One Year Anniversary Ramble.

Today is my one year anniversary from when I started this blog and as to mark this event I thought I would just do a light easy one. Not so serious, I have already done a 2020 year review and just over part way into February things still feel relatively the same. My friends and relatives around the world are all fed up with the global pandemic, nothing is wholly uncertain and people’s live have irrevocably changed. On the good side (for me at least) I have probably kept in touch with more people than I ever have.

Anyway, moving on from that , I’ll keep it book related. Having finished reading about The Assassins I have been doing too much reading. There are a couple of books that I’m casually going through, some of which I have read before. Some which are taking me longer than I thought it would take me to read them but I don’t mind picking it up from time to time. This is specifically the case for Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. I am also reading House of Leaves by Danielewski which I have already read before and I’m just jumping through random book on my Ebook (does anyone else do that is that just me?). So that’s about it on the reading front. In case you haven’t noticed I don’t really read the latest thing out there. I like what I like and I might come round at some point to reading that ‘trendy thing’ eventually. More than likely when everyone else has forgotten about it.

Here is one of my personal favourite books. My Dinosaur Adventure.There is only one unique copy of it because it’s one of them children’s adventure books my Grandad gave me for Christmas when I was a boy. It mentions me by name and where I lived at the time. It was about me and my adventures with dinosaurs. I remember showing it to my friends and they said they had their own versions also. I was a little underwhelmed after that but I have kept it none the less.

Do any of you guys like it when authors sign their books? I have a fair few myself. I have two of Ian McKewan’s signed by the man himself with just his name. The same with Andrew Graham Dixon (art critic). In the world of football I have the biographies of Ian Rush and Michael Owen signed and I have have the honour of seeing what Andy McNab’s face after he signed a copy of his book Fortress among others. It is not liked their first edition signed copies of Don Quixote but they are special to me. Also sadly my favourite writers are no longer in the world of the living.

Anyhow, I hope you all making the most of life during this pandemic and reading something interesting. Thanks for reading this far. I don’t know when the next book blog post I’ll make will be but I will lock on to something eventually.

Plot Holes [With a look the second and third story from The Innocence of Father Brown]

I was going to do some extra write ups on the second and third stories from the Innocence of Father Brown [Edit: I have since I have put these as part of my look at the Father Brown Stories] . The Secret Garden and The Queer Feet respectively. The Secret Garden would feature the detective Valentin and The Queer feet would feature Flambeu both from the first story. However, I have decided not to because I suspect I would be covering familiar ground on both. The main point of concern would be that I would be going over some of the main bugbears of mine, them being plot holes and inconsistencies along with that I would include continuity errors also. I can easily buy into a world regardless of how fantastical or absurd the setting may well be. This is the case for sci-fi and fantasy genres for example. If anything however, makes me question why a character would do a particular thing or makes me go ‘as if’ then that’s when I have problems. There are many examples of such. It is worse when I never notice them myself but somebody else brings them to my attention and then I can’t stop but think about them. In some cases you can explain it away with an unreliable narrator (Agatha Chrsitie and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) where as in others you can’t.

The Father Brown story of The Secret Garden sees the head of police Valentin who we meet in The Blue Cross become the criminal. For an intelligent mind like Valentin, it just seems odd that he would commit a murder on his own property, discard part of the body nearby where it could be easily found. What is even more reckless is inviting Father Brown who you already know is of some remarkable intellect to property at the night of the murder and if anything would be able to figure out what is going on. Valentin’s motivations also seem to be a bit much to justify murder in my opinion.

In The Queer Feet, Flambeau tries to steal some silver from some exclusive elite club of snobs in a hotel and Father Brown stops him. I just found it odd that either of the two would know that the silver cutlery of the club exists in the first place.

These are not the worst examples of plot holes or inconsistencies and the stories themselves are still gripping though they are still noticeable to me. You see it in movies as well of course. In Back to the Future 2, old Biff goes back in time to give the almanac to young Biff by stealing the time machine and then going back to his own time as if nothing has happened. I would have thought that would have caused some paradox. Then again the whole concept of time can cause such plot holes depending on how you look at it.

