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.

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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

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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.

 

All that remains

sueblack
Prof. Black herself

death

No, Death. Something important: something looming in our faces, seen in every billboard and every smile. The flesh and the bones just waiting to turn to dust, the faces slowly decaying away until they are nothing but dirt.

But there is a way past that: to see death and dying as a life process, a simple flicking of the switch of morality, instead of the emotional wreck that it really can be. All this can be achieved, or at least the journey begun, with a reading of Professor Sue Black’s book All That Remains. It has the remarkable ability of talking about death without being awfully morbid- it being through the lens of one of the world’s best anatomist and forensic anthropologist. She is writing from a wealth actual of experiences spanning from war crimes in Kosovo, trying to identify the bodies of the dead, her job lecturing at Edinburgh University to leading high profile court cases. So when she writes about her interactions with death, you know that she has a lot to offer, and in some cases things which rarely have been seen outside horror stories. Indeed, Black shines a light onto how something as simple as a bone can reveal a multitude: someone’s diet, age and weight, and she speaks candidly about her work with cadavers and how crucial they were to developing her own understanding of her profession as a student. In fact, after having read this book, it will seem almost impossible not to want to donate your own body to science, given how eloquently she puts forward the sheer usefulness it offers.

Of course, this book does cover sensitive issues, death being a taboo subject in Western society and all, but seeing as Professor Black offers an ideal balance tonally between scientific and emotional, nothing jarrs. Yes, it is hard to describe a book which is so unique in its approach and subject, but in short, if you had ever had a question about death, or felt somewhat uncomfortable about it, then this should help put you at ease, fascinate, and even delight you.

to the lighthouse// january

He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.

                  It hard to grapple with something that does not exist: nothing, no bones, to tie the language together

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees
and changing leaves

                 In our world full of pictures and pages, each curated to our little personal dreams, it is hard to be beautiful, and but it is even harder to make sense, and have authenticity tumble through your work.

 Bitter and black, halfway down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waves swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest.

             Where is it, where is it? Are we built from a lust for life, or from a fear of death: is that your dusky illumination.

Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?–startling, unexpected, unknown?

            What shines through the ink, is an enthusiasm for language and the twisting of words, so devoid from the other works which pseudo-intellectuals have branded their favourite, champagne literates, illerates.

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare

           Were you a millennial, pre-emptive? Indeed, bubbling with ideas and hopes and knowledge and just wanting to be understood, the ideas larger than people’s capacity for understanding. Or was your ego larger than the need for the words to be pared down to be understood.

So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball

            If I craved a string of quotes, with no meaning in context to each other except for the overwhelming existential sadness they all made me feel, I would go somewhere else: literature was not borne for this.

Or maybe it was.

Well, we must wait for the future to show.

A Poetic Review IN GERMAN?!!

munich

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.

Why did The Sellout sellout?

2016_44_paul_beatty
Beatty is the first American author to have won the Man Booker prize

Today the 2017 Man Booker Prize winner will be announced. The award has a stiff atmosphere of prestige surrounding it, with a hefty £50,000 cheque for the winner. Yet the winner is only crowned because their work has pleased a small group of people, the Judges. If another group of people read the same few books, perhaps the winner would be different. So to check if this set of judges had good taste, I decided to read The Sellout for myself.

It’s a visceral novel. But before delving into that, it’s dotted with Americanisms and little witty quips that someone foreign to the culture would miss: being part of that cultural clique adds to the attraction of the book. Basic psychology, one could argue; the ‘in’ and ‘out group’ theory- relating here to understanding the pun, or not. Aside from that the subjects in it are incredibly intense. It’s about the reintroduction of segregation and slavery in modern-day L.A. A very fine line to tread, even when the characters hold entirely different views and are a separate entity to the author, because although the West might think themselves above both of these things- that they’re buried safely underneath the weight of history- the truth is far from it. There are an estimated 40.3 million people in slavery today across the world, including America and Britain. To start to toy with the idea with ownership if a human is a calculated risk, but the manner in which Beatty did so was considered enough to distinct itself from satire on that topic. Perhaps he deserves merit in his own right for handling that suitably enough. Maybe he thought was ‘on a roll’, or held a level of conceit for his skills (rightly so at any rate) but he decided to lump in segregation too. The segregation of the city, Dickens, of the protagonist. It’s a polarising topic, in my head at least. The topic of segregation was approached much more bluntly than slavery and it was intrinsic to the plot. I believe that in all honesty there would have been mortified and incensed reactions to Beatty’s work if he hadn’t have been black though. In Western culture particularly there has been a rising trend in the embracement of minorities, women and LBTQ+ (basically everyone bar privileged straight white men), with this book no doubt falling into this category. Whilst I wholesomely advocate this movement, still today in society there are copious amounts of racism, so approaching topics like this have to be done with care.

