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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5 Signs You’re a Reader

We all know that reading is a dangerous sport and yet many of us persist, despite the very obvious perils. If you are, however, unfamiliar with the hazards, then here they are.

1. You will buy books instead of food. Or clothes, theatre tickets, houses…

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No. Not the important ones like I will become a fountain of gratitude,  meditate everyday and recycle everything. You will slowly start to cut back to afford books, (given that merely borrowing one is a terrible idea) and it not only becomes a question of skimming the grocery shelves for the lowest prices so that you bound over to the book section and splurge (splurge? This is legitimate spending going on here) but also, start asking questions like: do I really need a new jumper? It may have a massive hole in the middle, but £30 could buy me a wonderful new hardback, and a cheeky paperback too if I’m thrifty. Again, it’s won’t really be a choice you’re making, but a predestined path you’re following.

2. You hoard.

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It’s true. After all, once you’d started that Harry Potter series, there was no way that the subsequent 6 other books wouldn’t wriggle their way into your bookshelves too, right? It starts off alright, with the books stacked neatly in the cupboards, and you tell yourself that at the end off every month you will clear them out, but soon you have to face the reality. How could you ever throw something like A Bear Called Paddington away? It squints at you, the corner of the front page a bit jammy from when your 7-year-old self was munching breakfast and reading. Then you remember that happened on holiday in Cornwall, oh memories of Cornwall, and then you realise that to throw away Paddington would practically be blasphemy, because, well, it’s been with you for so long, and what if you might, maybe read it again?

3. You have no social life.

Do I want to go out to a long stuffy dinner to face a mangled crustacean or stay at home with a book and enough ice cream (in my case, granola and yoghurt) to last? It’s a quite simple answer, actually. Soon, you find that you become much better friends with fictional characters than real people. It’s sad, but true- anyway no one has a sense of humour quite like Death from the Discworld series, so why bother looking any further? And you won’t really be in your living room, will you?

(“So what did you get up to on Friday night?” *Looks around, innocently* “Me? I was trekking in the Amazon and got attacked by a crocodile” *Cue other person slowly shuffling away*)

Well, at least books can’t reject you, and to say the least, going out for dinners might become rarity because…

4.You’re TBR is normally waaaaay to long (and an existential crisis ensues).

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You read. Then you begin to read more, start searching novels online and begin chatting to friends (those you have left) not about the weather, (which may be just as well) but this year’s Man Booker shortlist. Stop, before it gets out of hand. But you can’t. Book research is addictive, (as is endlessly perusing the shelves of bookshops when you’ve already bought a book, but are wallowing in the excitement of potentially diving into the tombs around you). Yet, like everything, there becomes a limit and soon it seems perhaps you can’t quite read all 207 books on your TBR that’s you’ve collected that year in the 14 days preceding your TBR deadline. You made the deadline to gently push you in the right direction and pressure you to find enough time to read. Trust me, this tactic becomes stressful, and you start to flail and wonder how, let alone on a time limit, but ordinarily you’re going to finish them all. There’s no consolidation either, no gentle hand willing you to step back, because you have actually wanted to read all them since, forever it seems… and ditching that list would be wasted hours.

5. You show your love for books in weird and strange ways.

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A conversation of praise isn’t enough, oh no. Cue the Pinterest accounts, the Facebook group chats dedicated to books series (I’ve known it happen, that’s all I’m saying) drawing endless pictures of your favourite scenes in the books, and even tattoos.

Reading is a commitment, my friend. Look where we are now; I find myself writing about books in my free time, when I could be doing actual useful stuff, and you are reading this (which I very much appreciate, I have to say). But seriously, people become seriously attached to novels.

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For example, don’t even try to argue against Tris on a forum, unless you want to end up hunted out like a Divergent yourself. Also, you might start finding yourself dressing like the characters and even wearing the same type of clothes. I know. (Having said that, Katniss braids are AWESOME so why wouldn’t you want one? I should have stopped trying to defend myself by now to be honest.) And you know all those fancy book quotes that we see plastering library /bedroom walls / phone cases. Someone had to make them, and normally they were  done by the fanatics themselves.

