The reason everyone is baking banana bread right now

Everyone is baking banana bread at the moment. This may appear surprising- after all, its widespread allure is not immediately apparent. However, given the history of banana bread as the food of the Great Depression, perhaps we are all simply following the trends of our ancestors nearly a century ago.

During that time, housewives had not wanted to waste bananas, especially when they were so expensive, and so made this treat. It has been widely accepted now that with the sudden closure of businesses, and with even online transactions limited, the world is now tumbling into recession, if not yet depression. However many days into self-isolation you are, by this point the Big Shop you did (without stockpiling, of course) at the start of quarantine has begun to be depleted, and the bananas you bought have started to brown. Alongside the financial difficulties many are starting to face at the moment, to start to save products such as bananas is probably a wise idea.

Another reason why banana bread rose to popularity around the 1930s is because baking soda/power manufacturers were becoming widely available, inspiring cookbook writers. Amongst the many things that keep me up at night, the reason why it is called banana bread has frequently troubled me. It’s called a bread, but I have never seen anyone put any savoury items, like marmite, on it, and it is too sugary to really require any layering of honey or jam. Occasionally it has been toasted and buttered, but that feels like an unusual way to present such a food. It is too dense to have the texture of a cake sponge, but is not a sandwich bread. You will relieved to learn that its origins lie in the fact that it was marketed as a banana “quick bread”, because of the baking powder, rather than yeast bread, with its hours of proving.

Alongside the need to save bananas, we have reached a point in quarantine where people maybe will start to want to be creative, and baking is the perfect form of that self-expression. It is less taxing than creative writing, and requires much less preparation than photo shoots, as well as being less frustrating than painting. Admittedly to achieve a final product which is gratifying from those mediums requires considerable time: banana bread does not. In 60 minutes one can go from conception to perfection on a plate.

Another beautiful thing about banana bread is that it is so versatile. You can have it plaim in all its glory: the saviour of sports day, the king of rainy days. Nigella herself has made one, and it looks just as fabulous as one can expect.

banana-bread-561e5ee271d5a

 

What is an absolute abomination is courgette banana bread, or “zucchini banana bread”. No one is making banana bread expecting it to be healthy; there is an ungodly amount of sugar and butter in there to go anywhere near an Instagram fitness influencer with their notions of “health”. So to pollute it with such a vegetable is uncalled for:

 

zucchini-carrot-bread

The creator of this version remarks that “it’s practically a salad” with “pretty flecks of green and orange”. First of all, that recipe has an entire cup of sugar in it, which would not be problematic, except that no self-respecting salad should have that ingredient. Secondly, nobody wants to see green spots in their banana bread; it normally signals that there is mould. People are not looking for a meal replacement in their banana bread- so do not try to make it healthy. Let desserts be desserts!

Then there is the cinnamon-bun banana bread, a concept which as an avid consumer of both is mildly offensive, since two mighty forces should never meet for fear of weakening the potency of both parties.

Another member of the banana bread family is the Browned Butter Maple Banana Bread: I found this recipe on Olive and Artisan, and it looks like the perfect way to trigger a heart attack.

brown butterIn an age where we are all told to accept ourselves, this bread has accepted its super-sugary nature, and embraced it. That is what we like to see, in ourselves and our food.

 

Then there is bacon banana bread.

bacon banana bread

This version, from Around My Table, is upsetting. First of all, why would anyone add bacon. Courgette is awful enough, but bacon- bacon is just so wrong. It is not a “health” food, so cannot be justified for that reason. It does not even taste good with bananas. One should not tamper with the original formula unless there is a good reason, and this is not it. Quarantine and self-isolation may be taking its toll on people psychologically, but if you are baking this kind of creation, you should examine yourself very carefully. What is even more distressing is it contains:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix (or 2 boxes GF yellow cake mix)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 ripe bananas *
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

This is too much. BANANA BREAD IS NOT HARD TO MAKE. There is no need to use “yellow” cake mix. I understand that not everybody has the time or resources to make banana bread themselves. I completely understand that. But this is a cookery website, and how am I meant to take this person seriously if they cannot even add flour, sugar and oil eggs together themselves instead of buying it in a package?

