reading

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.

What Are You Reading, Then?

Rory, of A Guy Called Bloke blog, has asked a nice request about our reading and writing choices, and whether these have been altered by the pandemic. He asks,

1] How real do you need your reality reading or fiction reading to be?

2] Have you knowingly noticed over the last 9 months and since the arrival of Covid – 19 your writing style has altered?

3] Have you noticed any changes in the way that you personally blog – for instance your overall outlook and positivity reflects upon you differently now?

But I have written my thoughts out rather in the way of a stream of consciousness. It’s not meant to be a rant or a negative point of view, just another point of view.


Oh, I don’t know, I really can’t be doing with all these talking-thinking animals. At 17, my girlfriend at the time put me onto Watership Down. Those bloody awful rabbits! That did it for me. I think we should leave wild animals to be themselves and not inflict them with dreadful anthropomorphic traits.

I blame that Beatrix Potter woman. Though I have to say I haven’t read any of hers.

Wizards and witches and goblins and elves – and hobbits? (Sigh.) Can we not be truthful and admit they’re actually humans thinly disguised? As with the talking animals, no one wrote anything about stumpy pixie-eared trolls that wasn’t a reflection on our grown-up human faults through the veil and comfortable distance of disguised, sometimes mythical, other species. It’s dishonest if you think about it. At the very least, it’s an obscuration and a distraction.

I don’t believe I read for “escapism”. I don’t think I’m escaping from my own existence. I’m comfortable and quite at home with my existence; why would I escape into something potentially worse? I think I read to “experience”. Experiencism. (That’s not a proper word as little red dots have appeared beneath it as I type on. I don’t know how it isn’t a word; it should be.)

I want to try to experience other viewpoints, scenarios, events, cultures, emotions etc – as a human being would.

I’ll read anything that’s well-written and tells me something about the human condition. That’s the purpose of the novel. If I wish to know more about animals – or mythological creatures, or plants, or minerals, or cosmic or abstract things, I’ll go to non-fiction. I enjoy non-fiction. Non-fiction can make my head spin in a way that a novel can’t. There’s no suspension of disbelief. There’s skepticism, but that’s not the same thing. Non-fiction is awesome and scary. I read only yesterday that our sun moves through space at almost half a million miles per hour. If Tolkien wrote that, your instinct would tell you he’d made it up.

Until last year, I hadn’t made up a story since being required to do so for school. Ot surprised me that I found it fun to do. I think my style is influenced by the authors I read and I’m not aware it’s affected by current events, Covid included.

It’s still a new thing for me to write fiction. I couldn’t write anything big. It would be like running a marathon after trying a dozen or so 5ks. It would be like building an ark on the strength of putting up a couple of shelves.

Also it would require plot and I couldn’t bear that. I was pleased to hear Stephen King say he didn’t write for plot but character development. But I haven’t his skill. When writing small flash-fiction sketches, plot is unnecessary and I like that. Plot would bore me to distraction. I think I can recognise a plot driven short story: it has the tang of formula about it; it moves in an obvious and deliberate way, so as to become predictable. It also tends to be superficial; telling and not showing. Characters are infinitely more interesting than plot.

I may do more story writing in the new year. I’ve been reading tips on publishing one short story every day, or once a week, regardless of quality. Apparently, regularity brings improvement with it. You never know.

I think of myself as a resiliently pragmatic and optimistic person; generally, I remain positive. I hope this comes through in my blogging and commenting on others.

It Bothers Me

Bother is a good word. It is the word I will force myself to have habitually at hand in those moments when I want to express how something bothers me when it ought not to. Ought not to because it is trivial, irrelevant and of little consequence to my life.

It bothered me that I had often been struggling to come up with an adequate word to describe the emotional state when things appear wrong but a convincing, lucid argument isn’t forthcoming. Then I heard Richard Feynman say it and it clicked. Things bothered him – honours and awards, in his case – and things bother me too.

It bothers me to see men pedalling bikes with their arches instead of the balls of their feet.

