Book Stuff

Chick Lit

To be honest, I don’t know what Chick Lit is; but that’s a poultry excuse!

As “Amazon Prime” subscribers – my wife’s idea – I get a monthly invite to download one of eight new ebooks – their “editor’s choices” – for free (well, included in the subscription cost, to be fair).

Almost without fail, these titles will be authored by women. Although disproportionately represented, I don’t have a problem with that. What does bother me is the subjects of these chosen novels – they all seem depressingly similar.

Even though a download of one would cost me no more other than a bit of storage space on my device or in the cloud, it’s pointless. I’m just not interested enough in the dreary synopses to want to try one out.

I’ve looked to see if there’s a setting I can change, or some means of feedback, but I can find none.

wives, mothers, girlfriends, widows, and aunt tamsin cobley and all.

Kindle vs. old paper & ink

the yellow pages

I used to be anti-Kindle but I changed my opinion with experience.

I couldn’t bear the radio or telly on in the background while I’m reading but I have cottoned on to having an audiobook playing. Then when the audiobook sounds more interesting than the book book, I can switch attention to that; then if it becomes less interesting, I go back to the page. That way I feel I’m making the most of my reading time.

I have been thinking how books are a big time commitment for readers. I favour shorts story collections for two reasons:

If you don’t think much of the one you’re reading, it’s no problem; they’ll be another one starting in a moment.

And they demand less of our time, so we can read more widely.

I don’t know if there is such a place but thinking along similar lines to Youtube etc., whereby a selection of excerpts or chapters from books were offered by means of a grid;


Shortly after five o’clock – when the spectators could not have counted certainly less than 30,000, and might in all probability have amounted to double that number – the procession moved off to a note of Mr. Coppin’s bugle, caught up and repeated by other marshals along the line. The procession was headed by the dark blue Pickwickians, for the very good reason that theirs was the oldest amongst the clubs… Boldly they rode and well, these Pickwickians, as indeed did the great majority of the members of those other clubs mounted on their steel steeds.

To experience the fresh air and beauty of the countryside was, in Blatchford’s opinion, to acquire a sense of what a socialist society would feel like.
While we waited for an ex-con to come by and make an attempt on Miranda’s life, we settled into an oddly pleasurable routine. The suspense, partly mitigated by Adam’s reasoning, and thinly spread across the days, then even more sparsely across the weeks, heightened our appreciation of the daily round. Mere ordinariness became a comfort. The dullest of food, a slice of toast, offered in its lingering warmth a promise of everyday life – we would come through. Cleaning up the kitchen, a task we no longer left to Adam alone, affirmed our hold on the future. Reading a newspaper over a cup of coffee was an act of defiance. There was something comic or absurd, to be sprawled in an armchair reading about the riots in nearby Brixton or Mrs Thatcher’s heroic endeavours to structure the European Single Market, then glancing up to wonder if that was a rapist and would-be murderer at the door.
He whistled over and over a tune whose end immediately suggested its beginning.
He felt old, and breathless from the uphill climb, and weary from thankless enterprises.

“My days have passed more swiftly than the web is cut by the weaver, and are consumed without any hope.”

The girl did not recognize a quotation. ‘Have you no hope?’ She looked up at him for a second. Her eyes were extraordinary, he thought: a smoky fawn flecked here and there with yellow, a colour more suitable in a cat than a nun. The question seemed to have struck her. Rather than give an answer, Fludd walked on.
‘I see you’re reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,’ he said. ‘I hear it on many lips, but pressure of business prevents my own attention.’ Rising, he went to pick it up, carefully consulting their expressions; they seemed to acknowledge this gesture of sociality, and so he proceeded. ‘A mystery? Excuse my abysmal ignorance.’ He turned the pages.

‘Not a mystery,’ Paul said. ‘On contrary, interesting form of fiction possible within genre of science fiction.’

‘Oh no,’ Betty disagreed. ‘No science in it. Not set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise.’
Mason grabbed the other by the arm, but that arm had lost the greater part of its outline, had become a vague patch of light already fading, and when Mason looked at the hand that had done the grabbing, his own hand, he saw with difficulty that it likewise no longer had fingers, or front or back, or skin, or anything at all.

