Why You Should Fall Asleep Reading American History

It happens to the best of us. Dear Americans, do not take this as a personal assault on your nation’s history- this is far from it. Instead, this is… well, just read the article.

Only yesterday I was reading “American History” by Paul S. Boyer when, at only page 6, I succumbed to irresistible slumber. And I am glad I did, because I truly could not bear it any longer. When you are reading a text that is drier than an apple ring in a toddler’s lunch, (sorry Boyer) it is easily done. Take the phrase: “Underlying the creativity and ferment of antebellum America lay the inescapable reality of slavery”. The present (the content, here) is engaging, but the wrapping (pompous language) is so uninteresting that it is almost too depressing to tear it off.

So, deprived of dreams and bored, the book slipped from my hands as I slipped into sleep. And then, a solid 40 minutes later, I woke up, and I still had 124 pages to go! But now, I felt refreshed like I had imbibed an elixir of concentration. I proceeded with my task and I managed to absorb some fascinating things about American History, like:

  • The theory New England Puritans had in the 18th Century that “God had chosen the Puritans to create in America a New Zion”, which clearly did not fade away after they had founded Massachusetts. This sense of narcissism, that America had such a unique role in history which was beyond that of simply capitalism and greed, is truly engrossing. Also, it does tonally remind one of:

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  • The 17th Century concept of indentured servants: these are like slaves (but with a couple more laws on their side) who have to work only for a certain period of time under their masters before they are free. They worked in exchange for a paid passage to the Colonies. As I study American History (you should be so proud of me for doing this external reading), I found it surprising that my course completely overlooks indentured servants, when  “one-half to two-thirds of the immigrants who came to the American colonies arrived as indentured servants”. Does nobody else think that is astounding? They typically spent four to seven years working before they could be free. Now there you were thinking that flights for the Christmas break were expensive. It is generally accepted though that Africans  initially “blended into a larger population of unfree labourers” before they alone eventually became enslaved. That is the truly horrific note, because it illustrates how at this point slavery was not societal (although obviously that was awful as well); it was consciously introduced. Many may imagine slavery was imported from the mother country into America, but evidently in the beginning this was not the case and instead was consciously integrated into a culture which had existed primarily without it.

 

  • Fake news existed in 1776. Who knew? Or, to be more accurate, people had their own special version of Twitter and Facebook back then, only showing them what they wanted to see. A specific example was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which published in January, sold nearly 120,000 by April. It is almost the contemporary equivalent of a vegan cookbook! Oh how times have changed. We really have become unintellectual. But many have cited Common Sense as the trigger to the Revolution, and how it determined the tone of the Second Continental Congress in May (where the Declaration of Independence was written).  To think that in the 18th Century a mere pamphlet could have such a monumental impact on the course of world history is astounding, is it not? One might think that Paine was a real pain, because he had just moved to America when he released Common Sense and called King George III a “royal brute” and therefore was incredibly disloyal. But actually, some of what he said did make a lot of sense, and are harmonious with the ideals of this blog:

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Anyway, I decided that even if I was reading A Very Short Introduction, it turned out not to be that short, so after my delicious nap I decided only to read the parts of the book relevant to my course. You can tell I consolidated and learnt some great facts along the way, but most of all, this moral:

DO NOT READ AMERICAN HISTORY IF YOU ARE TIRED. THE WORDS WILL SLIP THROUGH YOUR EYEBALLS AND THEN EVAPORATE AS LITTLE CURLS OF THOUGHT STEAM ABOVE YOUR HEAD SO THAT YOU’VE WASTED YOUR TIME AND WON’T BE ABLE TO REMEMBER ANYTHING LATER.

Instead, sleep, and then return to your work, refreshed, with a more receptive mind to even the driest of texts.

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*Yes, sorry, this only works if you are on holiday and can just snooze around whenever. Apologies if that is disappointing news.

The perfect book to read on Halloween

Happy Halloween to you all!

Some people may want to be out and about dancing tonight:

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This can be fully recommended, because who doesn’t like wandering around at night and taking sweets from strangers? Right? But if you do prefer a quieter night in, away from all the ghouls and glamorous costumes, then you should definitely read The Monster We Deserve by Marcus Sedgewick.

Here is why:

  • It is set in an atmospheric and chilling cabin in the middle of the woods. There can hardly be anything more tonally appropriate for Halloween than that, as that is a classic settings for all horror stories ever. It almost seems like this book is and isn’t a parody of all horror stories. It contains all the classic features: ghosts, cabin in the woods, a victim and a monster, but there is a twist which is…
  • Frankenstein (and his monster)! This isn’t clear on the blurb, at least for the copy I bought, but the content of the book is about the protagonist’s encounter with Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein (read my review of that here). So there is a double blow of an amazing story (Frankenstein), within a ghost story (the actual text). This  may be a parody of Frankenstein too, as the fictional author complains about how many stories within stories there are within Shelley’s work!
  • The title is just so compelling. I mean- ‘The Monsters We Deserve“. I did not even look inside the book before I had decided to read it. This is the power of marketing, people. But it worked, so I guess it was fine to succumb to it in this instance. Yet actually think about that phrase. Do we deserve the monsters we get in life? Do we? DO WE?!
  • It is short so that you can read it in one sitting. Like on Halloween. 263 pages may sound like it is too weighty a tomb to tackle in one go, but actually the margins are very wide and many pages have artwork on them, so it is surprisingly fast to go through. This makes it perfect to read tonight, on the spookiest of nights.
  • The message of the book. Yes, it is about monsters and so links in with the witches/ mummy/ zombie/ creepy theme, but it is actually much more philosophical than that, because the “moral” of this book is that our actions define us. That “we are responsible for our creations“, and if we do not manage these creations or our actions carefully, they will grow out of our control and take on their own life, which in turn affects us. In an everyday situation, it may be that something you say will be taken wildly out of context; if you do not manage that carefully then people could end up accusing you of horrendous things based off rumours drawn from something which isn’t true to start off with. Just look at celebrities. It really is a powerful message worth noting.
  • The Front cover and the artwork inside the book is exquisite. Really. There are some forest drawings in the book which truly complement the content, whilst the cover is aesthetically pleasing. It is a book you do not want to hide away in your shelf, with only the spine facing the world. No!

