Angie Thomas: a modern day revolutionary?

Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, has fundamentally changed the YA literary genre. Following in the footsteps of many LGBT works, Thomas has proved that this type of fiction can also be an excellent way to provoke conversations concerning gun violence and race, even if parts of her novel are fundamentally flawed and undermine her main message.

Thomas tells the story of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who is caught between two realities: that of her privileged  white school, and of her home life in a predominantly black, poorer neighbourhood. Thomas herself had a similar upbringing, in many respects, but shockingly could even relate to the aspect of the novel where Starr’s friend, Khalil, gets needlessly killed by a policeman after being pulled over. This is the crux of the novel: the aftermath of the tragic shooting on Starr’s life, amidst the underlying tension between her two lives, and of Starr’s progression from fear to finding a way to use her platform and try to take action on behalf of Khalil and everything that his death represented.

The obvious merit of this novel is that it presented racial inequality in America in a way which is easily digested. News stories are often very blandly, despite their shocking content, because of the lack of a strong narrative element and due to the monotonous language used to describe momentous events. Thomas, however, of course allows for some characterisation, and offers a lens beyond the stereotypes that the media, failing to expand on headlines, has frequently perpetuated. Reading fiction about these kind of events allows the story to be understood in a way which is more relatable: the rich nature of the text, concerning Starr’s and Khalil’s personal lives, help to indicate that actually there is much more to them than simply victims of crime, something which contemporary protests against police shoots aim to achieve, but often not quite as effectively as Thomas seemingly has. Therefore from that perspective, Thomas’ work is revolutionary, seeing as many people still have -unconsciously or not- a racist mindset, and thus to read a book which forces them to empathise from another point of view is invaluable.

So the main message is strong. However, there were aspects of the book that I did not agree with, which can be difficult to admit because many people automatically equate that to disliking the sentiment of the book in general, which of course is not true. But the book is too long. The legal process is too drawn out in the book and paradoxically, despite the needless pages, there are underdeveloped character relationships. There is a lso a fractured friendship group, with a friend called Hayley becoming a racist throughout the novel, and yet this is hardly expanded upon, and Hayley is used more as a motify for  Starr’s personal ability to rise above societal hate than to be seen as an actual person. As for Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, well there does seems to be racism concerning him:

“I kneel beside my dead friend in the middle of the street with my hands raised. A cop as white as Chris points a gun at me.

As white as Chris.”

This is a troubling quote, because what Thomas is doing here is creating a world which is basically black people versus white people. The focus of the policeman should not be his skin colour, and nor should his skin colour be equated to an emotion nor have negative connotations, as is implied in the excerpt above. Understandably there is institutional racism, but surely the focus of Thomas’ novel should be more on the failure of the justice system to condemn the police-officer, and not because the police-officer was white himself. More white people than black get killed by police officers every year,  TIME notes, and therefore this commentary on racial bias is not as pertinent as it may initially seem. If the focus had been tilted slightly to the law, then the message behind this book would have been much more appropriate.

Furthermore:

“You’re black, okay?” I yell. “You’re black!”
Silence.
“I’m black?” he says, like he’s just hearing that for the first time. “What the f*ck’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything! You’re black, I’m white. You’re rich, I’m not.”

It sounds racist, doesn’t it. Very. This excerpt is from the book, but I actually just changed the words “black” and “white” around, because the whole point about racism is that it should not be tolerated towards anyone, regardless of history, because that is, after all, what equality means. But sometimes racism towards white people can be overlooked too. The real version, from the book, is here:

“You’re white, okay?” I yell. “You’re white!”
Silence.
“I’m white?” he says, like he’s just hearing that for the first time. “What the f*ck’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything! You’re white, I’m black. You’re rich, I’m not.”