Finally, I mentioned earlier that the original banana bread should be altered with caution. In this instance, it is completely worth it to add chocolate chips. Chocolate chip banana bread is delightful. Perfect picnic-worthy material. Unbeatable. As long as the chips haven’t sunk downwards, but have an even-spread throughout- lest there be a soggy bottom- life is good.

soggy bottom

 

So, by all means, make banana bread at this uncertain time, but remember to experiment with care.

Joe Exotic is not as ‘exotic’ as you think

Alongside self-isolation has come the need for self-entertainment, pre-dominantly in the form of watching Tiger King. The documentary series is as shocking and sensationalist as one would expect from Netflix, being not so much the “Blackfish” version of the big cat private trade, but more an exposé of its ringleaders’ private-lives. What doesn’t attract views like murder, polygamy and drug-cartels?

The outlandish nature of these figures, and the world of owning tigers and monkeys as pets, has been presented as occurring mainly in the United States. But the UK has 9 pumas, 8 leopards, 13 tigers and 115 lemurs in private ownership, as approved by local councils. Given the wide variety of these animals, and the small size of the UK, there is probably one near you at the moment. Those lemurs are unlikely to be living in a fantasy jungle carved partially into the mountainside of the Pennines, and are most likely to be in a living room in Essex. The people who we see on Tiger King caressing monkeys- in a way almost as disturbing as dog-owners with their pets- exist amongst on us, somewhere.

The BBC also reported the presence, as of 2016, of 145 ostriches. Far be it from me to criticise someone for their choice of pet, if they are not being breed for meat or eggs, but this just seems bizarre. Being sizeable birds, which can easily turn aggressive, and are not particularly attractive, it begs the question whether one or two people have an ostrich obsession in Scotland, or if there are many closeted fanatics with one on their Manchester or Bristol terraces.

One explanation for the great ostrich numbers could be the ‘Golden Farm‘, which by looking at their website, appears to be an incredibly odd place. Amongst their various products, they sell ostrich eggs to be hatched for £35 and day-old chicks for only £75. There appears to be no vetting process proposed by this website, and what is even more concerning is that they claim “we can supply one day old chicks only during spring-summer season“. Although this may appear pedantic, the window of time for a chick to be one day old is quite brief, meaning there must be constant hatching for the 6 month period. Most of them are presumably unwanted, which begs the question of what happens to them afterwards, especially if they are male and therefore cannot lay lucrative eggs. Not all of them can be grown for meat. Indeed, the conditions of the existing birds look miserable enough; a picture the farm posted on its own website testifies as much:

ostrich

Of course it could be much worse, but for animals which can be 150kg and grow up to 2.7 metres tall, accustomed to live in “the dry, hot savannas and woodlands of Africa“, this hardly looks like a satisfactory emulation of the scope or setting of their natural habitat. What is even more suspicious is that you cannot easily contact them. There is no address for the Farm on the website, despite numerous invitations littered throughout to visit, and the address provided for their office appears false; it is on the corner of a roundabout in Slough, and a Google Maps survey illustrates there are no buildings nearby which immediately appear appropriate to match the description. It is very strange.

The final reason why the news of the United Kingdom’s exotic pet ownership is so unsettling is because there are going to be more kept in private properties without the councils’ permission. Again, as various animal protection advertisements and television series have illustrated, it is incredibly easy -although vastly cruel and unpleasant- to keep wild animals in inappropriately small spaces. If the pets were acquired through dubious means, then there is even more of an incentive not to inform anyone of their presence.

Learning that there are 13 tigers in England is distressing even though the local council has certified that the animals are living in “suitable” conditions and that there are “safety measures” in place to prevent escape. But what does the respective council deem to be “appropriate”, since nothing will match the many square miles that they would roam in the wild. These councils are not experts in exotic animal care…

Equally, where these tigers are coming from is another cause for concern. It is not like they rescued a native tiger from the edge of a motorway- it must have been brought into the country specifically, and since no self-respecting zoo or wildlife reserve would ship an endangered species to a private owner, they most likely come from the black-market. So that their ownership is accepted by these governmental areas of local authority again is concerning.