the monsters we deseve

 

  • It is so quotable:

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not himself become a monster” (This is actually Nietzsche, but is featured in the book anyway)

“we are responsible for our creations”

“That is what Victor’s true crime is; not that he creates a man, but that, having created one, he does not care for what he has created”

“Monster means to think. A monster means to think. So all our thoughts are monsters?”

“Our creations end up creating us, in return. Create a lie, and you become one.”

 

So there you have it. Have a wonderful Halloween you spooky creatures and I hope that you have as much fun as these guys seem to be having!

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Am I a Bad Person because I judge a book by its cover?

We have all been children before. Even the really old, nasty neighbour you had when you were 5, who would shout at you for playing football against their wall. Even them. So growing up we all heard the phrase

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”

Welp, that is a nice metaphor. But it exists for a reason: judging things quickly is easy and, unfortunately, can be very informative. You can determine if someone is rich or physically fit by their appearance. Stop- stop the barrage of abuse coming my way!

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Footage of me diving into arguments in the comments section

This is a generalisation, but it works for the extremes. If someone is wearing Gucci (which, by the way, someone once told me “was chavvy”. I wonder which group they could be lumped into), then they are definitely not poor. Equally, if someone is living on the street, then they are decidedly not wealthy. (The fault with this is in the gray areas: if someone is moderately wealthy then it can be hard to see where precisely they lie. They do not wear designer, but it is not rags either (then again Silicon Valley guys do dress like a homeless people) .) Ahh double brackets; never a good sign!! Anyway, the same applies to books: is it easy to judge them in the most extreme cases, because books which are of a high quality will be signed onto major publishing houses, and therefore will have beautiful covers, so that they sell better. Books which are self-published will usually have very plain or self-drawn (!) covers. No  one aspires to be self-published. The reason why decent ones makes headlines, like Eragon, is because how rare high quality is in that sector. So generalisations can be made: is it worth reading 99 awful-looking books just to find one good one, or should we just read 99 great-looking books, and risk finding one terrible one?

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There is something so captivating about that cover; something so thoughtful. I have never read it before, but the quote “Rich and colourful” from The New York Times matches the painting precisely, no? So clearly this image has been chosen carefully, and if the publishing house has spent all that money on the design, then they are backing that book to be successful. These people edit books for a living, so they will know a crowd-pleaser when they see one. Now, sometimes I do question how a book has gone past so many people and yet still has glaring spelling mistakes and inconsistencies (ahem “What Milo Saw” by Virginia MacGregor), but this is a rare phenomenon. When I do dislike something in a book, I do appreciate that it is not the publisher’s fault necessarily but merely a matter of my own (never quite humble enough) opinion.

Even a book like-spurious.jpeg

-has such an intriguing cover that you cannot help but buy it. Because riddle me this: have you ever, in a shop, tasted the cake before you bought it? Or eaten their pizza before ordering it? No? Well then you judged their food by the restaurant’s cover: their staff and interior design. You have no idea, really, how well the food will be cooked on that particular night. It is just like, how, even if you have read some of their books before, you never know quite how good their next one be. J.K.Rowling found this out the hard way… if she did not want to hear the honest truth, she should not have written under a pseudonym!

On the other end of the scale, there are books with the shoddy covers. I am not going to put some of the worst images on here, because I started researching books with terrible covers and I ended up with some shockers. There are some so bad that my eyes started bleeding. Also, I do not want to pollute this website. All I am saying is, the title of one the books was “Now That I’m A Ghost I’m Gay”. If that does not have you running for the hills, then I do not know how to help you. There are some very funny ones out there, too, particularly here on Bored Panda, but the top two were:

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I think I will pass

and

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I do not think this is in international dialogue, actually, since it this published in 2007

These are examples of either unfortunate titles or simply- well, I am not sure how to excuse that last one. “Fine!” You say. “But these really are not that bad. That international dialogue part sounds interesting, so why judge? You cannot say that these do not have the potential to contain something interesting?” Well, Imaginary Dialogue Friend, what I can say, is that there are certain covers which would have me scrambling for anything, even Hello Magazine, just to escape looking at them a second more. Like these:

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I want someone to look me in the eye, right now, and tell me that they would want to read them. And no, Shawn James, you do not count. Maybe even you do not even want to read these. Oh, and it does not count if you tell me this out of spite. I know you shady people out there.

So yes, you definitely can judge a book by its cover (and if you still disagree, please do read the two books above and leave a review in the comments below Xx ). Secondly, no I am not a bad person for doing this because it simply makes common sense: I can read a beautiful book which is more likely than not a stimulating Pulitzer Prize winner, or a grimy looking one, written in a garden shed, which is so awful that they had to self-publish.

We all have limited time in this world, so go ahead, make that judgement and do not give the side eye to those admit to doing the same.

There are a few occasions where snobbishness is acceptable, and this is it.

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You have full permission to fling that waste of paper 

My Winter Challenge

You have obviously read my earlier post about my favourite sentences ever 😉

Of course you have, and you loved it. So you will be outrageously excited to hear about my Winter Challenge, where I am going to write a short stories with each one opening with the lines of those books.