Other examples in literature would be Dr Watson’s war injuries changing location from one story to another in the Sherlock Holmes tales. In the Speckled Band it appears that exotic snakes from hot climates can survive in the mild English climates. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was notorious for such inconsistencies however, he can be forgiven by the fact that despite everything the stories are really about Sherlock as opposed to the stories themselves (with some notable exceptions of course)

I remember reading the otherwise good Rebus novel by Ian Rankin The Resurrection Men and wondering why Siobhan did not get the police to trace the killer’s IP address instead of getting clues about him over Internet conversations. Another one thought it does not bother me as much is why does Frankenstein create such a large man? Would it not have been safer to start small?

I am only referring to books and media I can think of as I type. I believe the greats like the Harry Potter book for example have a number of plot holes and some of Dan Brown’s books are just plot holes from start to finish. Although I must say despite that, he knows how to make people turn a page and so long as a glaring issue is not in the way then that’s all that matters.

My top ten list of 2020

Here has been the favourite books I’ve read this year. Some of the books I have read would be on here but I have not included because I have read them previously years before. I am only looking at the books I read then made a post on. Infinite Jest for example I read cover to cover years ago only skimming through it after that so I will not be including it here but I will give it an honourable mention.

So here are the books that I have loved not necessarily in the exact order of number one being the best but here they are:

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Here was a story about a family of werewolves who travel round the southern part of the United States doing what they can to survive and no be as exposed as werewolves. At the same time we also here about their folk history.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

A story on a young Joana and her look at life as well as how people view her. Here we look at how we perceive what is right and wrong especially when it comes to relationships

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Ruiz’s facinating work of non fiction, a guide to life and how to keep your mind at ease.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The famous Kafka tale of a man who has been charged for something he does not know what he has been charged for. Despite what the protagonist goes through there is a constant feel that he does not really have control over anything.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

A tale of a discovered planet where we can’t assume anything and the memories of anyone who appears on this planet are manifested, in particular previous loved ones.

Wondago by Melina Cuela

In this story a young girl goes to visit her great auntie and in doing so helps resolves a mystery by drawing what she can remember, the mixture of images and writing add to the atmosphere to the story.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A comedy of a man trying out different types of jobs in New Orleans meeting a range of peculiar characters on the way. We also look at a number of social issues as well as seeing what use a man can with a particular education can have in the real world.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

The story of a young Merricat who comes across a crisis of sorts when she realises her family are under an external threat. We also learn of the consequences of the family’s dark past.

Nadja by Andre Breton

A surreal story in the literal sense of a man’s fascination of a young woman. The more he learns of her the more we realises all is not what it seems with her.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson.

The story of fear, a man trying to survive fighting monsters which also looks at if this man’s action make him a monster also.

These were the books that stuck with me this year as ones I will likely never forget and want to read again. These are only brief summaries as I have written about them previously. I will continue to look at more book throughout next year all being good. I also want to look at more short stories as well.

A general sum up of 2020

Ok this one isn’t really about books this is just me reflecting. I was going to write about authors and writers and some of their odd quirks and odd facts about them they had but looking it up this has has actually been looked at by many before me and done well though I might look at I eventually myself. I will mention though that Charles Dickens was found to have had an affair after separating from his wife and it was William Makepeace Thackery who told everyone it was a young actress. It’s over a century since that happened and I’m still fascinated by that turn of events. So until I can get that ready I’ll just sum up the year as I’ve seen it instead.

At first I wanted to avoid writing about this as much as possible when doing my blog. I wanted to give myself and you as the reader a distraction from the world around you, to give you something good to read. I haven’t even just discussed books but other forms of media also. 2020 however ,has been different to any other year we have had in recent times at least (post war in Britain). When we have heard of previous incidents in the past they have never affected us directly like they do now. When I say directly I mean right in the moment, immediate. When Brexit was decided it did not affect us directly in the moment. Things may have felt different and uncomfortable for some (especially if you weren’t British or white) but we were still allowed to live our lives as normal (whatever that is) for the most part, terrorist attacks happened around the world and although some were tragically affected, the rest of us were still able to work, meet with our loved ones, come together. Climate change is a pressing issue but the panic has not been as high as some may argue should it be because again the affects of it has not been immediate (though some would say it is and we should find a way of nipping the changes we do see in the bud before they get worse).