The point that Thomas is trying to spread is one which promotes equality, and yet by having a protagonist with such views, she fundamentally undermines that message by having Starr refuse to talk to Chris on the basis of his race alone. This attitude is not crucial to the plot itself, so why she chooses to include this is baffling. What is more:

“I swear, I don’t understand white people.
Breadcrumbs on macaroni, kissing dogs on the mouth—”
“Treating their dogs like they’re their kids,” I add.
“Yeah!” says DeVante. “Purposely doing shit that could kill them, like bungee jumping.”
“Calling Target ‘Tar-jay,’ like that makes it fancier,” says Seven.
“F*ck,” Chris mutters. “That’s what my mom calls it.”
Seven and I bust out laughing.
“Saying dumb shit to their parents,” DeVante continues. “Splitting up in situations when they clearly need to stick together.”

Is this spreading the right message? No. What is worse, is that Chris seems to take these generalisations and run with them, and it seems ironic that Starr, a character who is supposed to develop into an icon of equality, is the one who perpetuates this rhetoric at the end of her developmental arc. It just seems inconsistent with what Thomas is trying to achieve, because racial equality applies to everyone.

In general, though, The Hate U Give is a worthy read, as it does have an important intent behind it. However, if you are interested in racism, then just read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book instead: it is factual, well-written, and absolutely fascinating.

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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”

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

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Footage of me diving into arguments in the comments section

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

Take Refuge:refuge.jpeg

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

Even a book like-spurious.jpeg

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

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

worst-book-covers-titles-15
I think I will pass

and

worst-book-covers-titles-26
I do not think this is in international dialogue, actually, since it this published in 2007

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

book-covers8.jpg

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.

pig
You have full permission to fling that waste of paper 

What To Do When Hardy Gets You Down

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

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

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and also this

pain2

when I realise I have to spend most of my holiday

a) mentally preparing myself to read it

b) actually reading it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Poetic Review IN GERMAN?!!

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.

What To Read If You’re A Narcissist*

(August Book of the Month!!)

Are you the type of person who also spends more time choosing an outfit for an event than preparing for the lecture you will give there? (An optimistic guess of the core readers, but I’ll run with it.)

Do you want to spend hours admiring your many talents by doing Are You Smarter Than Einstein quizzes and having wonderful daily rambles into the realms of self-reflection?

Do you feel constantly under-appreciated by all others in your family, even when you did all their laundry, walked the dog and made their Chilli Costume at 10 pm for World Taste Day as little Tommy only remembered at bedtime that it was the next morning? (Actually, that probably is a fair one.)

If so, then PSY-Q is for you! Oh, and you’re a narcissist.

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Anyway, the book is littered with many curious, engaging and thought-provoking tests which ultimately tell you more about yourself. We all know that our IQ is highly superior (by default) to everyone else’s, but it’s always fun to do the personality tests, Rorschach tests and Raven test that Ben Ambridge includes in his hefty book amongst many others.

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What do you see in these ink blots? Your answer may reveal more about you than you think…

But the quizzes, riddles and multiple choice questions are all part of a larger scheme to explain the psychology behind It All. By that, I mean the basic prinicples of all kinds of things, for example neurological and linguistic disorders, with everything tied together by the results of your test. Sounds neat? Well, it is.

One of the many fascinating things that Ambridge discusses is selective attention. Take the test below by watching the video- it’s awesome (and it’s very popular, so you may have already done it).

Ambridge walks us mere ordinary citizens through why selective attention occurs, and how it is useful when implemented in everyday life, (it allows us to have a conversation on a busy train, for example, as all the other voices can be blocked out instead of distracting us). But that’s not all. Ambridge also offers the reader a whistle-stop tour through first-year psychology, explaining not only everyday revelations but deeply personal ones too, such as with the sunk cost fallacy.

As the authour sagely mentions at the start of the book, everything links back to psychology, even money- no, especially money. It’s all good and well, being that told you’re a relatively open person with extroverted tendencies, because you  knew that already. But being dropped the bombshell that you’re actually culpable to mental financial tricks (like the sunk cost fallacy) is something else. Here is what it is, in a nutshell:

SunkCostEffect

Or, as put eloquently, here:

sunkcosts

All things considered, it’s most likely not what a great man once meant when, to delight of motivational posters stockers everywhere, he said:

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But it stills applies. The point is that there are many pitfalls that we face in life which are clearly explained by a proper psychologist (none of that self-proclaimed Instagram riff-raff) across a broad spectrum of topics which may end up not only informing your future decisions, but helping you to guide them. To use the SCF example from earlier, like when you’ve spent £300 on a plane ticket you no longer want, instead of paying an extra £1000 and wasting 4 days of your holiday going to a place you don’t even like to make sure that the plane tickets are wasted, you may remember the sunk cost fallacy and take the £300 loss. Or not. It’s your cash.