So you’ve been warned. These are the perils of reading. (Happy April Fools!) Have you personally suffered from any of these traits, or seen something entirely different spring up as a result? Do let me know and have a great (hopefully prank free) day!

February Book of the Month – A.A Gill is Further Away: Helping with Enquiries

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Everyone was shocked. It was unexpected, especially since A.A.Gill had only recently revealed his cancer. His death has shaken literary world; now there is a gaping hole where his columns used to be, ever opinionated and witty. Unfortunately, the newly employed writers are floundering to fill it: reading over their thoughts of the mango soufflé suddenly appear (whereas it most certainly hadn’t before,) trivial. Of course those journalist can’t help it, but how can you fill the page in place of one of the best journalists of our time and not appear feeble in comparison?

I decided to read A.A.Gill is Further Away because his death had inspired me to look what he had achieved and created. It contains a remarkable selection of short essays- the book is roughly split into two: the first half is composed of essays which he had written about his experiences in England, and for the latter each essay is about a foreign country. The remarkable thing about Gill’s writing is that the subject is almost regardless. His essays about bantam chickens are as compelling as those reflecting on his trip to Haiti. Every topic felt fresh and were explored with such a zest and enthusiasm towards the subject that is difficult to find elsewhere. You can tell that Gill enjoyed his job, that he felt satisfaction from diving into corners of the English language to extract the most precise metaphor, or adjective, or obscure yet oddly accurate imagery. The descriptions are vivid and quite literary for essays, which I enjoyed because often I find that non-fiction books can be stale in that respect.

The variety of subjects were in itself a relief: each essay is roughly 10 pages long and detailed enough to make one feel (if somewhat briefly) immersed in the location, but because Gill’s writing is incredibly intense, not so long that one loses concentration or interest. Gill has a unique voice, one which is blatantly unafraid to point out the faults in a country or to highlight the triumphs in the ordinary. This is wonderful. So often people are timid to say something that not only defies public opinion, but in fact is disparaging, simply because of fear. There’s none of that here! And those readers who think that this type of writing, or as it has been labelled ‘complaining’, is dull, well it isn’t. Gill writes about, for example, his Madagascan tribal culinary experience with such humorous distaste that it’s impossible not only to sympathise with him, but to laugh.

I thought that A.A.Gill is Further Away was a fantastic collection of essays and contained some of the best pieces of travel writing that I’ve come across. If you’re looking for an escape, not necessarily to another world as the cliché goes, but at least to another country, then look no further.

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The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

It’s January. People are looking at gym leaflets, trying again to stick to the resolutions they made in vain last year. Trying as best possible to hide from last year’s events, (whether it was political, or that Dinner Party at Fred’s which no one dares mention,) using the new shiny ‘2017’ as a shield. It is at this time of year that most people try and avoid history, in whatever form. However, we shouldn’t shun history. It should not be cast aside. Instead, it should be utilised, and used to our advantage. (So, note to self, never attempt to serve Baked Alaska near the Victorian curtains again.) The Uses and Abuses of History illustrates people who have done exactly that (no, not served Baked Alaska and then set the house on fire,)  but have used history to their advantage. Although there may be situations you will never find yourself in, there are many examples that can be related to, and the book will start to answer the common question: What can you even do with history?

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The Uses and Abuses of History is a thorough review of the way history has been manipulated and used as a tool in order to achieve certain goals. It shows us what the consequences are when history is taken into the wrong hands, and how this can in turn affect us in the present. To tell the truth, there wasn’t exactly a balance of uses and abuses of history, as Macmillian mainly looked at the more negative side to the way the past has been used, but it was nevertheless an interesting collection of essays.