Interestingly, I have read most of these classics, so it will be a bit of challenge to try and move away from what I already know happens.

Until then…

classy

10 BEST FIRST SENTENCES EVER

Hmmmm, like smelling a cookie straight out of the oven, reading these legendary first sentences bring two things with them:

Joy from the act itself and excitement at what is to come.

 

1. Augusten Burroughs, Sellevision 

“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.”

 

2. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

 

3. Paul Auster, City of Glass

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

 

4. Felipe Alfau, Chromos 

The moment one learns English, complications set in.

 

5. David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.

 

6. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

 

7. Lynda Barry, Cruddy

Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.

 

8. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses

Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave.

 

9. Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, bird

Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.

 

10.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

What To Do When Hardy Gets You Down

One book, a two-week holiday and very low motivation to read it.

Yes, I have been set Far From The Madding Crowd to read. This is how it makes me feel:

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and also this

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when I realise I have to spend most of my holiday

a) mentally preparing myself to read it

b) actually reading it

c) recovering from the inane and mind-numbing experience that occurs whilst reading it.

Ladies and Gentlemen; I think this website explains my dedication to the art of reading. But not all books are the light of my life and the fire of my loins: far from it. Already once this year I have battled against Hardy, in Tess D’Urberville. I was not sure who would win that particular battle, but lo I surfaced from that struggle the victor.

1 – Me, 0 – Hardy and his evil designs.

Gone! I thought. It has been read, and suffered through, and now no more 19th Century rabbling. I thought I was safe in my English Class, as we have been studying Plath and Hughes poetry for the past 7 weeks. Well, my good luck has run out, as I have been set Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd as holiday work. I must say, I was seriously considering doing a cheeky read of the summary, but then I thought no! I cannot have a book blog and behave in such a manner.

So every night I slowly made my way through it. In a week I read no more than 30 pages. Given that my copy had 328 pages  (I know this off the top of my head as I kept on having to reference it to see how much more I had left), I would not finish in time for our first class back.

I had no hope. Like a runner whose legs are burning with lactic acid, I had tried so hard to succeed and yet felt like I going nowhere and in severe pain. Until! Until I remembered the magic that is skim reading. This is what got me through in a rapid (but orderly) fashion. Now, before you moan and complain, remember that Hardy spends 90% of the time describing a blade of grass in the field, or the countryside, which really are not relevant to the plot, which is the main thing I need.. Controversial, but ultimately true. So my top tip for getting through Hardy, is this: 

Focus on reading the dialogue properly, and skim everything else.

This sounds stupid, but it works remarkably well. Of course, some descriptions are important, but then if they are and you have missed them you can always go back and read that specific section properly. If you get to speed through ten pages, and have to re-read one paragraph on the eleventh page, surely it is worth it, as opposed to having finely-comb everything?

Of course, this method will not work for many other books where things actually happen, and the writer more cleverly adopts symbolism etc. that affect later events in the novel. Also, I know that I am going to be studying this in class, so I do not need to have an amazing working knowledge of the text: I just need to understand what is going on, and then later we will together go through the themes. Lastly, do not do this if you enjoy a book! I hate Hardy, so I just wanted to get the experience over as quickly as possible so that I could get onto something I really liked.

I hope this helps all my fellow students out there who have good intentions but low motivation:

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A Poetic Review IN GERMAN?!!

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Thoughts on Munich by Robert Harris:

 

München: Sie waren geschichtlich interessant,

Aber in diesem fall wurde ihre wichtigkeit verkannt.

 

Zugegebenerweise ein Buch über eine Tagung

macht so viel Spaß wie das Lesen einer Befragung,

 

also hinterher war es nicht äußerst schlimm.

Aber was besser ist als Robert Harris sind die Gebrüder Grimm.

 

Ihre Geschichten sind nicht basierend (ungleich München) auf Fakten,

wo ein Deutscher dem Engländer gibt die vertrauliche Akten.

 

Ja, sie versuchten den zweiten Welt Krieg zu verhindern

aber Chamberlain bevorzugte es zu schlendern

 

als zu lesen diese Dokumente. So nah! So weit weg!

Und am ende wird Deutschland doch in Polen Einmarschieren.

“If you could have dinner with…”

MARY SHELLEY

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A teenage literary giant, there is nothing that isn’t impressive about Shelley. Whether it’s the famous tale about the creation of Frankenstein, her tumultuous relationship with Percy or even the fact that she was a woman navigating here way through an overbearingly sexist industry (hence the pseudonym), it’s hard to say how she wouldn’t be thoroughly engaging. Also, she kept Percy’s heart wrapped in one of his poems. Now that is someone who I would like to meet.

NEIL GAIMAN

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Neil Gaiman is a bit of a legend. So much so that he writes free short stories on his website (check it out here) and seems to be a half-ghostly, half-firmly entrenched in reality type of guy. I don’t quite know why he appears to be so intriguing, although I suppose the subject matter of his books speak for themselves.

TERRY PRATCHETT

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Come on. Even if you haven’t read any T.P books, wouldn’t you want to have met him based on this picture? I was so keen when was I younger to tell Pratchett how much I loved his work that I even wrote him a letter and included a hand-drawn dragon. (Which I was very proud of, by the way). Unfortunately he never wrote back, although some vaguely pessimistic part of me did expect never to hear from him again anyway. It’s a real shame, but at least I can say that I tried. That said, Pratchett was a thoroughly engaging man; before becoming a writer he worked at a nuclear plant, and he seemed like the kind of man who was not only is witty, but had his fair share of outrageous anecdotes to tell.

