Thursday, 10 December 2009

Look what I got...

I had a bit of a splurge on Oxfam's online second hand shop (which is brilliant by the way) and I got Under Milk Wood, read by Richard Burton. On tape. Tape - what was I thinking? I don't think I've bought one since that East 17 single when I was 10. I can't even remember the last time I bought a CD for god's sake. Hope we've still got a tape player in the house somewhere...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from Lauren's posterous

Monday, 7 December 2009

What I'm reading...

I'm reading Igort - 5 Is The Perfect Number. Yes, another graphic novel. I just can't seem to really get into anything without pictures at the moment!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from Lauren's posterous

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Careless twhisper

First of all, sorry about the pun, I genuinely can't help it, it's a disease. It doesn't even have anything to do with what I'm going to write about. 

Apology out of the way, this is a reply of sorts to Laurence from Fabrica Gallery's blog post about the game of 'Twhispers' he started a few days ago and in which I took part. 

The idea was that an initial Tweet would be passed down a chain of people, who would each change two words - a bit like the very un-PC Chinese Whispers you might have played as a child.  It was an experiment of sorts to get people thinking about the themes behind the most recent exhibition at Fabrica - Chameleon by Tina Gonsalves which featured digital portraits which responded to your behaviour and emotions by either witchcraft or technical wizardry - I'm not sure which. 

I thought it was a nice exercise on the idea of passing something on, and action and reaction, that was very much in the spirit of the exhibition and also a good way of playing up the way Twitter works and the ways people use it to communicate and share information, while imprinting something of themselves on it at the same time.  As Laurence points out, it was also free to do, and a way getting people involved by making them feel part of something. It seemed to create a bit of buzz and interest, which is great and has got me thinking about how I might be able to use something similar for a project I'm working on. 

On another level, as a lover of words, I thought it was really interesting how the Twhispers changed: 

Whisper 1 - She smiled happily at the man who had sold her the amazing shoes and he smiled back, shyly. 
Returned - She shocked everyone, for the man had given her piercingly sharp scissors, and she bled on them. 

Whisper 2 - Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone. 
Returned - Celebrate after the river turns to custard, swim if you feel lucky 

Whisper 3 - The shouting outside in the street was making them tense 
Returned - Brown flying pterodactyls over the turkey was faked for Xmas 

The first one didn't really change too much, it got a bit darker with the mention of blood, but the structure and story behind it stayed fairly similar - an exchange takes place between a man and a woman, and basic words like she, the man, had, her, and remained the same throughout, when they could possibly have made the biggest change.  With the second one, I like that the rhythm and punctuation stayed the same, because it still sounds like a saying or motto, albeit a ridiculous one.  The third one is awesome (and the pterodactyl was my addition, not to blow my own trumpet or anything)  - it changed beyond recognition from something quite innocuous, to something utterly surreal yet seasonal and almost political too!
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from Lauren's posterous

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

La Perdida

I've just started reading La Perdida, a really beautiful graphic novel by Jessica Abel. It's about a Mexican-American who goes to Mexico City to 'find herself' and 'get in touch with her roots'. Abel seems to recognise all the pretension and negative sentiment attached to these ideas and takes a fresh approach. I love the illustrations and the mix of Spanish and English too. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from Lauren's posterous

Monday, 23 November 2009

Commuter reading

I'm on the train home and the people sitting around me are reading:
Woman to my left - Ben Elton, Blind Faith.
Woman to my right - Twilight, Stephanie Meyer.
Man opposite me - Daily Mail
Man a row in front of me - a copy of Psychologies allegedly 'the thinking woman's magazine'. Me - Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
What a bizarre cross-section. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from Lauren's posterous

Friday, 9 October 2009

What I'm reading now...

I've just started reading Suspended Sentences by Mark McWatt, a collection of short stories which a group of sixth-formers in Guyana were 'sentenced' to write as a punishment for trashing a club at the end of their exams.

Not all of the stories were written in the 1960s when the punishment was issued - but after the death of one of the group years later, McWatt reminded them of the punishment, called in the stories and created this collection.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from lauren's posterous

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Poll finds 20% interested in getting a Kindle some

Some of the comments in this article are spot on if you ask me:

"Too expensive - and far more likely to become obsolete than a book."

"I look at a computer screen all day long...why would I read a book on it."