For a non-fiction essay based book, it is surprisingly readable and full of interesting and understandable examples, which makes this book stand out from the hundreds of others similar in theme, crammed with illegible text and unfathomable references. A great example from the book was the Communist Chinese’s’ use of history; they tried to eradicate every single piece evidence of a time before communism in the country, including priceless artefacts, and rewrite the past to be used for their own means. Many people brought up in the Chinese education system have never once questioned their textbooks, the history of their country that had been fabricated from someone’s mind in an office. The words from their teachers that settled like dust in their minds after a long day at school were, and still are, taken as complete truth. The Uses and Abuses of History teaches you that rewriting the past to suit your own means is easier than you think, and more common in our lives than you’d expect, whether in terms of a politician vying to elevate their popularity, or a simple blunder made by an uninformed amateur historian.

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Not exactly a fast-paced action novel, nor one bursting with intricate characters (although the public figures referred to here are illustrious,) but if you’re willing to read a book about history, then this may as well be this one. After all, what is the point in history?

Have you read this book- what did you think of it? What’s your favourite historical novel? How close to the truth  do you think historical novels should be? Comment your thoughts below!

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Myanmar has only had 69 years of Independence. The past is closer than you think- and you can immerse yourself in it in Orwell’s first novel.

Imagine the existence of places centuries ago. We are all familiar with the concept of Victorian London, or the America as Columbus saw. But can we ever really believe in that place, petrified by the weight of history? Not simply in terms of overpaid actors, but understand the place that existed only a lengthy string of years ago?

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Yes- if you read Burmese Days. Since Orwell himself was stationed in Burma as a policeman there is an inescapable authenticity to the novel, and the blank way he causally refers to cultural customs illustrates that he wasn’t desperate to impress readers with his knowledge. (Unlike those authors who adopt the manner of *And here is a recipe for a rare national dish, inserted for no purpose whatsoever except to show you that I didn’t intend to spend countless hours trawling the internet for no credit.*) Due to his experiences (Orwell could even speak Hindi and Burmese) the novel felt genuine and gave me a clear idea of life at the time, and should be regarded as a valuable resource to anyone studying Burma in the early 20th century.

The plot itself could be considered mundane. There is a languid pace; it moves at the speed of someone overwhelmed by the summer heat. It’s mundane, almost. All that happens is that a British man abroad struggles (and fails,) not only to secure his Indian friend a membership to the European club, but the marriage of a girl. This is what the story is driven by, and after awhile it does become rather repetitive.

But then again the ending was shocking, and ends the sense of banality that had been previously lurking. It was so depressing (and tragically realistic,) that it made you ponder the entertainment value of reading it after all. (Why do I spend hours of my life, in happy solitude, staring at bits of paper?)

Thankfully this is interspersed with Orwell’s vivid descriptions of the scenery- he indulges much more in the literary side here than in his other works. For this reason, it would be useful for any fan of Orwell to read this first novel, so that not only can they enjoy the contrast to his later more refined tone, but see how from the start he was interested in discussing political and social ideologies. In fact, Burmese Days foreshadows the themes that would be seen so boldly in his books later on; the individual flailing against the tidal wave of an inhumane society.

A bold and unashamed novel, Burmese Days challenges British colonialism in Burma, offers a rich insight into the life of officers and has an unnerving finish despite the light hearted manner veiling the rest of the novel. If you are interested in political affairs (for Burma/ Myanmar, is rising globally currently), then this is an essential read. After all, if you seek to know something, you must first understand it’s history.

5 reasons you need to read Frankenstein now

 

You need to read Frankenstein now. In the suspendsion between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, where you can only eat mince pies at meals because you have so many left over, there is no better way to escape to the stoic mourning of Christmas (until next August) than to read. But why read Frankenstein?

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1. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the conception Shelley’s story. (In fact, the way Frankenstein came about, with that ghost story competition with Lord Bryon at Lake Geneva is nearly as famous as the outcome- Frankenstein- itself.) Shelley had a remarkable sense of audacity to publish her book, even if it was initially anonymous, because at the time such gruesome horrors conjured from female minds was frowned upon. But luckily she did, and for the centuries since it hasn’t ceased to shock and thrill all who have come across it, whether Frankenstein was in a literary form, or in a film or stage adaptation. There would be no better way to commemorate Shelley’s great novel than to read it on this anniversary.