DAPHNE DU MAURIER

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Not only has her book Rebecca never gone out of print, but du Maurier herself was quite the character. Her father was so desperate for a son that he made cut her hair short and adopt a male persona, which she called “Eric Avon”. Given that her father was an actor and indeed encouraged this behaviour, no one thought it all bizarre and it was only at adolescence that ‘Eric’ was sidelined. Then, in 1925, as if to prove a point she went a finishing school in France. A proper finishing school! I would just dream to hear the late-night stories that they shared at such a classic institution late at night… because I firmly believe that boarding school isn’t as innocent as it seems!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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This is two-fold:

Firstly, did Shakespeare exist? If I sent him a memo and he didn’t turn up, then I presume not, and the whole world be shaken. (Maybe…) Or he just rejected me. Which would be an equally calamatous event compared with him not existing at all.

Secondly, if Shakespeare did turn up for 17th century (vegan) pies outside the Globe, then it would be fascinating in itself because Shakespeare’s life had been rather mixed. He came from a poor background and somehow managed to establish a life for himself amongst the literary elite, and even ended up working for the King. Asking him about his intention for the longevity for the plays (and would he consider prose?) would also feature high on the agenda.

ROALD DAHL

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Does this even need explaining? He evidently prefers children though (adults are regarded with great disdain in the majority of his books), so maybe I would have to de-age before somehow meeting him to have the richest experience possible. I don’t even think I would say anything, in all honesty (and definitely not the “where do you get your inspiration from” type-question). But to be in the presence of such an influential man would be enough.

THE BIBLE WRITER(S)

 

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This would be more altruistic than anything but at least it would put a lot of people’s minds at rest depending on who turned up… it could radically alter modern society as we know it!

A.A.GILL

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The appeal of meeting A.A.Gill is rather simple one. Renowned for his travel writing, he had seen the world and such a wealth of experience to draw upon that coupled with biting humour it would have been the most intriguing of evenings. There is still rightly so much melancholy and intense sadness surrounding his recent death in the literary and wider community. It came as such a shock to everyone, and the perhaps saddest things of all (after the loss to his family), is that the words of trips he now can never make, unwritten, are permanently hanging in oblivion.

Liebster Award 2018

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Right, I’m starting this thread of the Liebster Award, (find out more about it here,) so I don’t have anyone to thank for nominating me, but I’m going to give a nod of recognition to a blog called  A Guy Called Bloke  because I found the awesome questions (which I answered below,) from there.

Why I’m passionate about blogging:

For me, blogging all started because I wanted a platform to record how many books I had read, and what I thought of them. Soon it became my own corner of the internet and somewhere I knew that I could voice my thoughts and opinions- just for my own satisfaction. This was mainly because when I started the blog there were no English societies or book clubs for me attend, and most young teens don’t find a rendition of The Secret History that attractive a prospect. Fast forward a few years, and I am part of all sort of literature related activities, but I also love to keep my blog alongside to record reads, reach out to others and review current affairs through the lens of my personal opinion.

10 Random Facts about Me

1. I have fenced foil for the England team.

2. I was once the part of a tree in a German play.

3. I own three pairs of Doc Martens.

4. I bake a wonderful chocolate chip banana bread.

5. I played Grade 5 piano until I was 13.

6. I visited Ranthambore national park in India, which is a tiger sanctuary, stayed there for a week and didn’t see a single cat.

7. I don’t like sandwiches.

8. I am proficient in 5 languages: English, German, Ancient Greek, Latin and French

9. I wrote an entire novel when I was 14.

10. I can lucid dream!

Question Time!

1)What was the last movie you can recall that actually really made you laugh as in splitting sides kind of movies?

Hot Fuzz! Basically anything with Simon Pegg…

2] The last book you read that made you stop in your tracks and think about life?

The book that I’m reading right now (stay tuned for a review 🙂  called “All that Remains” by Sue Black. Of course I’ll go into this later, but it’s about Death and how humans really are just an amalgamation of cells and organs. When you examine humans just as another species you realise how personally insignificant you are…which actually quite liberating.

3] What is a piece of music that can make you smile and cry inside at the same time?

Liability by Lorde

4] An event in history that changed your perspective on how we live as a society?

Definitely the Enabling Act in 1933 Germany. It represented the loss of liberty in the German population and signalled that Hitler was starting his dictatorship. With the SS and an ultimate grip on judiciary system, this event proved that the public weren’t complicit in his rise power but simply tried to live their lives and follow along.

This changed my perspective on society because it illustrates that people aren’t inherently evil and that they don’t set out to do bad things. Not all the millions of Germans, for example, even voted him into the government and even if they did, it was his financial policies that were attractive and they tended to ‘overlook’ everything else. People saw strength in Hitler’s passionate speeches, and he represented the strong leader they needed moving on from the Wall Street Crash. No one could see what was coming- if Nigel Farage wrote a massive manifesto, who would bother reading it or even taking it seriously? Yet, if he ends up Prime Minister and initiates outrageously xenophobic policies, then people can say these beliefs were even in his writing all along, and shame on you for missing them. So basically that lots of terrible things happen because of the short-sightedness, and not necessarily maliciousness, of the majority. Like Brexit.

5] Frankenstein or Dracula – who would win that fight and why?

Dracula, because Frankenstein (read my review of it, here) is more emotional and so would unlikely have the capacity to brutally murder Dracula (unless there was a sound reason). Frankenstein wouldn’t fight for the sake of power, whereas Dracula definitely would, because he’s sneaky like that. Frankenstein may have brute strength, but psychologically he is unstable and therefore would struggle with the final blow when not unduly antagonised. Dracula, as we know, is more conniving and thus would win.