"It's too big and ugly looking and on top of that it seems pricey. Maybe a couple generations down the line it'll be worth it, especially once I'm done reading the thousands of books I have got already."

"Call me old-fashioned. Love the feel of a book, the excitement of putting a new hardback on the shelves. Lending to a friend. Taking a Kindle to bed just seems wrong."

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Unintentional lunchtime purchase

I've been trying not to buy books and to go to the library instead, but I couldn't help myself. I love Margaret Atwood! Review to follow in a few days I guess...
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from lauren's posterous

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wetlands, Charlotte Roche

I'm not sure why I wanted to read Wetlands - I'm a very squeamish and repressed person when it comes down to it, so it might not seem like the most sensible choice of reading matter for my daily commute. The Mail described it as 'profoundly unsettling'(but to be fair the Mail sees most things this way) while the Guardian reviewer wrote 'if you ever wondered what you'd be like if you weren't shy, polite, tolerant, modest, sexually repressed, logical and constrained by modern standards of hygiene, this may be the book for you.' That's a slightly crude description of what I think is a clever text, but it does give you a good frame of reference if you haven't read it.

The protagonist and anti-hero Helen Memel is completely without the sense of shame with which most women inhabit their bodies. We often talk about people who dare to say what we're all thinking, but Helen takes it further and says and does things that most women don't even dare think, because of the attitudes we have about our bodies, what it is to be female and about cleanliness and purity. Helen has none of these taboos. No bodily function or discharge is strange or unpleasant to her. (I shuddered just writing the word 'discharge' by the way.)

Roche says that in Wetlands, she wanted to 'write about the ugly parts of the human body. The smelly order to tell that story, I created a heroine that has a totally creative attitude to her body'. To me, it seems like in Helen, Roche has created a character to play with the biblical archetype of Eve. Helen is simultaneously both without sin and full of sin; she breaks every female taboo in the European-Christian tradition. Her lack of shame seems like something from before the Fall - she has the kind of understanding of and appreciation for her body and sexuality that women might have were it not for so many years of society shaping how we all imagine what it is to be female, based on the idea of Eve as the mother of all sin.

There's something distinctly rabble rousing about Wetlands it gets you angry and fired up at how we've become strangers to ourselves. It's seductive even as it repels you. At times you can't believe what Helen is doing/thinking/ saying and you screw up your face in disgust, but you simultaneously wish that you could be even a fraction as at ease with her body as she is.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from lauren's posterous

Friday, 4 September 2009

Can't imagine Pete Postlethwaite as a gangster, but still excited... #brighton rock

Pegg in a hole

Simon Pegg will play one of the graverobbers in John Landis's new version of Burke and Hare. The veteran comedy director begins shooting in London and Edinburgh this autumn and told me he's thrilled to be working with Pegg. "He's a fabulous comic actor and he immediately 'got' the script and what we're trying to do - a black British comedy in the Ealing tradition of Kind Hearts and Coronets, laughs with poison in them." Although unconfirmed, I understand it's possible that Pegg will reteam with his Shaun of the Dead co-star and former flatmate Nick Frost. Their self-styled zom-rom-com was a success in America as well as being an instant classic here, one that made it into the Observer's list of the best 25 British films of the last 25 years, as revealed in our Film Quarterly magazine today. Landis meanwhile is preparing a surprise for the audience at tonight's FrightFest - the director will world premiere a Leicester Square screening of a new HD print of Michael Jackson's Thriller video, and a "making of" doc.

Brighton rockers

As a new film version gets under way, Graham Greene's Brighton Rock will be updated to 1964 and set among the famous seaside battles between mods and rockers. Originally filmed, by John Boulting, in 1947 with Richard Attenborough as teenager Pinkie Brown and no mods or rockers, Greene's 1938 novel is receiving the modern make-over "to refresh the story". According to director Rowan Joffe: "We're making it as contemporary as possible because it feels so modern. It's too vibrant, too alive, to be contained in the late 1930s." As I revealed in my Cannes column earlier this year, Joffe has signed up actor Sam Riley to recreate Pinkie, one of Lord Attenborough's signature roles. Riley was a charismatic Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division in the biopic Control. Sam will be joined by rising star Andrea Riseborough - see her in Sam Taylor-Wood's short Love You More - as well as Helen Mirren and Pete Postlethwaite, who will play Brighton gangster Phil Corkery.