All these excerpts are kept available in the library without defacing any book. Some have notes made by me in the course of reading, again without resort to defacement; any can be further edited or erased. The ease at which they can be retrieved, then copy and pasted above, could hardly be easier.

By the way, the bit above about listening to audiobooks is in jest.

I tried but couldn’t get on with audiobooks. Two things: the voice of the reader interfered with my imagination. And I’m not convinced yet that listening is the same as reading. Especially while doing housework or driving a car, two of the suggestions made to increase my reading time.

I can see the science-fiction future where whole books are transplanted into our brains as false memories; public libraries, if they remain, will look more like out-patient clinics. In this respect, I’m firmly attached to the traditional way of books, or at least something closely resembling it.

Fibbing Friday: Harold Pop-up & the rock thing

Thoughts and Theories this Friday, asks questions about a certain bespectacled young wizard. Who?

Venturing onto the thin ice of JK Rowling’s unread literary works, the moon is rising has sub-contracted out the answering to Sir Humphrey Twilight-Zone of the Bungle and Looney Literary Supplement. A fiver was never more wisely spent.

“Er, Potter, you say..?”

#fibbingfriday

Warning: some of these false answers may unintentionally be true.


Why did Harry Potter live with the Dursley’s when he wasn’t at Hogwarts?

He was hopeless at resourcing an empty cardboard box and a bunch of old newspapers to wrap himself in.


What was Arthur Weasley’s job at the Ministry of Magic?

He was principal shiner of brass genie lamps; it was a wish come true!


Why did Dobby the House Elf try to stop Harry Potter from going to Hogwarts?

He was just being an elf azard.


What did Hermione Granger’s parents do for a living?

They manufactured and exported a full range of life-sized Hermione Granger Blow-up Dolls. Interest was low until they inflated them with helium, then it all took off. Customers couldn’t speak highly enough.


Why was Voldemort unable to kill Harry Potter?

Because Joanne had already received a nice advance on a further three sequels.


What did Fred and George Weasley do after dropping out of Hogwarts?

Legally changed their names to Fred and Ginger Weasel and won Dancing With The Stars On Ice.


Why was Hagrid expelled from Hogwarts?

He was too big for his boots (that’s what it says on Wiki-Google, so it’s true).


What did the sorcerer’s (philosopher’s) stone do, exactly?

Nothing. It’s a rock. It just sits there. Except on Tuesdays and third Wednesdays when it looks a little odd.


What did Lucius Malfoy put in Ginny Weasley’s cauldron in Flourish and Blotts?

A magical euphemism. Three months on, her parents called the cops.


What is Harry Potter’s patronus?

The fleshy extremity on which he sits and sometimes gets patted on.

Six Degrees: Carnelli

Paula Light has prompted a game based on Six Degrees of Separation called Carnelli. Six books, films, songs and/or poems, linked in some way.

I have chosen one of Paula’s six choices to begin with, as I think that’s the idea, and followed on with six of my own. Leaving Las Vegas, begins like this,

Leaving Las Vegas. This is a 1995 movie starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. The story centers on the relationship between an alcoholic man who has lost everything that mattered to him and a prostitute. Sad, but great.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, a journalist and writer. Thompson was supposed to have inspired “gonzo” journalism, a less objective form of journalism. It isn’t clear how the word “gonzo” defines this style of writing; some say it came from a 45 single, Gonzo, by Louisiana Rhythm and Blues pianist, James Booker.

James Booker, described as “the black Liberace” and by Dr. John as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produce”, also spent time as a session musician. He performed on Ringo Starr’s third solo studio album, simply titled Ringo.

After The Beatles, Ringo Starr took to acting. One of the first roles was in the film, That’ll Be The Day, about the rise of an aspiring rock and roll singer played by David Essex. The cast also included two other renowned British pop musicians: Keith Moon and Billy Fury.