For the actual details of the book; it has a plot certainly, but is mainly made up of factors that appeal to the aesthetic more than literary rhetoric of any kind. Little twists in fate like Marpessa having the bus where Rosa Parks famously denied to move are in all honesty fascinating quirks, but don’t add substantial to weight to the storyline on their own. There are many other instances of this, such as the protagonist of the book having the last name “Me”, so that when he was in court it was “Me vs. The United States of America”. A fun, if somewhat extravagant touch, which is mainly how I sum up the novel as a whole. Things happen, of course, but I don’t feel like there’s something I can tangibly take away from the experience at the end. It’s not like you can close the covers saying to yourself, thank goodness he got the girl. There’s a resolution, certainly, but it’s not life changing, not pivotal to the sense of closure in the conventional manner.

In Western liberal democracies, there are often issues with renowned institutions, be it government (in general) or something as flippant as the Oscar Awards; creating cultural diversity without appearing to fall for tokenism is one of them. I admit that I have only read the Man Booker Prize Winner from last year, and none of the other competing titles, and yet bearing this eagerness to create a diverse playing field in mind, it does not surprise me that Paul Beatty’s piece had won. Because it is a book by a black author about a black protagonist talking about racism. Much in the same way that a few years ago the book Lies We Tell Ourselves (read my review of it here) got onto the Carneige Shortlist when frankly it was awful- the actual prose of that novel itself couldn’t have been strong enough to merit a place on it’s own- so it suggest other factors were influences too. Bearing in mind the large amount of children reading the Carneige Shortlist in shadowing groups, the exposure to a vetted book about mild racism and lesbians would have been an eye-opening experience for them. The judges have a far greater responsibility on their shoulders than simply choosing the best book; it’s worth remembering that when considering titles with awards. Now whilst I’m not suggesting that Beatty won on these grounds, it wouldn’t surprise me if these factors did work in his favour. As The Man Booker Prize is a prestigious award, of course the winner is going to be highly scrutinised, so it is going to have to be a high quality. Yet given the amount of exposure that each novel gets after being awarded, it seems that handing this American satire this opportunity to reach the masses would, as with Lies We Tell Ourselves, be a wise idea.

The subject and morality of racial quotas can be discussed in another post, but it’s clear that we’re not living in a post-racial, post-judgemental world. It seems obvious to me why The Sellout would hold such an attraction to the Man Booker judges; because it openly grapples with subjects that people are too afraid to articulate themselves for fear of being called a racist. Now noting someone’s skin colour, calling them a ‘white person’ or a ‘black person’, is unfortunately now synonymous with racial slurs because people have have been brought up today to be so considerate of others, to rectify the horrendous attitudes of the past, that no one knows where they stand. It’s like social media posts where people make racial jokes that ‘my (coloured) friend laughs at as well’ and then are grilled by the international community for their words. The appropriateness of the joke is beside the point; it’s the cautiousness that society is now trained to adopt which is the important factor. The Sellout isn’t cautious. It doesn’t care about social convention or pleasing the crowds- which is why it does hold that level of attraction. This year all the novels on the 2017 shortlist are experimental, and this one certainly is too.

So the Sellout. The Man Booker judges certainly picked an appropriate novel, but would I read it again? Probably. It seems like something which has to be read several times to be understood fully. Or maybe it doesn’t. I’ll just have to take the risk and find out.

Freakonomics- is it worth it?

econometrics-economics-hero-credit-istock-1160
The unique interpretation of Economics here is perhaps far-fetched

Freakonomics. The despair of every Economics University admissions officer as they scan personal statements. At this point in time, who hasn’t read Freakonomics, and even if they had, would flaunting the fact their eyes have skimmed over 211 pages make a difference to their knowledge of interdependence in Oligopolistic Markets?