It appears that in the excitement and glamour of Tiger King’s fast-paced worldwe have overlooked the potentially terrible exotic animal ownership which could be right on our doorsteps. Of course, since we cannot visit our neighbours now to peer into their gardens, we just won’t know- at least, not for the time being.

Why Instagram Poetry should be banned

Poetry is a wonderful thing: from the dust of letters it constructs an image -even if it’s only seen for a flash- that is unparalleled by normal prose. Maybe it is the way that rhythm functions, or how metre creates a skeleton for the meaning to skid from word to word. Or perhaps it is the freedom of blank verse- the way words are dashed onto the page, liberated from grammatical judgement.

However, poetry is not so wonderful when it is displayed on Instagram.

Judging by aesthetics, one might be fooled into thinking that the time spent on presentation was also mirrored in the writing process. How innocent you would be.

Evidently, all one needs for a successful poem is your musing type-written onto artisanal paper, often with a jaunty flower on the side or expressive doodle.

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 10.19.32

Now I would hardly say that the imagery or sentiment created by this little message by Hayley MacLeod here is particularly artfully done, or indeed moving at all. I would whip out the violin and throw roses in despair, not at the poem’s words, but in despair of how low the standards are becoming- but it seems like half the job is already done.

The problem with Instagram-poetry is that it is not poetry at all. It is simply a mixture of emotions vomited onto a page, and not even a pretty background can hide that.

It is quickly evident when one starts scrolling through the Instagram pages that it does not take much to become a “poet”. You simply need to

type

a

sentence

like

this.

Tears, applause and adulation will ensue, I promise you. This post by the (deep breath) famous Rupi Kaur received 351,000 likes. Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 10.26.10

In light of this, it is absolutely devastating to think that laudable young poets, such as the winners of the Foyle Award, will be overlooked, struggling to sell copies of their work despite their enormous talent, when people walk around reading this absolute travesty instead. Kaur’s work is pitiful. No wonder she can churn out books so quickly, all she has to do is think of a neat sentence, press the space button a few times and voila. But what is more distasteful is how many people buy into her work. She has 3.6 million followers. And they all think of themselves as indulging in literature on their hourly Instagram scroll, when really the truth is far from it.

The real problem is that people think this is proper literature

Do you even know who your national poetry laureate is anymore? They used to be important; have a status of sorts. Now…not so much, and the reigning problem is that people think that content like this

Screenshot 2019-04-20 at 10.23.55

is of a high poetic standard. That this “Greison Crow” is like a cooler, more hip, 21st Century Keats. NO. You do not get cooler than writing about Autumn which such deftness that even GCSE students weep. (Some of them. The decent ones.)

When discussing this topic, one of my friends said that this Insta-poetry could be a “gate-way drug”

They start on this lighter content and move onto more literary ground once they’ve found their feet. This is simply a naïve perspective. People view this poetry in passing, whilst on their feed, and then think no more about it. It is not like they are in the library, and are about to take out another tome by Sugercoat-my-Heart and then change their minds and pick Plath instead. I wish. No, the medium is the message. But, on the topic of books, something worse has happened.

Actually, they have infiltrated our bookshelves

Netgalley has given me two advanced reading copies of two so-called poets. One was called “Between You and These Bones” by F.D Soul. The “F.D” stands for “Feathered Down” (all you need to know really). One of the poems in there was called A VOW:

“I promise

you will not always be this war.”

 

Another favourite poem of mine was A NOTE FROM BOOK ONE:

“Thank God for the stubbornness

of organs.”