It bothers me to read “noone” when they mean no one.

Noone is Peter Noone, the cherubic faced man who sang with Herman’s Hermits, the 60’s band whose hits included the romantically ebullient, Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good and its heartbreaking inevitability, No Milk Today. You can still hear these on Youtube if you have paracetamol handy.

I saw the noone crime committed today in a national newspaper. The article was celebrating the joy of reading which makes the crime worse than it is normally. Hopefully I will get over it with counselling or some downward-facing dog.

Picture the sweet, little face of Peter Noone opposite, commit it to memory and never ever write his name again when you mean to say “no one”.

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

Rorschach Test

a flash-fiction piece

“To me, this image represents our excesses, our gluttony and greed. It’s chaotic, unconstrained, undisciplined. Disrespectful. It is a metaphor of the state of the world as I see it today…”

He separated the notes he intermittently made on Patient P’s interpretations of Card X with a vertical line down the page. On the right hand side he wrote, “tomatoes, beetroot, string beans, avocado”. Then, on the left hand side, “vivid, politicised, abstraction”. He thought for a while, sucking on his pen, and then added, “carrots”. Then he wondered how well off he was for bananas. She liked bananas, he recalled, but he wasn’t sure how much he liked them himself.

“Clearly, it’s a fat lady wearing a blue bra and not much else,” smirked Patient F. “Apart from yellow gloves! She has long, curly, violently red hair…green stockings…”

He wrote down Martha’s number, just to see if he could remember it. It didn’t look right so he scratched it out and tried a different combination. This too looked odd. He wondered if Martha was still single after their split. She wasn’t the dating kind; they’d met in unusual circumstances, by pure chance; an accident, or coincidence, one might say. Though she wasn’t shy. She had been adventurous, full of surprises, sometimes shockingly so…but he really missed sharing the intimacy.

“An aquarium. See, tropical fish, coral, hermit crabs, a bit of a weed, bladderwrack..”

“What?” he said, his attention coming suddenly back to the test.

“Bladderwrack,” reiterated Patient W, “a bit of a weed.”

He wrote it down and gestured for the patient to continue. As the voice drifted further back into his conscious awareness, he began doodling in the margin: a desert island with a palm tree protruding dead centre, and little waves lapping around. They met on the sands of a lonely beach. He was taking photographs, she was sunbathing. He had been shocked to come across her, quite nude, while he was changing lenses: a wide angle for a zoom, the very longest. He fumbled clumsily, she squinted up at him through the bright sunlight, he coughed, and she laughed, without a shred of embarrassment. Propping herself up on one side, she offered him a drink from an open can, and he found he had a thirst he needed to quench.

“Well, it’s just a load of ink randomly splattered on a bit of card, then someone’s obviously folded it down the middle and opened it out again. It’s meaningless. Utterly meaningless. I could tell you it was the man in the moon. I could say pie in the sky. I could say it was two lovers in love, making love, but it would be ridiculous to do so.”

He didn’t know what to write now. No one had yet not played along. He looked into the eyes of Patient X and was bewitched by their clarity. Almond shaped and blue, sitting in absolute symmetry within the freshest of complexions, framed with auburn curls. She smiled at his dumb gaze, her plump lips parting ever so slightly revealing the edges of straight lines of pearly teeth. He wondered how unethical it would be to ask her out for a date.

“Shall I go on?” she asked, not breaking the spell.

“Yes, please do,” he said, putting down the blank clipboard.

(545 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Sunday writing prompt – “Rorschach Test”

image: Rorschach Test, card X – the final test card.

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.

Talking to Strangers

Thanks to umanbn (Mark Hodgson) – whose drawings blog I follow – for highlighting the Humans of New York project, which is fascinating. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who explains the project in his “About” page;

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.”

In essence, he takes someone’s portrait in the street and gets them to tell their story, a little bit about themselves, and transcribes it below their picture. I see some of those guys are really keen to talk. They must feel a need to tell their story. It’s probably a good deal.