It, like the pocket-sized physics books which were all the nerdy rage last year, was part of a half-hearted trend to revive the intelligence of the nation. Perhaps publishers had had enough of talking about the weather over their tea break and thought, if only we could talk about something interesting, something like why drug dealers still live with their mothers, then life would be better. So let’s publish a book so people know about this and can then discuss it. Or maybe Steven D. Levitt was good enough at economics to know that:

Lots of books sold – (tax + publisher’s cut) = A FUN HOLIDAY

Or so it seems. So down to the content; there’s not much of it. There are only 6 different chapters, which were more like 3 broken in half, where the authors tried to pass the second half off (sometimes) as an entirely new subject. Which they weren’t. The issue was also that there was no unifying theme. There’s no satisfaction in covering lots of ground when you’re moving too fast to pick anything up. It’s a shame. Maybe Steven should have proof-read it.

Initially, it was gratifying, if slightly pointless, to see that there was a link between a sumo wrestler and a teacher, but I was left with one question. The authors repeatedly say that you have to look for the right question, then the rest will follow. I’m not sure about anybody else, but it seems that obviously when you have masses ‘data’ and know about separate ‘studies’, it’s articulating the link which is the only mildly tricky part. There was no research done into either profession in order to find the bridge between the two: Levitt simply had to scan a few pages from studies done on teacher and sumo wrestlers, find a tenuous loophole to sling the two together, then gleefully stuff the pages with irrelevant facts about nepotism in the University of Georgia.

It seems like although Freaknomics is the adult version of a ‘fun facts booklet’, there is nothing tangible that can be taken away from reading this. Nothing that you can flaunt to your friends except that somewhere in New York, a few decades ago, a father named his sons Winner and Loser Lane. But perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, it offers great insights into sectors of human thought that would never normally cross our minds, such as how humans more intensely fear things that they’re unfamiliar with: an easy example is jumping into a car vs. taking off on a plane. Yet that’s not much a revelation, is it?

It seems that at times the evidence, whilst sounding impressive with their acronyms, because the companies are too important to have their names squeezed into a single word, is flawed. Sometimes the evidence was too superficial- hardly reliable when trying to make grand posturing claims about contradicting prevailing wisdom, and at other times foolhardy. Scores of their ‘evidence’, once you trudge to the footnotes of the book, seem to be laughable or dubious at best. And is this really book really covering Economics, or merely palatable Sociology? The latter for sure, but given that these supposed ‘findings’ were so ‘obscure’ (i.e bound together by the most far farfetched pieces of data), it’s no surprise that instead of being crafted into a respectable journal, it’s been churned out as a commercial book.

I was at first steeling myself for this review; I had the general impression that people liked Freakonomics and thought of it as their intellectual lunchtime companion, but soon it became clear that elsewhere people were having the same thoughts as I did, and that I wouldn’t be the only personal trying to articulate my distaste.

My final word is that, despite the hype, I didn’t buy into it. So no; it’s not worth it.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson

win
Winterson based this novel on her own childhood

The bones of this book are made from the Bible. Yet it is also constructed from the joyous shredding of beliefs, when Jeanette starts to question her religious upbringing by her Pentecostal parents.

Religion? You might say. Religion; today the cause of wars, shootings and fear. Religion; a burden on society that is as addictive as it is dangerous. Why would I want to read about something like this? I’ve enough of it in the skirting the tabloids next to gruesome photojournalism. Why should you read this? Because it’s hilarious. It opens with the frank lines; “Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what.” There is an honesty behind these words, a vivid way that the characters are illustrated that it seems like the story can be nothing but genuine. It follows Jeanette’s childhood, where her predominant influences were her strict (adopted) mother, driving her to be a missionary and the local church community. Initially homeschooled, legal obligations forced her to school;

‘”Why do you want me to go?’ I asked her the night before. “Because if you don’t go I will go to prison” … “But if you go to prison you’ll get out again. St Paul was always going to prison.”      “I know that” (she cut the bread firmly, so that only the tiniest squirt of potted beef oozed out) … “but the neighbours don’t. Eat this and be quiet.”‘

Jeanette struggled with fitting in with her decidedly non-Christian classmates, as well as  with desire, when she falls in love with one of the girls at the Church. At sixteen, she is forced to decide between religion and love, family or girlfriend.  And the question that rages in Jeanette’s mind is; why can’t I have both? 

orange!

Personally, I do think that there is a slight inequality in the amount of male and female characters, but given that this is a book about matriarchy in society and lesbian love, there isn’t much room for omnipresent male characters…. maybe not such an appalling thing, actually. (It’s worth mentioning that there are a few but they’re more secondary/ tertiary characters, hence the visibility of this ‘inequality’.) It doesn’t detract from the quality of the plot though, even if the storyline is more thought-provoking pace than action packed.