6] You only have £5 in your pocket and a homeless person has asked you to spare some change – what do you do? Answer honestly here from your heart – and not what you expect other readers to expect of your answer.

Honestly, if I had spare time for a conversation, I would ask the person what they needed, like if they needed a toothbrush or a sandwich. If they then said that they were hungry, maybe I would buy them a meal from a local supermarket, but if they asked for just money I would walk away, because clearly if they don’t ask for something specific then the money would be going towards something dubious.

7] Which flower or herb do you find startlingly attractive and why?

Lavender… I mean look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

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8] What is your favourite pastel colour?

Apart from lavender? This:

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9] You have the chance to have a dinner party with five of the Harry Potter characters – who would you invite [Dead or Alive]

Ron Weasley

Dobby!

Hagrid

Hermione Granger

Cho Chang

10] In a hundred years what will society miss from our today? 

Society will miss the amount of forest and natural habitat that is somewhat in abundance today, but is slowly being destroyed by deforestation.

11] If you had the ability to stop planet earth right now and start afresh – which would mean that you would cease to exist – would you perform the action?

By “start afresh” I presume a Noah’s Ark type scenario? No, I wouldn’t, because then humanity would be back to square one, without the knowledge which they had gained over the past centuries. Humanity would be so primitive that slavery, homophobia and  misogyny would normal again- society wouldn’t have gone through that learning curve of realising that equality is necessary, so what would essentially happen is that all those groups of people would be targeted again. The minorities would have to suffer for many millennia more because of the archaic power structure that would form again. These people have waited long enough for equality, I’m not going to let them wait anymore by going through the same cycle. People don’t learn from their past mistakes as it is, and with starting afresh these mistakes won’t even be in their memory and so history really would repeat itself. And history is not a nice place to be if you’re a straight white male. No one wants to go back there.

5 blogs that I’m nominating for this award:

11 Random questions for these blogs:

  1. If you were a type of instrument, what type of instrument would you be?
  2.  If you had the attention of the government of your country for a single hour, what would you say to them and why?
  3.  What is more significant, art which makes us laugh, or art which makes us cry?
  4.  What is the one meal that you think everyone should know how to cook?
  5.  If you could do an “exchange” with a person in the past for a year (ignoring the fact you can’t speak the language of the time), who would it be and why. (i.e swap with Julius Caesar for one year, and he would live in your house.)
  6.  What is more important- utilitarianism, or aesthetics?
  7.  If you had the chance to meet Death in person for dinner- without dying because of the encounter- what would you do?
  8.  What is your favourite word?
  9.  Do you think it’s acceptable to take the last slice of pizza? Why/not?
  10.  If after you died you were incarnated into a household object (until it broke/ ran out of battery) which one would you choose to be?
  11. If you had the power to bring back a fad, which one would it be?

List the rules:

Display the picture of the award

  • Thank the person who has nominated you and link to their blog
  • Write a small post about what makes you passionate about blog posting.
  • Write 10 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the questions I’ve asked
  • Nominate blogs that you like and inform them that you have
  • Ask random questions for them
  • List the rules

It’s time to rebut, refute and refine

This is a ridiculously long and detailed response to the ridiculously problematic “The New Narcissism” article by Lara Prendergast in the 11/08/18 edition of the Spectator. This post will only make sense if you read the other article first. The issues that tackled throughout the post are structured to mirror the loose order that they are found in the original article. Any quotations from ‘The New Narcissism” are underlined for ease of recognition.

The date that went wrong

Perhaps the biting anger and resentment that Prendergast exudes throughout stems from the rejection and confusion her friend feels on a date because his partner “didn’t eat”. Of course, it is a bit embarrassing to be the only person chewing, to have every mouthful watched and to try and eat whilst maintaining a meaningful conversation. But if she must take her friend’s emotions to heart, then maybe next time Prendergast should just colour in some nice mandalas instead and not channel that negative emotion into a poorly structured article.

Huel, narcissists and fads

The offered notion that Huel (a company that primarily offers nutritionally-complete food in powdered form) is a “fad” is one which is deeply misguided. It is an idea that appears to be thrown into the article to be more inflammatory and flippant than actually useful. A fad is something people quickly latch onto, something that becomes a craze before it is carelessly discarded to make way for the next trend. Fidget spinners was a fad. As were loom bands.

Huel, on the other hand, was launched three years ago, and is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. It earned over £14m in 2017 alone. So assuming Prendergast is correct, Huel is not only one of the most prosperous and popular but also one of the longest-lived fads ever. Thereby undermining its epithet.

However, perhaps the reason that the journalist thinks that Huel’s stellar success is fleeting is because she believes that the trend of caring for future generations and the planet is short-lived? Either way, she isn’t correct, because she rightly notes that the “world’s population is growing”, suggesting that she realises that with the population increase there follows consequences that require increasingly complex solutions. Huel is one of those solutions. There is no doubt that as resources become rapidly more limited, its role (along with similar companies) in preventing world hunger in a “post-apocalypse” environment will become more prominent.

But we are luckily not there yet. In fact, one of the actual main aims of Huel is to have  “minimum impact on animals and the environment”. This sounds a lot more virtuous than many other companies in this day and age, where the urge for a profit no matter the environmental cost is the only driving force.  Bearing this in mind, it seems strange that this so-called fad can be attributed to a “new sort of narcissism”. Narcissists are, as Prendergast correctly notes, interested in the “self all-round”. But buying from a sustainable brand is the least narcissist thing one can do. After all, no one today will be alive to see the truly catastrophic effects of global warming, and yet here are so-called self-obsessed consumers investing in a future they won’t see. Funny that.