WOWEE. That really deserved a fat publishing deal did it not. I feel touched by an inordinate sense of distaste. Yes, having organs which regenerate and are resistant to disease is great. But this is not a fact which deserves to be indented in your book, Ms. F.D Soul. Another ARC was Nocturnal by Wilder and in short those poems were broadly the same except a bit longer and with references to the sea and the sky and sunsets and probably dolphins too, who knows at this point. At least the formatting was visually appealing. Full marks for effort. But from all this we can take away one thing. We are in an epidemic. Like the opposite of a poetry Golden Era. A Black Era, perhaps. Because now words mean nothing. They are tabbed and put intp nice font, but cumulatively they just carry no sentiment whatsoever, wistfully referring to “you”, their lost boyfriend, how they carried you in their heart but you were too heavy….

So, in short, Instagram Poetry really should be banned, for everyone’s sake.

 

LANNY by Max Porter

 

amaa
Photograph: Amazon

Second books, much like second albums, can be tricky to create. And if your first piece won a bouquet of prizes, including the Sunday Times Writer of the Year and the International Dylan Thomas Prize, then it’s difficult to imagine how one would even get started. Yet, Porter did start, and his new novel Lanny, is wondrous and mysterious.

In many ways the novel seems like a fable, with the opening passage told by the spirit of the English countryside, Dead Papa Toothwort. Brooding and plotting, he seems far from those fairies we see frolicing around the pages of Enid Blyton; this character instead slithers throughout his land, listening in on the conversations of others and flitting in and out of the bodies of woodland creatures. The way these conversations manifest themselves on paper is a little jarring at first, or at least tacky in a sense. It seems somewhat reminiscent of primary-school books to have the font swirling around the page, although soon it melds into normality and it seems more appropriate for the context.

lanny
Photograph: Faber & Faber

After several instances of meeting these interjections however, it does become apparent that these overheard snippets, whilst well-written and fascinating, are however mainly irrelevant to the plot (the only somewhat useful snippet in the excerpt above would be “trust him with your kid”, as readers will know, and yet that hardly illuminates the plot anymore than if it hadn’t been read at all). So, in terms of being a plot device, although it is interesting and inventive, I tended to skip over it in the latter part of the book simply because it didn’t seem that useful.

But back to Toothwort,  he (or it,) has this bond with a small boy in a village, a boy whom everyone finds a little strange, a little queer, a little dazed, perhaps: Lanny. And so the novel, told through multiple perspectives, chronicles the life of Lanny as he starts to take outdoor art lessons with a famous artist from the village, and the way that relationship pans out. The multiple points of view interestingly became less distinct from each other as the book wore on: at the start of the novel Lanny’s mum had her perspective recounted in verse and then (for a reason I cannot find, but if you can please let me know) she starts to think in prose like the others characters. The same can be said for the others- they all seemed to blend into one after a while, aside from a few idiosyncratic remarks.

But what makes Lanny such an impactful read is something else; it’s the portrayal of outsiders. Both Lanny and the artist, Pete, are essentially alone. They are misunderstood and shunned by others in the isolated village community, and it is the way as the book progresses that they are peeled apart and broken down in their individual ways which is so touching. This of course resonates with a contemporary audience because who doesn’t feel alone in a world where relationships are strengthened by talking through devices, whilst sitting in a room on your own? There is a sense of loneliness in all of us, and Porter truly does tap into that with his mythic, rustic tale.

Was Hardy really a feminist?

In the past, I have not been the most enthusiastic reader of Thomas Hardy’s work. Having read Tess of the D’Urbervilles  for “fun” in the Summer, I had decided never to look at his work again, until, of course, I was set Far From The Madding Crowd as a text. Karma, thank you. The impression I was left with was not…great:  the heavy and somewhat pointless descriptions of landscape dominating the novel just did not enrapture me. But you know all this! The real question is- am I glad that I had to study this, in the end?