Billy Fury, born Ronald Wycherley, initially considered working as a songwriter and went to sell some songs to rock and roll impresario, Larry Parnes . Parnes saw a different potential and thrust the boy on stage, giving him his new stage name, Billy Fury. He was a success, mainly for his provocative movements whilst singing, in imitation of Elvis. He had as many hits as The Beatles in their day though never had a chart no.1. His biggest UK hit was a ballad, Halfway to Paradise, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

Paradise Lost is possibly the most well-known title of a poem very few people have actually read, me included. Probably because it is an “epic” poem, in other words “very long”. Written by John Milton in the 17th century, it tells of “The fall of man”, Adam and Eve, and Satan in the form of a serpent, and the couple’s expulsion from Eden after disobeying God.

East of Eden, a novel by John Steinbeck, was considered by the author to be his magnum opus. It tells the saga of a Californian rancher, Adam Trask, and his two sons, Aron and Caleb, whose story reflects those of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis. Steinbeck’s chosen title comes from the verse, “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”

I think it would be fun to have a postal address, The Land of Nod.

The Joy of a Random Segue and of Reading at Odd Moments at Work

On Music

I’ve said I’m back working. Just for a bit, hopefully, as I realise I am genetically unsuited to it. However, as into each life a little rain must fall, so too does every cloud have its silver lining.

In the hour long drive at each end of the day, I’m enjoying listening to my playlist again. Ever since I owned a car and had audio fitted – a twenty-five quid diy job for my first car, I remember – I’ve always loved listening to music while driving. At the start, it was tape cassettes; a fiddly process at the best of times and always a risk of the machine chewing up your favourite recording. Thank Apollo! for digital and the invention of the USB memory stick, a thing half the size of a thumb which holds 750+ songs and that’s only half its capacity. I plug it in the car’s audio and request “Shuffle” and it plays my favourite songs in a random order.

I could make my own playlists, as I did with cassettes. The problem with this, for a perfectionist like me, is getting the segues right so that the mood of the music flows. This is not as simple as it sounds and it’s a good reason to leave it up to the mindless machine. However, even the uncultured gadget occasionally delivers beautiful segues and makes me think, I must make a note of that. But I never do. I haven’t worked out how to make notes while driving along.


On Reading

I’ve also started to grab an odd moment at work to read. This might mean the last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of lunch. It’s easy to think, ah, ’tisn’t worth getting out the book, or tablet, for such a short time, but I’ve found it is.

Reading at different times of the day and in different environments is surprisingly a different experience to normal, I find. Habitually, I tend to read last thing at night. Contrary to what experts say about reading off an illuminated tablet, I don’t find it induces insomnia. I actually find I’m nodding off and though I’m following the text, there’s a point when I’m not taking anything in. This isn’t really a good way to read at all but, in a busy day, it’s the only time regularly available.

At work, I find these moments where there isn’t much else to do. It’s not time to get back to the grindstone but lunch is eaten and I’ve done all my personal chores like checking my finances, answering personal emails, and shopping. It may be just ten minutes but out comes the iPad and I kick back and read a few paragraphs, and I realise it’s a different kind of joy. And whatever it is I’ve read stays firm in my mind, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


image of person reading by Blaz Photo via Unsplash.com

Oh, no!

Sheesh! I hope I don’t live to regret it but I’ve accepted a bit of work, succumbing to a little flattery from those responsible. I find, when sat at a desk, working, I have more moments of inspiration for blogging but less time to write anything up. Still, with an hour’s commute at each end of the day, I’m listening to more music.

I can’t say too much about the job but It’s the usual “fools rush ahead” fiasco and something about it put me in mind of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke – that’s a levee thing for holding back the sea.

Googling it, I’m surprised to find it isn’t a Dutch story at all but an American myth. It’s a story within a story and features in the 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge.

The poor boy isn’t named but the story goes that when walking past a section of dyke, he discovers a hole and bungs a finger in thus saving the whole of Holland from a tragic flood. He remains there all night, freezing cold, until the grown-ups come looking for him, rescue him and fix the hole.

So, that was me this week, feeling like an unnamed boy with a finger in the hole. But nobody came to rescue me.


In my first week at work, I was invited to go “plogging” at lunchtime. This is, apparently, where you go jogging and pick up any litter and rubbish you see on the way.

What will they come up with next? “Blogging”, where you run along, thinking up daft things to post?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I’ll begin…

Apps on my iPad update in the background. It’s something I accept without being too interested in what or why it happens; as long as it remains usable, I’m okay with it.