New Narcissism?

A narcissist is someone who has an “exaggerated sense of self-importance” and is “extremely self-centred”. It is very clear that no one, least of all a narcissist, can be  “vain and virtuous at the same time”. With only one pair of eyes, humans cannot look outwards to help and inwards to indulge in self-obsession simultaneously. I understand that perhaps Prendergast was trying to comment on society today and contemporary morality, but that’s not how psychology works. Psychology does not change even when theories are dressed up in a satirical and biting way. Science sends you their sincerest apologies. Now that the entire premise of “New Narcissism” has been thoroughly destroyed, let’s pretend that this is possible so that the rest of the article is not just dismissed as they all rely on this central theme.

The supposed death of masculinity?

One of my favourite parts from this article is this: ‘Traditional masculine pursuits are being abandoned in favour of more ethical ones. Pubs are closing down and gyms are opening up.” Oh no. Not the slow death of typically patriarchal activities. Save us at least that. Bring back the leering men! Bring back the 11AM drunks! Bring back- and this has been the patriarchy’s firm favourite for millenia- more lazy afternoons where subservient housewives do the chores as (some) men sprawl in dimly light pubs.

The demonisation, firstly, of gyms over pubs is laughable, because Prendergast is suggesting that this is a symptom of nation-wide narcissism, where “more ethical pursuits” are becoming more common as beer pong slowly fades out of fashion. What a pity. I don’t need to tell you that it gyms are hardly the cause for pubs being wiped out of the high street. If that were true, which, as we are taking Prendergast’s word for it (without so much as an anecdote for evidence) I don’t believe is. You can barely take a step in London without seeing a hand-painted pub sign. Now even if pubs are closing, it’s more likely because of driving rent prices than anything else, and even if gyms are directly taking their place, this will be because of gyms are more profitable. Obviously they charge obscene prices and a large percentage of people let their gym membership go to waste, giving the gym free money. Pubs, on the other hand, have to make a product for every transaction, so their profit margin is always set. Anyway, over recent years there has been a backlash against extortionate gyms, as the Guardian in this article points out.

But anyway. Now that we know that society is being slowly destroyed by the dalek like intrusion of gyms everywhere we look, we are then told that men caring about their health is “all the rage” which makes them “almost as boring as women”. Thank God they’re not at female-levels of caring though. I don’t think the world could handle anymore people in the world who are trying not obese on the BMI scale. Want to go to Park-Run this weekend? Stop it, I prefer men with Type 2 diabetes. As for the comment on self-improvement, well, the thought that health-concious men are now considering supporting farmers at local markets, not only to be more ‘ethical’, as Prendergast points out they aim to be, but also to better their appearance by avoiding additives, is terrible. Men should be buying more Tesco Meal-Deals. They need more hydro-xenon and maltocryolites their system (or whatever new substance it is they put in food these days). Okay, I might be a tad sarcastic here, but you understand what I’m getting at. Why would you condemn the pursuit of healthiness in a society facing an obesity epidemic? Let’s get our priorities straight. 

Funnily enough, one of Prendergast’s key examples to illustrate in ethical pursuits is the rise in bodybuilding. She laments the increase in “male self-improvement” and how bodybuilding is suddenly a “very ordinary hobby”. Actually, though, it is unclear how this isn’t a magnification of masculinity. I do agree that narcissism is linked to a concerning with physical appearance. Fine. But she argues that masculine activities are being replaced by bodybuilding. Because that is a new phenomenon and very emasculating. No, men throughout history have always tried to show-off their power and strength. At least as far back as the first Olympics  in 776BC, wrestling and boxing have regularly featured in society. Accentuating physical features has always been on the human agenda too, and if you think about it, stems from an evolutionary point of view . Survival of the fittest is hardly a new concept, so it’s no wonder that this has filtered down into 21st century life. It seemed a queer line of argument for Prendergast to take, as it directly contradicted her. Oh well.

Back to the original quote, it’s not a bad thing that “traditional masculine pursuits” are fading away. They have never served anyone apart from straight white males in any useful capacity. Those pursuits only favoured those on the top of the power structure. Somewhat randomly and ironically, in the same breath Prendergast even refers to #Metoo. The shining symbol of backlash against the film industry that had allowed toxic “masculine pursuits”  to persist for too long. So am I sad to see the back of that particular “pursuit”? No.

 

Veganism

The article noted that veganism is on the rise because it is “slimming and ethical- never mind it makes you a bore at parties”. This suggests that the only thing Prendergast talks about at parties is food, so anger behind this article is probably stemming from her social rejection than anything else (if not the awful date her friend had):

At your typical house party, music pumping.

  • “Damn Daniel, I’m sorry, now I’m a vegan we can’t have a long conversation about our favourite types of cheese sandwich. As you know, I don’t have opinions on anything else apart from cheese and animal rights, so I guess that’s goodbye to our friendship.”

 

  • “Sorry Sarah, I’ve gone plant-based so we’ll have to shelf our barbecue-ribs conversation for now. You want to talk about Brexit? Not to be insensitive, but I prefer to chat about tofu recipes instead if that’s ok. Brexit is so last year.”

 

  • “Apologies Andrew, as I don’t eat animal products, I don’t want to talk about your favourite Burger King meal. I don’t even want to be with you because you’re a dirty meat eater. We have absolutely nothing in common. What? No, it doesn’t matter that we’ve been married for 15 years.”