It is obvious that I would never have chosen Hardy to study, which as someone who is enthusiastic about English literature, is problematic. Not only is he an acclaimed (although not hugely by me) poet, (I studied Neutral Tones at GCSE) but he is also one of the most acclaimed Victorian writers. Just like Dickens and Steinbeck, he is one of those white men whose work one simply must read if they are to consider themselves learnèd. Or so that was the impression I have been given throughout my schooling (so far), and really it is the only impression that matters considering that this is the institution which sets you up for the sadly all-important exams. So it was a book unwelcomed to my psyche, being both pastoral and Victorian, but ultimately I learnt 2 lessons:

Lesson one: Hardy has an excellent use of perspective

Often there is a sense of distortion in his work: in Oak’s first introduction to Bathsheba, a “small swing looking-glass was disclosed, in which she proceed to survey herself attentively”. Here, like in many other parts of the novel, the reader is viewing Gabriel viewing Bathsheba viewing herself, and it is this layering which creates an almost cinematic effect. All the attention is on her, but without fanfare or exclamation marks!!!! With writing, unlike film, the idea of selective viewing is not often touched upon. Here is why:

Carol (2015) - a typical technique that is used throughout the movie. rarely do we find a scene that has a full and clear view, there is usually something stands in the way. this implies the view of the society on homosexuality and creates an imprisoning atmosphere for the love between two women.

This film still, from Carol (2015) would be very hard to put into writing, due to the obscured nature of the model/ actress herself and the nature of the reflection. Thus for Hardy to be able to explore perspective in that way is admirable.

Lesson two: it is actually unclear if he really was a feminist at this point, despite many fervent claims

This is concerning Far From the Madding Crowd, because of course in Tess of the D’Urbervilles he is does prove himself otherwise. But in this earlier context, it is uncertain if the plot actually supports Bathsheba taking on her own farm, and therefore the idea of “the women in the role of responsibility” that she represents.  She is portrayed as, unusually for the context, a woman independent from the authority of men, by owning a farm. This ownership was given to her, not earned, through her uncle’s will, which means that Bathsheba’s use of this power is even more important. If she had bought the farm herself, and then failed, at least some merit would be given to her for being able to make the money to buy the farm in the first place. But here, she is simply being given an opportunity on a platter, and as it is clear to see, she squanders it. She almost lets all her sheep die from an illness, simply due to pride, and she spends the entire novel being swept away by various men than tending to her farm.

It is as if Bathsheba is incompetent, because when every time she checked the farm at night, Gabriel “almost constantly preceded her in this tour every evening, watching her affairs”. Whilst this may be attributed to devotion, there is also a sense of her lack of skill. As if Gabriel is also following her just in case she misses something, because that is what was expected of women. What is more, when Bathsheba is at the marketplace, instead of focusing on her work, Hardy portrays her as being purely vain and concerned that there is a “black sheep among the flock” because one man was not looking at her. It is this scene where Bathsheba had a chance to assert herself in the an all-male environment, and yet instead Hardy chooses to portray her as wasting her time, despite all the power and opportunity she has been given.

Even if that interpretation is wrong, the narrator is highly sexist, making claims like: “women are never tired of bewailing man’s fickleness in love, but they only seem to snub his constancy”, or how she was a “novelty among women- one who finished a thought before beginning the sentence which was to convey it”and also “the numerous evidences of her power to attract were only thrown into greater relief by a marked exception. Women seem to have eyes in ribbons for such matters as these”. It could be argued that the narrator does not reflect Hardy’s true feelings: that these harsh, sweeping generalisations are what Hardy expects the public want to hear. But this does not make sense. Nowhere else in the novel does the narrator explicitly express an opinion, or pass judgement in this way. Therefore the narrator is not a character, which means that the things they say are assumed to be true. Thus one cannot assume that Hardy included this bias consciously, and therefore that he was, at this point in his writing, still not the feminist that he is lauded as being today, in light of the casually sexist narrator and  Bathsheba’s failure to handle the responsibility she has be given- which is normally only given to a man- thus suggesting that women as a group were incapable of labour.

Overall, although it was interesting to pull apart the themes of the novel in seminars and to make presentations upon the characters, reading Far From the Madding Crowd was an unsatisfying experience. The story was initially drab, and the plot finishes off incredulously, and although Hardy had the perfect opportunity to create a heroine, instead he makes a fool.

What Margaret Atwood, a Pulitzer-prize winner and orange hair dye have in common

(Or which writer does short stories the best?)