I won’t be the first to say that this has been a tough year. The Covid pandemic has not only affected those who have been infected by it, but also many that haven’t. Global responses to the pandemic, has affected our previous everyday lives in the moment. People’s reactions have also been different and somewhat divisive. Expectations and how we live our lives have been knocked off-kilter. The pandemic for want of a better way of describing it has also raised the volume on other issues as many of us globally have been advised to remain indoors and has made us use the Internet for almost all our communications with the world. It has also made us aware of the loneliness out there and of course mental health issues and divisions in society. The Covid pandemic has affected us in the moment and although a vaccine has (as of typing) been made available, this could potentially be the end of one chapter and the beginning of new one instead of the end of the Covid saga..

My life has definitely changed more so towards the end of this year. I’ve had my problems just as many have and I have shall we say… suffered from my own dark moments starting at least a good year before the pandemic became global. This is in a weird kind of way made me prepared for things to come if albeit to a point. This is why I made this blog in the first place. To give me a focus. I prefer writing blogs to posting on social media. I do of course use some of them, some I like, some I have either deactivated or avoided . Blogs give you more time to think before you post. I worry people are forgetting how to think.

2021 will be another tough year and the 20s will be a tough decade, if not then definitely different. Hopefully we will come to a time where people will be brought together to not only disagree but to agree to disagree, to show people respect even after having different opinions and not to chastise people for having them views in the first place, this definitely isn’t happening now.

Emily Dickinson (my favourite Somebody)

Poetry is an art form I’m embarrassingly not too familiar with, I know little about the technical terms used to construct a poem, I never liked studying them back in my school days. I like more famous poems like If by Kipling and a few others but I have no idea how the likes of Ibsen for example influenced poetry. There is one poet however, that I adore, not just her poetry but her as her person and the story of her life. I am of course referring to the American poet Emily Dickinson from the commonwealth of Massachusetts .

The Complet Poems, Faber and Faber publication.

In her lifetime (1830-1886) she would live through the United States expanding westward and the American Civil war, yet as far as we are aware she rarely left Amherst where she lived only ever venturing to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC and rarely leaving the family home. Despite this her writings and poetry introduced us to a unique style and although she rarely left her home town she definitely understood the world better than people who are well travelled even today.

One of the main reasons that I love Emily Dickinson’s poems is that for the most part they are relatively short easy to follow and understand, and have a personal feel to them, it’s like Emily Dickinson is actually writing to you in particular. Dickinson focuses on the little things and what she has studied and thought is also added in. Emily Dickinson had an interest in gardening, you can see this with some of her poems which have a focus on nature. It’s the personal touch that we see in her poems that I like the most. One of her more famous poems, Poem 288 otherwise known by the first line for example:

I’m Nobody! Who are you!
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us

How dreary – to be – Somebody
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June
To an admiring Bog!

For me personally and I’m sure for many people out there, the want to be successful and to be recognised as such can cause a lot of anxieties within ourselves. In this poem Emily is telling us ‘oh come on now, you haven’t got it that bad’. Her father of course was a politician who as a so called somebody, would have had a lot of supporters and enemies. Among other things Emily would write other poems on what she thought on fame, she only had a small number of poems published in her lifetime the irony being after she died she would become one of the most famous poets in the English language, the ultimate somebody.

A younge picture of Emily on the cover of The Letters of Emily Dickinson edited by Mabel Loomis Todd. Todd would have her own connections to Emily’s family via Emily’s brother.