2. The season is to create the right atmosphere for book: at the moment, we are in the depths of winter. Darkness seeps into our windows too early everyday, leaving us looking solemnly outside from underneath our blankets, a hot tea by our side. Frankenstein is full of rich imagery concerning nature; soaring icebergs and bleak landscapes. You can all too easily submerse yourself in the wintry atmosphere. For those living in warmer climes… it might be significantly harder to envision the biting chill of polar landscapes whilst you rub the rest of your suncream in, but there you go.

3. You need to learn who Frankenstein is, if you don’t know already. For years in movies the creature that Victor Frankenstein creates has been given that name, but frankly that it grossly inaccurate and just because Frankenstein sounds like an awesome name for a monster, doesn’t mean it is one. This mistake has thus been duplicated: Frankenstein’s Bride isn’t Frankenstein’s bride at all, but his creature’s bride.

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4. It’s a classic 19th century novel, with thrilling plot, including: a string of murders, a rampant patchwork zombie and a nervy scientist who is starving for revenge. Story arcs don’t t get much more adventurous than. Despite being writing in the contemporary dialect, reading it is rarely a challenge and by reading an older novel you’re literary horizons will expand. It is on most Top 100 reads not because it is so old, but because there something so profound about it. It’s also the first novel in history about the education of a scientist.

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5. Frankenstein explores issues in society. Our world is changing- some argue too quickly. The last of 2016 is rotting away, and then 2017 will be forced upon us. Yet Frankenstein has been with us, modern humanity, for some time. It hasn’t been lost in the flurry of mouldy manuscripts because people connected with it; back then and now. Frankenstein reflects culture greatly. And that is due to the theme of ethics and science- what are the wider implications of an experiment? We have the technology so that it can be done, but does that mean we should do it? To what extent should the scientist’s have control over the created beings, or care for them- is it their duty? In many ways, it is clear that Frankenstein is more relevant today than ever before.

So what are you waiting for- find that battered copy! Or have you read Frankenstein before- what do you think of it? Literary masterpiece, or overrated? Please go ahead and comment your thoughts…

Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

Moonwalker. Innovator. Alcoholic.

A brutally honest autobiography of Aldrin’s life, reflecting on not only the stellar parts of his career, but the parts which have shrouded him in despair and embarrassment.

Many Americans view Buzz Aldrin as a national icon; a hero. Part of Apollo 11, the space mission which cemented him in history as the second man to ever walk on the Moon, Aldrin certainly is extraordinary. But there are other sections of his life that define him, too. Like when he was a fighter pilot in the Korean war, an author of novels or when he spent most his days slumped beneath bedsheets, due to the overwhelming depression he suffered. Most people aren’t aware of this side, and Magnificent Desolation explains what precisely Aldrin went through following his Moon Landing; it turns out that the physical side effects were the least of his worries, and that he was psychologically underprepared for the fame that would ensue.

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This book, despite being co-written by Ken Abraham, was definitely written by Aldrin. The words had bitter edges on certain topics (like when discussing his failures in his post-astronaut military career, or when discussing conspiracy theorists) and at other times would appear as if he was desperately trying to seem complementary, as if through the publication of this book he was wary of any outstanding offences he could cause.

Also, occasionally Aldrin would start to build up an event as if it had massive significance in the grand scheme of his life, and as a reader I would wonder what this event would foreshadow. More often than not it turned out to be completely irrelevant and not tie into anything else in the book:

“One overly zealous reporter planted himself in front of our car, refused to budge while snapping photos of me through the windshield. In exasperation, I raised my hand and gave him the finger. As soon as I saw the flash go off, I knew that I had made a gigantic mistake. When we got back to the hotel, my first call was to the attache at the embassy to see if he could quash the picture. He must have successful, because the photo never showed up”

It’s just utterly frustrating. If it turned out that the image had been leaked and had started to give Aldrin an awful reputation which affected his speaking career, then it would have been understandable. But nothing came of it- so why waste a paragraph mentioning  an irrelevant event that is not tied onto anything else in the book? This happened so many times throughout and frankly I found myself exasperated.