Sometimes you read three books- just randomly picking them off the shelf- and in hindsight you realise that they all seem to be spookily similar. This has, in a way, happened with my reading over the last few months, where the number of collections of short stories I have read has been quite high compared to normal! Most writers are known only for their novels, so it was fascinating to see how they performed with the slightly different medium.

First of all, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Stone Mattress

marge

Now, admittedly, I have not read any of her other work, (including, yes, I know, The Handmaid’s Tale), but I saw this book in the local library and decided that I might as well give her a try. Her writing style is very particular: not particularly flowery but her words are crafted in such a way that the writing is still imaginative and emotive.  Indeed, I would not be surprised if an extract from one these stories was featured in an English Literature exam, to the horror of many students searching in vain for the metaphors and allusions.

Atwood’s talent does shine through in the some of the stories, such as Alfinland, which about a fantasy writer who gets lost in a snowstorm and receives guidance from her dead husband. However, other stories just seemed to be, although illuminated by excellent writing, not exactly thrilling. There were some stories in there which just did even not fit into this collection, in terms of tone nor content, like Luxus Naturae and  I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth. The reason why these jarr so much is because in the opening of the collection there are a few interconnected stories, with a minor character from one becoming the protagonist in the other. That inconsistency is not ideal, especially as both of these irrelevant and weaker tales have been published before, so it is not like Atwood had publish them in this collection so that they could be seen by the world.

In terms of handling the short stories as a form: some of the endings fell flat, and it would have been more fun to see larger twists and surprises in there. However, the delivery of the ideas was superb, and therefore, although I would not read another short story collection by Atwood, I will endeavour to take on her longer works. At some point. Maybe.

 

Then I embarked on Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

trigg

There was one stand-out story here, called Click-Clack The Rattlebag. It proves that short stories are one of the best mediums for horror (although the others in Trigger Warning are more just fantasy/ science fiction), because it offers enough time for a premise and a twist, but not enough for time to be “wasted” on fluff, in this context, like character development and world building such as in a novel. It instead cuts straight to the fear, which is what people want from the genre, presumably.

Another highlight was a story about a teenage girl who used orange hair dye which turned her into this angry deity, much to the fear of her family. However, it is told through a questionnaire form, with only the answers revealed, so there are pieces of the narrative which you still have to fill in for yourself. On the other hand, other parts of the collection were not so strong- the poetry to say the least! That seemed to be an indulgent inclusion; as if he was trying to prove that he could write well in both prose and verse, but the real question is…can he? (Um, no.)

The stories do not fit together in any way, and Gaiman does allude to this in the introduction (which is rather drawn out), by saying that these could all be potentially disturbing, and thus all need a “Trigger Warning”. A good excuse to pull together seemingly random stories, none of which were exactly distressing in my mind. It is not that I mind this lack of consistency, but the book does seem a bit contrived because there is no new content in there apart from ONE story. One of them is even about Doctor Who, and another, The Sleeper and the Spindle, is a book in its own right with lovely illustrations by Chris Riddell. It just all seems a bit frantically drawn together, as if the publishers wanted to release another book and so patched together all his old work.

So, the content itself was much more inventive that Atwood, but like the Canadian, the consistency of the quality of the works throughout the collection was patchy, and it was concerning that there was only one previously unpublished story.

Here is, however, a lovely excerpt from “A Calendar of Tales”

I built an igloo out of books in my backyard.

I slept in my igloo made of books. I was getting hungry. I made a hole in the floor, lowered a fishing line and waited until something bit. I pulled it up: a fish made of books – green covered vintage Penguin detective stories. I ate it raw, fearing a fire in my igloo.

When I went outside I observed that someone had covered the whole world with books: pale-covered books, all shades of white and blue and purple. I wandered the ice floes of books.

I saw someone who looked like my wife out there on the ice. She was making a glacier of autobiographies.

“I thought you left me,” I said to her. “I thought you left me alone.”