One issue, however, was the slight irrelevance of the myth theme of Percival which was introduced; it did offer variation from the wintry grey industrial scene, and it was an unusual way to represent Jeanette’s story (I presume that’s what it was), however it did appear to be part of the novel as a mystical exciting feature, rather than something which was actively contributing to the story.

The wonderful thing about this was observing the transformation of Jeanette, and the way her comically awkward tone dominated her perspective of childhood. Although it’s set in the drab Midlands, this novel is a sparkling example of fiction at its finest. Like all novels, there’s an interesting reflection of author in it, too: the fact that the protagonist has the same name is the author is not the only similarity- the novel is actually based on Winston’s own upbringing, where she explores her childhood by turning herself into a fictional character.

Anyway, generally a great 20th century novel that is worth the title of a classic. If you’re a literature fan, then you should have read this by now (!), so I recommend this specifically to teenagers, mainly because the book discusses the pressures of conformity. A pressure they are no doubt familiar with, so reading this might just be an eye-opener on the topic.

Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

Moonwalker. Innovator. Alcoholic.

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

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

buzz_aldrin

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

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

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

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

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

220px-Aldrin

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

December Book of the Month – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

A mystery clouded by mental instability. Raw, shocking and cruel, but above all honest, this is a insight into the world of a teenager battling mental illness. It is clear that, in 2013 at least, the judges of the Costa Book Award were wise. I can’t think of a more suitable winner- I was gripped by the novel and read it in less than two days.

shh.jpg

Matthew Holmes, aged 19, recounts the incident that has dominated his childhood painstakingly, from the computer in his local mental health centre. Why is he there? Diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like his grandfather, Matthew often hears his older brother with Downs Syndrome, Simon, speaking to him. Begging him to play, to come outside and join him:

“If the tap choked and spluttered before the water came, he was saying I’m lonely. When I opened a bottle of Dr Pepper and the caramel bubbles fizzed over the rim, he was asking me to come out and play. He could speak through an itch, the certainty of a sneeze, the after-taste of tablets, or the way sugar fell from a spoon.”

And our protagonist feels compelled to listen. Simon has been dead for over a decade. Some say he died at a Caravan Park in Dorset, but  Matthew believes it was practically murder. The guilt that has wracked him, and wrecked his family after that fated night saw a shocking transition from an innocent, boisterous boy to a teenager stumbling through life, taking all the wrong turns.

For me, it was Matthew’s voice that made this novel remarkable. His voice, breaking free from the words, illustrated the development of his character incredibly. Matthew was almost tangible, and that is what Filer achieves so greatly. That sense of a person speaking just out of sight. That there really is someone out there, a boy that age. It’s how we get lulled into fiction, because it’s all just stories, isn’t it? In the end it’s a product of a person sitting in front of a bright little screen, carefully crafting the characters that seem so spontaneous. The characters we take home and discuss over dinner, and bring into our lives.

One outstanding aspect of this novel was the detail that Filer gave concerning mental health facilities and regimes. He clearly didn’t research through watching films. Actually, Filer was a mental health nurse, and so the vivid descriptions of the mistrust Matthew feels as he is forced to take his drugs tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and to endure the awful side effects, can be taken at face value as that of a (relatively- this is still fiction) accurate account, not that of some dreaming, sheltered author.

Yet on the other hand, there was a minor issue. Only a small one in the grand scheme of things, but it must be mentioned. The great reveal was grossly delayed. It was saved until page 247. By that time the actual suspense had faded away, because my interest in reason to Simon’s death could only last for so long, and by that point I had a rough (correct) idea anyway, so the climax/ reveal came as no shock. It is worth mentioning, that from the outset the protagonist does mention it the ‘shock of the fall’ (yes, that’s the title too!) which kills his brother, but we only really learn why it is has triggered schizophrenia and lasting guilt until the reveal. And marvellous at character building although Filer is, I don’t care that much to be interested until the end of novel.

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Overall I thought that this poignant novel, with a frank and humorous tone, is definitely worth a read because of it’s insight into the life of a teenager with schizophrenia, and the clever use of typography and sketches to aid the narration. Here is a short extract which I think sums up the tone of the novel perfectly:

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”

So have you read the Shock of the Fall? What do you think of it? What is your favourite book concerning mental illnesses?

 

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert_Einstein_Head.jpg

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

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