Of course, the explanations, whilst thorough, are superficial because we of the public don’t have medical degrees, so it’s not likely to be useful to anyone with much grounding in psychology already. Laughably, by the end of the book Ambridge finishes with this optimistic note: I hope at least some of you are now inspired to go on to study psychology at university, or even go onto your postgrad. Wait. What? I’m sorry brother, but I’m not going to switch my university choice just from a few fancy tests of yours. Your book is interesting and all, granted, but you need to tone your expectation levels down or you will sorely disappointed!

Except, maybe after reading PSY-Q, YOU will be the one Ambridge is talking about who starts a new degree. Not convinced? Give the book a read and prove me wrong. Because that’s what narcissists like to do, after all.

*or just really interest in psychology.

6 Parallels between Trump and the Theban Plays

1. How the Good of the State comes first, and morales second (if at all)

Creon throughout all three plays is clearly a villain, not in the least because he orders his own nephew’s body to fester outside the walls of his city after the battle. When Antigone is the eponymous hero, she is just a bit miffed by the outright disrespect displayed towards her brother Polynices, even if Creon (her uncle) says that it’s fine if dogs eat his flesh because he was betrayed Thebes by trying to overthrow the ruler at the time, Polynices’ brother Eteocles . It’s clear, therefore, that Creon believes that any morales or values must be placed second to that of the States’ needs. In this case the value that is being ‘demoted’ here is that of honouring the dead and in particular family, because Creon refuses to give Polynices any form of a burial, leaving him to rot outside the city’s walls. Instead, Creon decides it’s more important to use Polynices as an example of what happens to those who threaten the State and therefore to help keep order in Thebes.

As for Trump, well…

maga
It’s clear that these…
child in cage
…speak for themselves 

2.Difficulties realising that the truth is not a social construct but an actual thing

In Oedipus the King, the celebrated couple that is Jocasta and Oedipus are discussing the events of Laius’ murder. Both decide to latch onto what the servant had said when they recounted the event, fixing on the fact that ‘strangers’ had carried out the murder when of course Oedipus alone had stabbed Laius. Neither are particularly keen to point out the large number of coincidences that would disprove the servant as a reliable source, like how Oedipus (as his name suggests) has damaged feet and yet just fails to draw a parallel when Jocasta mentions binding the ankles of her new-born, or how both have similar prophecies and yet they don’t see any significance in this shared coincidence. It seems like this pair has a bit of trouble with the truth. Do you know who else does?

trum b

Now, I could go on to list the many times that Trump has had some difficulties with the truth, (in fact the Post says that since he started his presidency he has this problem 4.9 times a day on average), but instead of going into the details myself, I’ll let the excellent Pulitzer Prize winning website POLITIFACT do it instead. Really, click on the link. Go on, check it out!

3. A tendency towards self-inflicted pain

Deaths happen. Lots of deaths. No, I’m not talking about the countless suspicious car accidents which take place in Russia everyday as more agents try to double cross and reveal evidence of collusion. No. I never said that. I am talking about the large number of suicides that occur during the span of the Three Theban Plays:

Oedipus firstly blinds himself in Oedipus the King and then leads himself to his own death at the end of Oedipus at Colonus. His two sons/ half brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, die by each-others’ swords (which can be judged as self-inflicted because Polynices knew from the prophecy that he would die without Oedipus’ support). Then there is Jocasta, Haemon and Eurydice who die in equally gory and interesting ways….

So there’s plenty of tragic deaths through suicide of one form or another. But the point that Sophocles is trying to make? That wrongdoing is a catalyst for a loss. Here, the wrongdoing as such is incest, which is linked to every sucide either directly or indirectly. Ergo, a crime or a sin will have negative consequences, and the more severe the crime, the greater the effect.