She said nothing, and I realized she was only a shadow of a shadow

 

And lastly- the Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan, with her work,  A Visit From the Goon Squad

gg

I am losing respect for the Pulitzer committee at this point, because this book held a queasy amount of attraction. As in, the characters were vaguely unlikeable and certainly unrelatable. The most lauded point of the book was the “Powerpoint journal” that Ally had for the segment about her. This girl is 12, and so the presentation of her thoughts in Fishbone Analysis, Cause-Effect and Bubble Charts form do seem a bit, again, contrived and ridiculous, especially considering how incongruous the form is to the content.

It is clear to see perhaps why the Pulitzer committee found the book attractive, but then again it does seem too… frivolous, perhaps, for the context of the award. It seems very similar in a way to Less, which also won the Pulitzer recently, and was touted as being the first comic novel to win the Pulitzer. And whilst Egan’s novel is not comic, it is not outstanding in the conventional literary sense, either. Maybe the overarching theme of misspent lives gives it more credit, as well as the unusual emphasis placed on sibling, rather than marital, relationships throughout. That is not to say that I do not think that the book is not well-written: it most certainly is. It is just that for an international award the tone was a bit too icy, and the characters a bit too inflexible.

The form of the short story was well-utilised here, though, because it did what Margaret Atwood had only partially achieved. Each character was a protagonist in one story, and then a secondary character in another, and each segment is told at a different point in time: one details how a publicist struggles with her the failure of business, and mentions her desire to fund Lulu’s (her daughter) education. Then another story is of Lulu as an adult, where she has a more active role in the narrative. The only problem is that one is unable to develop any meaningful relationship with any of the characters, because each chapter/ story is only a few pages long, and also since many of the characters are not likeable. And not even in an anti-hero way: more like, well you deserve everything that is coming for you because you are consistently pretentious/ obnoxious etc.. It is also not clear what Egan is trying to achieve because the stories themselves do not have the typical “story arc”, with a surprise/ pay-off at the end, and yet they do not work cohesively to form a larger narrative. As in, one of the chapters could be missing, and you would not notice when reading the novel through.

It is hard to say, therefore, given the many flaws that each collection has, if one author can really be touted the “best” short story writer. To give one author this title would suggest that their work possessed a standard much higher than the others. But, sadly, they are all too problematic in their own way to be crowned. So the short-story crown shall remain with me indefinitely, until I find a worthy author.

kate tempest, let them eat chaos

let them not eat these words,

or chaos indeed. Everyone has herds

of things which tides against them, and have no time for this little

book of pretentious spittle

to contend with their sanity,

the banal profanity

of constant rhymes

about the faults of our times.

 

What can we learn from:

All that is meaningless rules
And we have learned nothing from history.

 

To blame the culture around social media

and the swamping, endless wikipedia

with words that are short

and make my face contort:

behold a lack of art

and  heart.

A stereotype is not fun

Before I was an adult, I was a
little wreck,
pedding whatever I could get
my grubby mitts on.

Ketamine for breakfast,
bad girls for drinking with

“This poem was written to be read aloud”

Is she aware that this is not allowed

on public transport, or in coffee shop

that a-one-eye-look from a cyclops

will come my way if I do?

She knew, she knew, she knew

and made this is little caveat

for the well-wishing diplomat

to lean on,  when faced with her endless

repetition, which makes surely her friendless.

 

A stereotype is not fun

I hate to think I’ll make it to seventy,
potentially
seventy-five,
And realize I’ve never been alive,
and spend the rest of my days
regretting,
wishing I could be
forgetting.

Fight Club had done this already, a cinematic vision

with artistic precision,

to discuss what is now a mere cliché

and very passé

especially the sickening form

words stuck all over the page, forlorn,

seemingly irrelevant for the spoken word,

something which should not to be read

or evidently, heard.

 

We die.
So others can be born.

We age
so others can be young.

The point of life is live.
Love if you can. Then pass it on. 

How refreshing, how new

no, how I wish I knew,

all these things

before reading a book which used old ideas

and stereotypes for its wings.

 

 

 

 

hello, hello, hello

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”

“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…

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:

maga

  • 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:

61700-Thomas-Paine-Quote-He-who-dares-not-offend-cannot-be-honest

 

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.

good point.gif

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