Turgoose on the telly

News of another British classic (also appearing on the Observer's Top 25 list): Shane Meadows is making the sequel to This Is England - as a four-part television series. The show will move the action on four years from the end of the film and bring back many of the main characters, including Thomas Turgoose as wannabe skinhead Shaun. Entitled We Were Faces, the series will be set in 1986 and finds Shaun preparing to leave school and enter the grown-up world.

It will be co-written by Meadows with Jack Thorne, who penned The Scouting Book For Boys, which has just been filmed with Turgoose in a major role. Meadows revealed his plans for the project while promoting his latest low-budget film, Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, a mockumentary starring Paddy Considine. This Is England of course, suffered from an 18 certification, due to some racist swearing and violence. The certification angered Meadows as he believed it prevented many young people, for whom the film might have contained useful lessons, from seeing it. The TV sequel will thus open the characters and themes up to an even wider audience.

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Monday, 17 August 2009

A culture of fear | Books | The Guardian - "Europe is at risk of being 'colonised' by its Muslim populations, argue a number of bestselling new books, acclaimed across the political spectrum. How has such hysteria gone unchallenged? Pankaj Mishra on the 'Eurabia-mongers'."

Pupils, some wearing Muslim headscarves, in the playground at Grange School in Oldham

A number of new books are promoting the idea that Europe is at risk of being 'colonised' by its Muslim populations. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

This article in the Guardian this weekend got me thinking - I try not to condem books I've never read, but its hard when you hear about something like Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the 'Revolution in Europe: Can Europe Be the Same With Different People in It?' which apparently states that Muslims are "conquering Europe's cities, street by street", despit statistics clearly showing that that's far from the truth. Mishra picks out one line in particular of Caldwell's that made me feel deeply, deeply uneasy - about how he thinks that "advanced" cultures (ie the 'West') "have a long track record of underestimating their vulnerability to 'primitive' ones". It reminded me of the same outrageous bigotry being promoted about 400 or 500 years ago about the Muslim 'infidel' and all the fears and anxities about ethnicity, race and religion that bubbled under the surface of colonization.

Should I read books like those by Caldwell, Mark Steyn or Bruce Bawer, in order to 'know the enemy' and be able to rip them apart with the benefit of first-hand knowledege? On the other hand, I don't want to buy these books and give the people who wrote them my money...

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Monday, 20 July 2009 poem of the week: Martial Diptych by Glyn Maxwell

I love the strange rhythmn of this poem - the line break comes before you expect and it just chnages the whole feel of the poem somehow. I'd never heard of Glyn Maxwell before - I'll definitely try and find some more of his petry.

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Friday, 17 July 2009

Great interview with Reif Larsen

Just came across this great interview with Reif Larsen, author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (one of my favourite books of the year so far) in Bookslut.

I couldn't believe that Larsen said he didn't include the illustrations, map and diagrams until after he'd written the first draft - the seem like such an integral part of the text.

Posted via email from lauren's posterous

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Video: Nick Cave reads from The Death of Bunny Munro | Books |

Posted via web from lauren's posterous Blog ©: D-Fuse: Endless Cities - Redux

I thought this was a really interesting video - and I loved the split screen shot where they man from the man washing at the well to the swimming pool.

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Rutu Modan 'Exit Wounds' Interview

I've just finished Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds. I felt that it ended really abruptly - I had that weird feeling where you turn the page for more and experience the shock of the blank space of the inside of the back cover.
As a reader you come into the story long after it began and you leave before it ends - as you might expect from a comic, this is just a slice of the story, except in this case there's no preceding or following editions.
It wasn't a cliffhanger by any means though - the plot is ordinary, but in a good way (if that makes sense!). It narrates one episode from Koby's (the central character) life - and it seems that there will be great mystery and tragedy, with a soldier secretively revealing that she thinks his father may have been killed in a bombing. The truth as it unfolds, is less dramatic, but full of the emotion of a difficult father-son relationship and all the sadness and secrets there are in every family's history.
I also admired the way Modan deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Exit Wounds. The conflict shapes the text, it is never explicitly discussed. In this BBC interview, she says 'It's in the background, but it's my life' and explains that this is 'a very narrow view of life in Israel'. I found an interesting tension between the political and the everyday in this. I think Joe Sacco, one of my favourite graphic novelists and the author of Palestine, says it better than I can, describing Exit Wounds in Drawn and Quarterly as "a profound, richly textured, humane, and unsentimental look at societal malaise and human relationships and that uneasy place where they sometimes intersect."