Now the Trump administration has seen quite a few people either resign or be, to put it bluntly, sacked so hard that they plummeted through the earth and appeared on the other side in Japan.

As of March 2018, over 22 people have either resigned or have been fired. This is much the same as ‘self-inflicted pain’ because, of course, to have a cohesive government the party needs to be unified. Any cracks weaken the party and thus the President. If the leader is losing respect of the people in his party to such the extent that they feel they have to leave, then clearly the President is not only doing something wrong, but is sending the message of a rift in the party to the public. At the rate Trump is going through these staff, it won’t be long before ‘factionalism’ as created by Lenin, will be introduced to ensure that someone turns up to wor on Monday morning.

A few of the most major leavers were:

Thomas-Frank-Scaramucci-Buzzfeed
Anthony Scaramucci with his 11 day career 
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Sean Spicer who probably wasn’t laughing like this when he left the White House
Comey and the complex saga that followed him

4. Humanity’s potential for infinite stupidity

The vision of Oedipus violently blinding himself, with blood running down his face, is one of the most memorable from King Oedipus. But references to vision can be found more than just that once throughout these three plays. Lots of times these references are a metaphor for the truth and knowledge. Going back to the previous example, Oedipus blinds himself because he doesn’t want to see his daughters/ siblings. As if by not seeing the truth, it can be avoided and ignored. Ironically and in reverse, the prophet who features mainly in Antigone, Tiresias, is alsp blind, and yet he can predict the future accurately and thus does have great knowledge. So the message is that even those who are the most revered and are the most intelligent in society i.e Oedipus who solves the riddle, can be incredibly short-sighted (PUN INTENDED). Like when he accidentally  marries his mother. So Sophocles neatly and dramatically highlights how although humans have the potential for great intelligence, in reality they’re unreliable and vastly stupid.

Hm. You know, I don’t know if this does relate to Trump. I can’t think of him in any situation about where he seems even a tiny bit idiotic and resembled a well dressed orange with a penchance for public speaking.  Only joking. I wouldn’t say that about oranges. Even oranges know that ‘covfefe’ isn’t a real word and try to pull off the fact

covfefe.jpg

 

5. Trouble when family and state collide

 The Theban Plays become very grave when discussing burials. Obviously the source of the conflict when Polynices’ corpse is denied a proper grave in Antigone whilst shockingly, Antigone is entombed in a cave whilst alive (and then kills herself, but that’s another motif for another paragraph). Even the way Oedipus choses to buried at Colonus is significant because it gives Athens the prophetic power to win any future battles.

Anyhow, during the denouement of Antigone, Creon realises that it’s his part of his duty to bury his nephew, traitor or not, and so burials come to represent the duties and trials that come with kinship, particularly when the duty to the state conflicts with the duty to one’s relatives.

For Donald Trump, there is on the other hand no conflict with duty to family and state. No, they are the same thing. Now, two words: Ivanka Trump. A Senior Advisor to the President.

Ivanka-Trump-November-1997

Makes sense. She has modelled for Tommy Hilfiger and Versace, and was a reality TV personality and fashion designer. One cannot think of anyone in the entirity America who is more suited to advising the President on nuclear warheads and soybean tariffs. What Obama really needed, then, was Cindy Crawford by his side….

And another two words: Jared Kushner. He has to broker peace in the Middle East, act as the liason to Mexico, China and the Muslim community. Oh, and he also has to enjoy being Donald Trump’s son-in-law. But that’s just a coincidence. Isn’t it?

6. Assertion of control over others

Lastly is poor Antigone. Banished to a cave, buried alive. Oh the horror. No, seriously, that does actually sound quite horrific. On a metaphorical level this is crucial because it suggests that Creon disregards the Gods entirely; it was widely known to be a terrible sin to put living Antigone into a grave and keep dead Polynices above ground. In doing so, Creon is clearly trying to assert his control over the Gods, which always ends well, and disregard the sinful nature of this act.

As for assertion of control…. let me leave you with this one final thought:

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