 

So don’t bash veganism, ok? Anyway, although some vegans may have gained a reputation opposite to the Fight Club (telling everyone about it in the first 30 seconds of an introduction), most are now so embarrassed to mention it, that when pressed they simply say that they are plant-based. I wish there was a good example this… oh wait Prendergast has already included it with her inclusion of Lewis Hamilton, continuing to prove that she undermines herself at every turn.

As for the relationship of veganism to her ‘New Narcissism’ theory, well, the vast majority of people turn vegan out of concerns for the animal welfare. THEY CARE ABOUT OTHER LIVING BEINGS. The next lump of people turn plant-based because they are concerned about the environment, which yet again DOES NOT CONCERN THEM because they’ll be dead by the time this generation’s harmful actions fully come into fruition. So I don’t see how self-interest comes into it.

21st Century Ascetism

This links on nicely to Prendergast’s comment of the supposed “21st Century Asceticism”,  where “no real sacrifice” is involved, just an “exciting set of powders and pills to order on Amazon”. Where do I start? The phrase “no real sacrifice” and “asceticism” cannot juxtapose each other more. Like, they are actual antonyms Prendergast, that means opposite, just in case you weren’t sure, because you’ve been fumbling with word choices quite a lot so far.

Bodybuilding clearly requires sacrifice, because one has to leave the safety of the comfort zone to get to a state where muscle fibres are damaged, but even more so it’s the whole process of bulking/ cutting which is heavily antisocial, as you’re so busy counting macros that end up missing Pizza Night with your mates. I mean I guess you’d miss it anyway because all pubs in world had been shut down by this point. Following that… veganism can be incredibly isolating- friends and family might not tolerate or understand it and end up just you giving you a limp iceberg salad. Many restaurants and cafes don’t cater for the diet, so you either have to pack snacks ahead or risk going hungry. You also have to sacrifice certain foods, too, like Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. So, Prendergast, the examples you provided yourself are perfect examples of actual sacrifice. No pills included.

Why are young men narcissists?

Prendergast mentions that “young men (are) turning into narcissists”. Which young men? What proportion of them? All of them in the UK, the West, or the entire world? Even that guy on his gap year in Antarctica who now can only eat hand-caught squid because he didn’t pack enough food? Are you including him too? You would think a journalist from somewhere respectable like the Spectator would realise that you can’t make sweeping statements like that without evidence. Simple references to Lewis Hamilton and the bodybuilding trend does not qualify as acceptable when saying a large proportion of the population has a severe personality disorder. And apparently this supposed narcissism is caused by Trump and Weinstein?  What is puzzling in itself though is the tone that Prendergast writes about their actions, as if these men have in some way been wronged. Yes, the “rapacious pursuit of (their own) pleasure” has indeed “damaged the world around them”.  This shouldn’t be contentious. Men who decide to prioritise their animalistic desires and end up scaring people for the rest of their lives, (giving many disorders like  PTSD), do damage society. Again, I don’t see why Prendergast has written that in such a snarky tone. You would think that in such a competitive and male dominated industry like journalism, she would of all people appreciate this change in attitude.

Then there is the weird phrase about men trying to  “‘detox’ their masculinity”. As I said earlier, I would hardly say that aforementioned bodybuilding is emasculating. Nor is sharing “#gymselfies”. I understand that men want to “distance themselves from monster”‘, but this is hardly revolutionary investigative journalism; no one is currently cosying up to mass murderers or bank robbers, either, so why would rapists be any different?

The inclusion of a hero?

Then, having just mentioned detoxing masculinity, Prendergast suddenly notes that there are “heroes to emulate” too. Presumably a hero for all the skinny vegan man-haters she speaks of? No, she’s completely changing topic and taking about someone at the opposite end of the spectrum, a “hero” whose message includes the “demolition of various feminists”. But I thought Prendergast said that all young men were “vain and virtuous”. So this breed of misogynistic men that in the last paragraph she said were practically extinct -outcompeted by a more conscious kind- (until that day, we can only hope) now do have a massive community, role models and all? The article goes from anti-veganism, to lamenting the supposed loss of the masculinity of modern men, to talking about how, no, the community of feminist haters is still thriving?

Unfortunately, Prendergast’s article has no structure, because now the rest of the article is just to do with nutrition. How apparently even though John Peterson, the aforementioned “hero”, is not virtuous, he still speaks of “restricted consumption and fewer carbs”. Like, he almost qualifies for new narcissism, but he’s not quite ethical enough, oh well I’ll just shove this example in anyway because I can write whatever I want as long as I get a reaction out of people.

Silicon valley- a “natural” link

Prendergast then speaks of the leaders of massive Silicon Valley companies, like Steve Jobs and Peter Thiel, who are “intoxicated only by abstemiousness and their own carefully structured diets.” Sorry, but a link is missing here. Those billionaires are obsessed with success, not food. They do not have time to be obsessed by anything other than their jobs. Eating is only utilitarian for them. They eat in that extreme way because it allows them to be highly productive, not because they are hapless control freaks. They cannot dedicate massive chunks of their day to heavily complex meals, unless someone else prepares it for them, because they actually- surprise surprise- have very busy jobs which require their full attention. They are most likely on these ultra-healthy diets because it allows them to function at their best and become the “powerful”  “supermen” that they are. They didn’t earn their fortune by sitting and cutting fruit in their kitchen.

Also, Prendergast takes a quote by Zoltan Istvan completely out of context. He says that “The less you eat, the better. You’re better off being borderline starving to live longer” because studies have illustrated that being in a calorie deficit increases lifespan (of rats). He doesn’t say starve yourself so that you almost die, which is why it is confusing when Prendergast also notes that some “transhumanists fantasise about cutting out food and sex entirely”. So I’ve already proved that the evidence behind the claim that some people want to cut out food entirely is incorrect in every sense of the word- how Istvan actually has a point that limiting food can be beneficial- whilst she gives absolutely no example at all for people wanting to cut out sex from their lives. What I am meant to do- take your word for it? Yeah, like that’s worked out well for the rest of your article.

