplots added a great twist to the story, helpfully giving the reader a refreshed perspective of the main plot as they often added useful background information. But occasionally they were spasmodically inserted and felt random, being often obscure and hard to follow, and felt like sometimes they were only there so that a few jokes could be made.

I would recommend this novel to fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or anyone who is vaguely interested in the works of either author. It’s a fantastic reading experience!

 

1984 by George Orwell

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Are classic works beyond criticism? Perhaps. Since literary professors have devoted their careers to hallowed sentences, should one dare to question their opinion, with the threat of passive aggressive comments later (or is that just from fandoms)?

Yes. One should continually review and question the work of the professors, not just to discover the merits (or the conceived merits) of classic pieces, but to learn of your own stance on such controversial topics discussed.

The most notable thing that spruced from this book was the lack of tangibility concerning the characters. The protagonist, Winston Smith, had no defining traits or features, except for his rebellious streak which might not even set him out to be individual, but as one of many aspiring revolutionaries. My hope was to discover a Bonsai: a character that had been nurtured, not necessarily sheltered from action though, and cultivated into their own skin of ink and imagination. Sadly not. Driven by a desire for sex and Victory gin and not much else, Winston is a pathetic man to spend your afternoons with. When he is tortured, it’s not painful to read- unpleasant certainly- but the fires of anguish and sympathy are not ruthfully burning. You would think that Orwell would have devoted a bit more time to fleshing out, but if Winston was to be discovered on paper, it seems like paper he would remain.

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English Socialism-a political philosophy

It is common knowledge that 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine, so perhaps the language used in the mid-20th century would be a problem for the masses. Alas, alas, if only it were so. The writing is bland. Bland like builder’s tea (I’m much more a green tea person myself). Or cardboard. Perhaps this is the message that Orwell was trying to spread to us: we should inherently not use paper for anything like writing stories as it’ll only bore you: all theses papery references must count for something. I did count down the pages until the end which is never good a sign either.

The pace is unforgivable. My tortoise could waddle 100m faster: yes, there’s a climatic moment (Orwell was not an idiot after all) and perhaps intrigue, but generally it plopped along with an agenda that would horrify all overly zealous 3rd Grade teachers. (The  high intonations and tattooed on smiles never seem to go out of fashion in the education industry.) In fact, only a tree would grow slower than the pace. Coincidence? I think my point is proven. The arc of the plot is predictable to say the least, so it seems that there is little of interest in literary terms with 1984, except…

On the other hand (always a risky sentence starter) the ideas that are conveyed do hold significant weight. The themes of the proletariat rising to power, a theory cultivated by Marx, and their potential to do so was intriguing. At the time it must have caused the upper society to melt into enraged philosophical discussion, however today our society has evolved into something more unusual. The nature of the working classes, when nations are compared, is that they are astoundingly contrasting, so for a society like the one in 1984 to be created where the lower classes rise to power, it would have to be localised to a country or region, with people rebelling against a certain government/ specific policy. Not a worldwide movement as many people stand for many things.

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There is a flaw in the argument as at the moment not only are people under different governmental regimes, which means when the proletariat united rise to power their idea  of how power should be would, realistically, differ depending on culture (so not all inherently communist), but that at the moment many people are happy with the status quo.

Jo Brand said 1984 was ‘more relevant today than almost any other book’, however I feel that whilst identity and freedom are discussed, the underlying motives of the plot are entirely mischaracterised by Brand. Of course with more digital products entering our lives, it is easier to collect personal data. So the concept or value of privacy has undoubtedly evolved, but it is not eliminated like it is the book. In 1984 people are ruthlessly violent and racism is rife towards the prisoners of war with insults breeding everywhere:​ in the age of `Generation Snowflake’, there hardly seems a time where people are more emotionally protected or more sheltered from raw comments. But perhaps because now more than ever, they have to be.