With some app updates, it’s obvious as there’s an altered appearance. The more considerate ones will open with a new welcome page, presenting the changes. Others just change subtly without fuss.

I don’t know how long it’s been there but I’ve just noticed the Kindle app this morning has a small headphones icon in the bottom corner, when reducing the pages for the menu. Curiously, I clicked it and, as expected, a voice started an audio reading of the book. I closed it down quickly.

While there’s nothing wrong with the idea of audiobooks, to me it’s nothing to do with reading, anymore than the sound of sizzling bacon is anything like biting into a bacon sandwich. What’s really wrong with it is the inflections in the actor’s voice. Reading is essentially a relationship between an author and a reader and I don’t welcome this third party influence.

Mind you, it took a while for me to come over to the idea of the ebook in preference to the paperback. Maybe in the next life…


Are you sitting comfortably? (Julia Lang)

image: voice actor, penguin random house.

Is it okay to be in love with your protagonist?

The idea occurred to me while walking the dogs this morning. Actually, no sooner was this idea given oxygen when it latched itself onto an old idea that all our protagonists are, in essence, autobiographical, just different versions of us. Combined, this asks, how much writing a central character is an act of narcissism?

I’ve just begun reading Montalbano’s First Case, a book of short stories by Andreas Camilleri, a kind of prequel to the Montalbano novels of which he has written many. It’s apparent that Camilleri emphasises Montalbano’s good character: his virtues, his compassion, his good judgement, his wisdom – even when his man goes against the grain, bends the rules and breaks the law, there is an apology and virtuous reasoning. I’d say he is in love with him. But whether Montalbano is secretly Camilleri, I have no way of telling.

Of course, there’s the other idea that our characters are our fictional children, or even that they are our Adams and Eves to which we play God. We simply love our children, whatever they may do.

Picaresque

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

(Jonathan Swift from “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”)

Do you ever go on a Google Safari?

This may look like a conjoining of two popular search engine names but really my meaning is the popular and ubiquitous meaning of the first word and the literal meaning of the second.

So, it may start by recalling a phrase or quotation or, in this instance, a title of a book, and I’m curious as to its origin or context or literal meaning. The book is the only work published by the author, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.

This was a book I’d judged by the title back in – whoa! the 1990s, I reckon, when Penguin issued a series of modern classic novels at an introductory bargain price. I wasn’t disappointed.

The phrase used for the title came to mind this morning after reading the news, but in particular the readers’ comments which are invited below many of the news items. I will admit that I have commented on items myself though I hope I haven’t been typical of these commenters. It’s a healthy sign of freedom and democracy that we are allowed to express ourselves publicly even if we wrongly equate our opinion with that of the author’s. A moment’s thought would tell any reasonable person how wrong this is likely to be so they might discard their certainty before going in search of the truth. Yet vanity and pride overwhelm, so generally people will choose ignorance over correcting themselves.

So, discovering the title comes from Jonathan Swift rather than The Holy Bible or Shakespeare, and being happy with that, I find a term I wasn’t familiar with but ought to be: Picaresque.

Essentially, Picaresque is a literary genre which deals with the lovable rogue, in particular someone from the lower orders in society, though in a broader sense anyone swimming against the popular tide. I love this genre and find such persons, whether fictitious or real, interesting.

In human nature, I feel there must be a “gene” which compels us to move with the herd. You can see its possible “evolutionary advantage”, can’t you? The downside is, amongst other things, people are informed by a narrow section of news outlets – somewhat bias driven for cynically commercial reasons, we get hemmed in by “party politics” – mostly self-serving and unrepresentative of ordinary citizen’s needs or views, and a largely out-of-date and devalued education.


The author, John Kennedy Toole’s life story is a sad one. Having written A Confederacy of Dunces – a brilliant and funny debut novel, I thought – he failed to get a publisher interested in it. He suffered depression and took his own life at the age of 31.

It was his mother, an influential figure throughout his life though not always a welcome one, who championed the novel in her son’s memory and eventually had it published. Later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reads like a good story in its own right and although there is a play, I don’t know if anyone’s made or thought of making a film of it.

Though the Safari could’ve gone on, I chose to end it there.

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)