What I did enjoy though was when Aldrin started to discuss how in his later career he continued to develop ideas for space exploration. His words sounded so resolute and hopeful for the future- how by 2030 we should have people living on Mars, and his grand plans for a Mars Shuttle System. Above all I found that part fascinating, because it offered me an insight into the future of space. He spoke a lot about space tourism too; it seems like a plausible concept and he discusses it at length because he had devoted plenty of time to ensuring that it became as intrinsic to the American economy as ordinary tourism. We’re not quite there yet, but time can only tell!

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I would recommend this autobiography to those  who have an interest in space history and astronauts, as it does not only offer a valuable insight to Aldrin’s life, but also into the future of space in our society. It is not a necessarily a relaxing read as most of the information is presented quite factually and straightforwardly, but nevertheless I’m glad I gave it go!

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

The title is misleading. Having sold 19 million copies across the globe and accessible in 46 languages, suffice to say, the Secret isn’t quite so confidential anymore.

19 million is a large number. So what’s the attraction? Apparently, according to Rhonda Bryne, it’s in your thoughts. The actual Secret is the law of attraction, which basically means that the thoughts coming from You (she was very found precociously capitalising this pronoun) could control the Universe, as long as they’re on the right frequency. All you had to do, it seems, was twist your internal antenna and tell the Universe what you wanted. In fact, it clearly says: “You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the Perfection of Life.” Bryne continues by telling us that apparently you, (yes “You”), have attracted everything in your life towards you. So, she continues that means that people who have cancer, were in a housefire or unwillingly part of a warfare were so because their thoughts had attracted them to that situation. It seems questionable.

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But there is technically some truth in The Secret, in the sense that it relates to the psychological concept: “Confirmation Bias”, and manipulates it slightly in order to make the book the best-seller that it is (along with the help of the promotional shout outs by Oprah Winfrey). So the Secret says think good thoughts, and good things will come your way: well, we are already subject to confirmation bias, whether we know it or not. As all scientific studies has shown, humans have incredibly short attention spans, so we have to select carefully what we pay attention to. An easy example of this is a broken friendship: you and this friend are getting along swimmingly until they do something shocking to break this bond. Enraged and surprised by this, you review your past few months together and suddenly realise how all along they’ve been scheming, and you’ve never recognised these blatant signs until now- because you’re actively looking for them.

In short, the Secret channels confirmation bias to such an extent that you are obsessively positive for a such a long time that eventually the bias must to work. It changes your perspective on life and encourages you to never doubt yourself and always take that plunge, because negativity will be your downfall. This kind of positive thinking, where you consistently tell yourself that you WILL get that job interview, or whatever else you aspire to, actually resolves in laziness. We become complacent because we have already ‘completed’ the task- which results in a lack of motivation and thus preparation, because what’s the point if you’ve already ‘achieved’ the end result? Therefore overall performance will be lower. And anyway, on a personal level I don’t think that it is such a good idea: think about all those crazy ideas we’ve had (what if you had worn that cat suit to the Christmas Party last year- what would Aunt May think of you now)? Precisely. I believe that second thoughts are useful after all.

But- and this is where the Secret attempts to justify itself, it has loyal supporters! William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein are meant to have owed their successes to this Secret. There is only limited evidence though: random quotations dotted throughout the oddly square book which have only very weak relevance to the topic at hand. Here is an extract from the book:

“ ‘Is this a friendly Universe?’ … Albert Einstein posed this powerful question because he knew The Secret. He knew by asking the question it would force us to think and make a choice.”

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I am not sure that is entirely justifiable. Einstein actually offers us the meaning behind his quote, and it’s surprising that Bryne didn’t include it in her self-help book, (as it completely contradicts what she decided it meant). Einstein explains that “If we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe.” No concepts about thought-attraction here, I’m afraid, and no mention of the Secret he was allegedly so fond of.

