A foreign number in the corner of magazines and computer screens: 2019. In many ways, it simply marks the cumulation of days. On the other hand, the dawning of a new year symbolises the attempts that many now make to become a better person. The metric for self-improvement is, of course, individual, and in many cases the decision to abandon resolutions can be as difficult to embrace as elaborately planned (if unsuccessful) workout regimes. This is due to societal pressure to find faults within oneself, and hurriedly erase them before anyone notices, even when you have no current qualms with your lifestyle.
But what lies ahead for this little blog? What about this little world we live in, indeed, with such a great capacity for harbouring both incredible acts of kindness, and evil? The answer to the former, and almost certainly the latter, is that although we all have some idea -hopes even- nobody really knows. We have managed to survive another year without nuclear war, but with the threat always looming somewhere in the ink of newspages, it serves as a sobering reminder that life should be not taken too seriously. I could make various promises about how often I will post, or how many books I will read this year, but instead an organic approach to posting seems more appropriate. Book review blogs do not make for internet sensations, anyway, and as much of my reading is leaning towards those necessitated by academic commitments, rather than by personal preference, this blog may become a spot for the chronicling these various textbook activities more than anything else. Whilst this will be undoubtedly useful to me, the interest in this for others remains to be seen. However I will also continue with my Winter Challenge, and embark upon various discursive essays, as well as the slaughtering of various classics (To the Lighthouse, you are next) but the general tone may become more… dusty.
So: hello, hello, hello 2019. I hope you feel welcome, and will forgive me if at times I seem distant, or boring, if ineffectual. Then again, politicians act this way, and they seem to be ruling to the country. Maybe this isn’t such a bad approach, then.
“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.” is a phrase we are all used to hearing during the festive period. Or maybe not. Maybe if your name is Thomas the sentence will end slightly differently. But yes, we have been there, having all done regretful things in the Christmas period, perchance slightly intoxicated. But luckily, it’s coming up to a new year and we all know what that means. A NEW YOU! Or does it?
The premise of coming into a new calendar year -2019- is always attractive. It’s nearly Christmas and with great Christmas celebrations comes a great number of chocolate and mince pies. Also known as weight gain… and whatever emotions accompany that.
Having said that, maybe some people have self restraint! Do not worry, there is something else to bring you too- the general moodiness that winter can bring to those in the gloomier countries, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in its most extreme cases. It doesn’t help when everyone, be it in the family or at work, is crammed into a room together and everyone is tired. So arguments or sly comments can ensue: resulting in a generally negative atmosphere. Therefore by the time Christmas itself comes around, you are probably regretting buying a present for Brenda after she told Kathy last week that you are always late handing in news reports, even though that’s not true. And now, you are wondering if it’s too late to stay with your sister, because you accidentally told your boyfriend that his parents were the worst at Christmas, except you haven’t bought her anything yet. Or spoken to her in half a year. You see how it goes. By New Year’s, some relationships can become patchier than the elbows of your favourite jumper. Have you even seen When Harry Met Sally?
So there will be some regret by the time the 1st of January comes around, and the subsequent resolutions can be split into 2 main categories:
Self-improvement and relationships
In the self-improvement area, it will most likely be joining a new gym, or becoming a bikram yoga instructor after that semi-delirious chat the night before (I was joking about the first one, no one ever seriously commits to joining a new gym.)
In terms of relationships, it could be anything from: I will call my family once a week, to meeting up with old friends more frequently.
You get the gist. There are however issues arising with New Year’s Resolutions. The first one in the lack of realism. Most people do not suddenly lose all their fitness in the 14 day festive period. The mince pies did not magically eat your six pack and leave behind many evenings of mulled wine regret. Oh no. Many of the problems that people have been facing, like estrangement from family, or an unhealthy regime, have existed long before December (and eventually themselves) rolls around. So there a magical idea called
PRE YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!
This means writing all your New Year’s Resolutions now. Right now. Why are you still reading this- you are meant to be writing! Yes, you write them now, and then you start doing them straight away. Want to go for a run everyday- there is some daylight left, so get going. All the things you want your future self to do should simply be enacted today, before the Christmas/ New Year lethargy gets into full force. This way, even if you slip up once or twice, not only will you be generally making a step in the right direction (i.e if you only eat one mince pie at every party, instead of the usual three, plus brandy, plus eggnog, candy canes, christmas pudding and the sad crusty gingerbread of regret at 1 AM when only your boss is left, swaying in the corner). Another benefit is that many people have a “do or fail” mentality, like: “I will not eat chocolate this entire year”. And then on the fourth day they accidentally eat some, and that is it for them, because the streak of 365 without chocolate is now ruined so they might as well go back to their old habits. No, Pre-Year’s Resolutions allows you not only to ease into your habits, so that you don’t go cold turkey (as it does on by roughly 5:53pm on Christmas day), but so that you can spot flaws in your plan so that when the New Year does come around you have a plan which you can feasibly stick to.
Then again, vive la gluttony! What is not love about the self-loathing that inevitably comes with the cold, harsh light of January anyway…
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:
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:
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.
*Yes, sorry, this only works if you are on holiday and can just snooze around whenever. Apologies if that is disappointing news.
Some people may want to be out and about dancing tonight:
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!
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!
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!
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?
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-
-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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
and also this
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:
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 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.
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
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!
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.
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)
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!
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.