Then she includes the example of Istvan eating “artificial eggs made out of peas and beans”, like that automatically proves to the reader that he’s a freak. I eat artificial burgers made from spices and chickpeas- does that qualify me as a weird space-age transhumanist? Even M&S now have a line of so-called ‘artificial foods’. If that applied, someone at every barbecue ever would have to be ostracised from society, simply because they chose a veggie sausage over the real thing.

Food substitutes 

Prendergast clearly has failed to properly do her research here. The motivation behind the  “food substitute” industry is not that the “male body should be purged and perfected”. Going back to Huel: not only are they not gender-orientated (what a gross idea), but they are also specifically not about “sci-fi whimsy” but for busy, everyday people, so that they can eat healthily when they are time poor. The point behind Huel is not to replace food- Huel is a food (as it’s nutritionally complete). It’s just meant to be used when a whole food dinner can’t be made. As for the claim that “male anorexia (‘manorexia’) is now sold as an advanced high-tech ‘disruptive’ diet” – that is absolutely baseless and ridiculous. It’s like saying that small packets of crisps help to contribute to anorexia because they can now eat in smaller portions. People can eat less than the pack, one whole pack, or two packs of crisps and eat an amount of calories accordingly. The same applies to so called “food substitutes”– you can choose to lose, maintain or even gain weight  with Soylent, Feeder or Huel.

Technology and narcissism 

Whilst it is true that Instagram does encourage people to take an extraordinary amount of selfies, the claim that Love Island “makes it easy to participate in the new narcissism” is confusing. I thought that New Narcissism was meant to be ethical, but there’s nothing ethical about watching reality TV. What about vanity? Well, people are putting an hour of their evening aside everyday for 8 weeks to watch others go about their day. It’s an activity revolving entirely around the minuscule details of the lives of strangers. It’s incredibly social, too, as anyone who has seen the Love Island online community and meme pages will know. People love to chat about the antics of those in the villa. It is a decidedly unvain activity.

Now onto another flippant statement made by Prendergast. That “All-male beauty salons are now a common sight on the high street” is one of the most sweeping that I have ever heard. I haven’t even heard of them before- I mean, I’m sure they exist but to say that they’re a common sight requires some evidence, please. I know what barbers are, sure, but I would hardly say they are beauty salons. I may be wrong, but in order for me to realise my mistake, I do need to see some statistics. Anything, really, at this point.

Gender stereotypes

Eric Anderson said that men indulge in “self-care” because of a “softening of men and their gender more broadly”. Apparently, the fact that men can now become stay-at-home fathers and are sometimes allowed to cry in public means that “women now feel comfortable commenting on male bodies, while the opposite is frowned upon.” Then Prendergast includes what I presume is her most outrageous example yet- that Anna Murphy from The Times said that men who do yoga are  “stronger, leaner and a lot sexier” ‘. This apparently shows double-standards in our society, because “what man would now dare to say such a thing about women’s bodies” asks Prendergast. None, I imagine, just because typically that kind of compliment has not been in their vocabulary. In the past many men speaking to the media have not been commenting on how strong women are, and how that because they are empowered by their strength, they are sexy. No. That would be fine. In fact, a lack of comments like that is what has made women afraid to enter the weights section, because strength was seen as unattractive. Instead typically in the past men have been saying things about women’s’ bodies, like how they want to “grab them by the pussy”. Not that anyone in power would actually say that…

So that’s why the double standards don’t actually exist. When some men in power speak about women, there is objectification and it is highly disrespectful. Saying that by exercising a man is aesthetically pleasing because he has a low percentage body fat with toned muscles, thus making them attractive, is hardly the same. You can’t exactly compare that to the ruthless female objectification that has for so long dominated the media.

Finally Prendergast blames a rise in eating disorders on “ethical dieting”. Last year, the “NHS reported a 70 per cent rise in adult men being reported to hospital with an eating disorder”. Now, there is a certain stigma currently about men and eating disorders, which should never be overlooked, but (and this is not to diminish male sufferers,) let’s not forget that eating disorders impact women/girls more severely and thus the number of female inpatients is much higher. Also, awareness around eating disorder has risen massively recently, and the correlation between the growth in ED and “ethical dieting” is not necessarily causational. If that were true, then someone should look into the fact that the more films Nicholas Cage appears in, the more people that drown by falling into a pool. Has it not occurred to Prendergast that perhaps the number of men with eating disorder could be more or less the same, but that more are admitting themselves/ being admitted by family to hospitals because they realise they have a problem? They go on social media and realise that they are seriously ill, whereas before they suffered in silence because there was no content out there illustrating what the symptoms were? No: I thought not.

Final thoughts 

Apparently “Huel-slurping puritans, the Silicon Valley transhumanists and the hairless gym bunnies” all want to the push the “limits of their bodies”. I have already explained this so many times, but Huel/Soylent etc. etc. are not made for extremists. They’re about fitting in a healthy meal when you would’ve gone to a Drive-Thru instead. As for Silicon Valley workers and transhumanists; they can come across as manic, but that’s just because they have to work an extreme amount, and want their body to function as well as possible so that they continue to work so hard. They shouldn’t be put down for wanting to work as efficiently as possible. Sure, they’re interested in immortality, but who isn’t? As for the ‘gym bunnies’, well if people are getting fitter instead of chugging beers, then, unlike this article, I don’t find it problematic.