So; the Secret. Take it, or leave it. It’s a strange concept, with psychological roots wrapped up in mushy quotes about our perfections and best-selling anecdotes that tell people exactly what they want to hear. The question is, have you read the book? Do you believe it to be true, or not- if you do, do you have any examples?

The Night Manager- John Le Carré

Observe Jonathan Pine, stage right, taking on the worst man in the world, in the BBC Production  a captivating spy thriller, set in the mid 20th century. Absorb the deliciously shady alliance between the secret arms community and the centres of intelligence around the world. Notice the man trying to stay afloat whilst everyone else drowns around him.

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Jonathan Pine is a night manager at an affluent hotel in Zurich, and just another rich man comes to stay the night. Of course, he has booked out only the majority of the hotel- the most expensive suites, (to accommodate his sweeping entourage,) and, naturally, has it all. The wealth, the slavering posse and the charm. But this man, Richard Onslow Roper, also has a secret arms trade to his name. Coordinating it from afar, he controls the entire enterprise and soon becomes a target for Jonathan Pine. Now, look behind Pine’s perfected smile, the rigid tie and suit. He is merely seeking refuge from his past at the hotel, with a history in the military and years of specialist spy training. Yes. Crucially, he isn’t a heroic man trying to take on the world. Come on, this is Le Carré, he is a bit more realistic than that- let’s give him some credit. Actually, whilst we’re at it, let’s also mention the girlfriend in. Roper has a girlfriend-Jed, about half his age (obviously)- and being that typical spy, women of all types are magically attracted to Pine, including Roper’s girlfriend. You understand how it comes to be problematic.

But that’s not the only thing which is problematic: for some reason, Le Carré cannot find a single interesting, empowering role for women in his novel. It is so male-centric, from the main figures in intelligence to Roper’s circle of friends. The only women that feature are various doting wives and a sprinkling of girlfriends of Pine’s. And the only things that they seem to be good at is all being mysteriously attracted to him, betraying their original boyfriends and beliefs in some form for him, and then being unceremoniously ditched as Pine has to flee to another corner of the world. Most notable of these is Jed, Roper’s/ Pine’s (yes…) girlfriend, who is a complete airhead. Even when she attempts to break free from her mould and display some signs of intelligence, Le Carré simply has to scold her for it…(spoiler alert) in the sense that she manages to break the lock on Roper’s office, and leaves a hair! Understandably, it is a useful way to demonstrate to the readers that she has been present there, but this merely demotes her in terms of our impression of her intelligienc. By leaving a trail, Jed is portrayed as more of a snooping girlfriend and less the inquisitive spy, which is accurate enough but regardless does her no favours. Wait! Excuse me, there is actually a half-hearted attempt at equality in the secret circles: a woman who is depicted more like a teddy bear than anything else: she’s known as Darling Katie, and no, it is not ironic. This book may have been published in 1993, but attitudes towards women’s role in society hasn’t changed that much.

The way the antagonist, Roper, is presented is unusual, because not only does he have flaws, such as he is an egomaniac and has a massive arms/ drugs business… but Le Carré has cleverly given him positive characteristics, so that as a reader in a way you can sympathise with him. Not to such the extent that when he eventually is tossed by the ankles in the volcano (this doesn’t actually happen), that you feel remorse, but enough so that there is a hesitation. Roper is almost ignorant. Because we all know villains are self-titled, they don’t believe they are committing evil, and the same applies to Roper. He simply sees his “profession” as a competitive way of living. (Not sure how sympathetic one can be tho
ugh, having said that, considering all the murder and gore that’s involved.)

The novel was sluggish initially, with the first few hundred pages a chore to read. There was concentrated, precise language used, so it was always slightly a struggle to settle into at the end of a long day, but nevertheless, by the time we got to page 350, I felt like I was getting into it. You know what they say- better late than never. In this sense, it was similar to Catch-22. (Never a compliment…) On the other hand, it was seamless by the end, and throughout there was a sticky atmosphere of tension which, when the action truly evolved, made it an impulsive read.

What did you think of the Night Manager? What is your favourite spy thriller this year? Have you seen the BBC Production too- how do they compare?