Emily was notoriously known for rarely leaving the family home where she lived. This was especially so in her later life. It is said that she even watched her father being buried (the cemetery being by the house from her window. Though Emily kept herself to herself she was in no way shy as can be seen by her poems and by her letters to her friends and relatives. As a woman from a well off family in the 19th century she relied on her father and later her brother for financial support so the idea that she could do something with her poetry must have felt liberating. Her father made sure she had a good education and she was not afraid to say what she thought. This was especially the case with her brother after it was found out that he had an affair. The affair that Emily’s brother had with Mabel Loomis Todd would cause another conflict after Emily’s death when there was a split between the Todds and the Dickinsons over the publication of Emily’s poems. Many decades later however, Emily would have her place as one of the greats.

Emily’s life has also been portrayed in film.

Her legacy can now be seen in the fact that she is studied in schools, her poems are still in print and there have been many books written about her as well as the publication of her letters.

More recently there is the film starring Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion (mixed feelings on that one). I know she clearly wasn’t, but I always get the feeling in her poems that she was going across time and writing for me and this has probably how many have felt over time.

The Modern Art of Reading (2)

Although not entirely, The Death of The Author by Roland Bhartes has influenced how I read. It at least enabled me to look at what is out there and not to discriminate on what to read (I won’t go in too much detail about it here but I highly advise you to read it if you can find it). Although a writer can explain a number of thoughts, ideas and emotions it is up to us as readers on how to interpret such ideas to fully complete and wrap up the work that has been written

With a good book you should be able to easily fall into the world that is being described, you’re relying on every word that’s been written, the characters will feel almost like they will jump out the page, regardless of what is being described. This is what made me love Master and Margarita. This is also why many of us fell in love with the Harry Potter series.

There are a certain number of books that are very much aware of what they are. They know that they are bound codices (just as much as Marvel’s Deadpool knows he’s a made up character). An example of this can be found in ergodic literature.

House of Leaves by Mark S Danielewski is a famous example of such books. This is a collection of notes and writings which include another found collection of commentary on mysterious video footage we never actually see but have to rely on what is being described. There’s an appendix with written letters some one of them in particular is written in a code where once deciphered (using the how to decipher from another letter) gives you a different story to the one that has been presented to you. It reads like you’ve discovered a collective array of documents where you have to look at everything from different perspectives. You have to put your own effort into it to get the full story and the presentation of the narrative is truly unique.

House of Leaves is like coming across somebody else’s personal documents that you have to arrange and put together to get the full story.

In S by Doug Dorst and JJ Abrhams there is an initial story in what appears to be an old book and then there are the notes written in the book between two people commentating and writing to each other along with the photographs and cut-outs they have each left in the book which tell another story related to the book. What makes this truly fascinating is that the notes are written in pen almost like you’re holding the actual book that is core to the plot with all the scrap bits inside.

Though not quite to the same extent as the above we also have Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace with their footnotes which add an extra dimension to the stories.

Books that do give extra dimensions to their works are important to the progression of modern reading and I definitely think it’s better to read these types of books in the traditional paper book format. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino starts pretty much by saying ‘Oh hello, you’ve just bought this this book’ and books like The Illuminatus Trilogy and Sophie’s World are very much aware of what they are. There are certain role playing books that work like a game that give you an option of what to do next.

In If on a Winter’s Nights Traveller, it’s written as if you are the main character being guided along, coming across stories within stories.

There are particular eBooks and publications that appear exclusively in an eBook format and I think there will be a time where writers will have to take advantage of that fact to increase their immersion. Some are in their own way. The consciousness of what format the story is in will really add to these stories. I am fascinated by the fact that you can read Neuromancer, William Gibson’s cyberpunk story with everything it foresaw on a digital format downloaded via the Internet (the Matrix if you prefer).

Other than the physical consumption of books, what is being written and read and who is doing the writing and reading is always changing, for example when looking at what has survived from the classical Roman and Ancient Geek world (I’ll write a separate mediation on this eventually, if I start here I could digress a fair bit).

The written word isn’t the only way of getting stories across to readers of course. You can be a listener with an audio book. Harking back to the days of the oral tradition. The same can be said when you watch videos on the internet.