What began in NY has now extended beyond the US; I’ve been reading a few pieces from within Europe. People from all over, happily talking to a stranger with a camera.

I don’t know if he’s approached any Londoners. It’s been a while since I thought about myself being a Londoner but casting my thoughts back, I’m not sure many would easily reveal their personal history to a complete stranger. We hardly dare make eye contact. London is a busy, crowded place and you have to create a kind of privacy within.

It reminded me of a time in my youth when I had to use the public bus to get to work. Normally, you’d look for two empty seats together so you sat alone; if there wasn’t any, you might prefer to stand in the aisle rather than take a seat beside a stranger. But sometimes you’d take a chance, especially if the journey was long.

So I sat down besides this guy, a very vocal, slightly drunk, probably, middle-aged Irishman, and he immediately began telling me his life story. When he felt he’d exhausted that subject, he went on to tell me my own life expectations – even though he didn’t know me from Adam! He invented all kinds of bollocks, all of it implausible. I mean, I ought to be famous by now, as rich as Croesus, and a great political statesman to boot. It was excruciating at the time – but funny afterwards.


I’ve just remembered, our BBC have done a similar thing with The Listening Project, a series of short interlude pieces recorded for radio. I think they set up a recording booth in a chosen place and people go in, often in pairs, to talk about themselves.

The whole world wants an opportunity to talk, it seems. They ought to start a blog.


Humans of New York

The Listening Project (BBC)

image of two people on bench in Osaka, Japan, by Andrew Leu via Unsplash.com

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.

Going on a Safari, almost

Today’s google safari begins with the word,

Caudle

I discovered this word from an online article about historical birth rituals and customs for our queens and nobility. The article went through some rum goings on. Unbelievably, royal births were not considered private affairs. This apparent tradition lasted until our present Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Charles. The Home Office minister’s presence was usually required but she put a stop to that nonsense. Earlier years saw a free-for-all when ‘The obstetrician yelled out,

‘The Queen is going to give birth!’ – at which point hundreds of courtiers poured into the room”.

Jaw dropping! However, Caudle, a spiced and alcoholic oatmeal gruel, was once prescribed post partum to queens as a restorative. The word caught my attention specifically because there is a village near here called Caudle Green, and I wonder if there’s a connection (could it be like Soylent Green or possibly drinking it made one feel queasy? But seriously, there may be a reasonable connection).

Royal Birth Traditions: from drinking caudle to audiences of 200

image: detail of a portrait by Franz Winterhalter of Victoria holding Arthur, and probably not being offered caudle, and probably not by the Home Secretary.


Miserden to Caudle Green and Brimpsfield round

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with finding the origin of the naming of Caudle Green and became fed up flicking through all the property sales and airbnb adverts in the village. Incidentally, there’s a quaint little Tudor cottage in the village, if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not for sale; I noticed it while out walking some years back.

So, I’m distracted by a google result which happens to be for a detailed 9.6 mile walk taking in Caudle Green. The website turns out to be a true labour of dedication to long walks around the British countryside; there appears to be hundreds of them, from Scotland to Cornwall. Each of the ones I viewed are accompanied by an informative and well-written introduction, then a detailed description of the walk itself, a little map and some useful information on OS maps, parking, refreshment stops etc. What more could you need?

Well, it goes further. Not only are the photos exceptionally well produced but some of the walks have associated videos (via youtube). I suppose if I were to be unnecessarily picky, I might suggest some link to GPS navigation but maybe the authors are old school, like me.

It’s called Walking with the Taxi Driver which I think is intentionally funny-ironic. It looks a great site and I’ll be back.


Walk to Caudle Green

Look at this painting by artist, Janet James, which came up in the search under “images”. It makes me want to put my boots on and walk. I love James’ style with paint: uncomplicated yet evocative. I feel as if I know the subject.

There are many more wonderful paintings at Janet James.co.uk

Google safaris don’t usually end after three items but blog posts do. Well, mine do anyway. Maybe more safari another day.

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.