With certain audio books more depth can be added over the standard book

There is only so much that can be done with the written word, we are restricted to the vocabulary of the languages that we know and thoughts and ideas can be lost in translation. When reading something that isn’t necessarily in your native tongue you must remember that you are actually reading the work of two writes, the author and the translator. A painting or a work of art can do in a brush stroke what could take pages in a book.

Regardless of how you consume your favourite works as with everything only do it if you enjoy it. If you don’t than stop with whatever it is that you’re reading. There’s nothing worse than treating anything you love like a chore. Never forget when reading a book it is a relationship with you and the author, you are just as essential in getting the most out of the text as is the person who wrote it.

The Modern Art of Reading (1)

I have not done as much reading recently as I’ve been accustomed to, after a brief hiatus, I’ve been back where I work the past few weeks. I’m counting my blessings though and I know there are many people out there who have been more unfortunate than me and of course there are those remarkable people who have done more work than they have ever done during the current pandemic. As a result I thought I would do something a little different and instead of writing about a book I’ve read, write about reading in general… I’m not quite sure how this will come across but here goes.

We live in a time where we have multiple ways of consuming literature and other forms of media. Reading via a codex of course has been proven successful for centuries in case you haven’t noticed. There has been oral traditions, stories have been written on scrolls, on stelae among others. The Mesopotamians famously wrote on clay tablets, they were some of the earliest known writers and because of the nature of clay we still have what they wrote from general receipts to their grand epics still preserved for the most part and there is undoubtedly are a lot more to be discovered.

My trusty Kindle.

The invention of the printing press and more recently electronic and digital media has caused revolutions in how we read, think and look at the world. We must remember that how and what we read hasn’t been consistent for everyone. There are cultural, socio-economic and political factors that have an influence on what people read or can’t read as the case may be. Simply translating works such as the holy books and works of ancient periods to a native language of the reader has also had a significant affect on our world today

If you look at some of my posts you will notice that I often use my Amazon Kindle (other good e Readers are available). When space is at a premium it has proven to be an invaluable object to get access to a wide array of books through an internet connection almost instantly. There is a lot that can be downloaded for free and some that are cheaper than their paper alternatives (while some actually cost more).

Though eBooks are one time investments they can vary in price some being more expensive than others

There are lot of advantages and disadvantages of an eReader, depending on the brand you get, you can only buy from that particular brand’s store front. The eReaders can vary in price and quality and although all the books stored on a reader can be retrieved on a different reader through your account, it is like keeping all your eggs in one basket so to speak. They also rely naturally on battery power which is generally good for the most part. My favourite thing with an eReader however, with mine in particular at the least is that many have a backlight in them. You can read them in darkness. This is good for me as this is when I do most of my reading.

Another observation is that navigation is definitely different. When I was ploughing through Infinite Jest for example I would bookmark sections of interest on certain pages and write notes on the book marks. Though it is possible to do it on an eReader it is much easier to skim to specific pages through a regular book.

In my old copy of Infinite Jest I made notes and bookmarked by favourite parts of the book.

Despite all the flaws however, it is truly remarkable that when you hear about a book on the TV or via the internet that you can get access to it straight away and for self published writers it has proven to be a truly brilliant way of getting your works straight to the hands of consumers and not be limited to if the book sellers want to sell your work let alone getting the attention of a publisher in the first place.

A regular book/codex will all be preferred to an eReader in many respects. It can seem more special owning a book. You can drop them and they won’t break being somewhat durable, you can get them really cheaply, get your favourite authors to sign them and you can lend them out. Art books and prints will naturally be preferred than even something on a high def computer for some people. There is of course the fact that not everybody’s favourite work of fiction has been transferred to digital media.

Despite the rising presence of digital media there will always be a special place for me for the regular book.

There are certain species of books shall we say, are not quite suited for the digital format. Many writers with their original styles of writing have created something unique in their styles writing. That have an ergodic style, that take full advantage of what is is to be a book. The meta book. Books that take advantage of it’s format and has been infused by the author with the full awareness of what it is.

In my next post I will elaborate more with examples of such books as well as look at more on how we read our favourite stories.