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Elephant Bed @fabricagallery

I Popped into Fabrica on my way home for the preview of John Grade's The Elephant Bed. It's beautiful - the rubbish picture I took on my mobile really doesn't do it justice. I will definitely have to go back for another look over the weekend.

Posted via email from lauren's posterous

Book of the week podcast: Roma Tearne on Brixton Beach | Books |

The Sri Lankan-born author talks about how her life and fiction have been informed by a mixed heritage on both sides of a brutal conflict

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Twitter 'should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize'

According to Mark Pfeifle, a former aide to George W Bush, Twitter should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize (former winners include Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama) for it's recent role during civil unrest in Iran.
And I thought it was dubious when Al Gore won it...

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Monday, 6 July 2009

DC Comics' superheroes join forces with characters inspired by Allah | World news | The Guardian

Islamic superheroes 'The 99' to appear alongside American characters in a new collaboration between the US-based DC Comics and Kuwait's Teshkeel Comics.

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Amazon mulls in-book advertising on Kindle

'Amazon is hoping to further monetise content on its Kindle ebook reader, revealing plans to place ads within the electronic books it publishes....The ads, which will be related to content in the book, such as ads for a restaurant when a character in a novel is dining out, may be in the form of one or a few descriptive advertising words, pictures, or symbols, which direct the reader to a website when an internet connection is available.'

I don't think anyone would be happy about being hit with ads while they're reading...

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Friday, 3 July 2009

Online catalogue of books is the library that never closes | Technology | The Guardian

The Open library attempts to bring together the printed word and the electronic word with a web page for every book

Posted via web from lauren's posterous

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Book Seer...

I just tried The Book Seer, a neat little tool that recommends a book for you to read, based on what you've been reading.

I like the styling on it - a distinguished, whiskered gentleman appears on your screen - complete with a speech bubble, saying something along the lines of 'Salutations. I've just finished...... by......What should I read next?' You fill in your details and the Book Seer makes its recommendations.

I put in Wide Sargasso Sea, and among others, it came up with Jane Eyre, (which I was going to read next anyway) Things Fall Apart, Foe, Midnight's Children & Heart of Darkness - I've read all of them, which I thought was quite impressive!

I'll definitely have to give it a try next time I can't think of what to read next.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre

I picked up Jean Ryhs's Wide Sargasso Sea again reaently (I'm going through a rereading phase at the moment) and I got think about how although each time I've read it, I've thought about Jane Eyre, I've never read them in succession.
So I'm going to do it now. It's going to be an odd experience, and a bit like a weird kind of time travel - Rhys wrote her book long after Bronte, but chronologically, it pre-empts Jane Eyre as it writes back in time to it. Also, like most people, I read Wide Sargasso Sea as an adult, long after I first read Jane Eyre - which my grandmother bought it for me and I loved when I was younger. Rhys's novel was also one of the first texts to bring home the concept of the postcolonial to me - perhaps because it made me completely rethink a text that I thought I knew so well. Why had I never thought about 'the madwoman in the attic' before? It's unsettling to have your literary map upset like that, and I suppose I'm wondering if rereading the two texts in succession will do it again.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

I heart Ian McEwan

I heart Ian McEwan....I haven't read one of his book for such a long time, and On Chesil Beach brought it all flooding back to me.

He's a controversial author, but I can forget about all that when I open one of his books. I'm completely won over by the devastating subtlety of his writing.

In On Chesil Beach he unfolds a whole relationship through the filter of the couple's wedding night. It's a slim volume, but he captures the tension, all the insecurities, anticipation and longing in that pivotal moment in their lives:

'And what stood in their way? Their personalities and pasts, their ignorance and fear, timidity, squeamishness, lack of entitlement or experience or easy manners, then the tail end of a religious prohibition, their Englishness and class, and history itself. Nothing much at all.'

Friday, 12 June 2009

The book that changed reading for me....

I read an article a while ago in some woman's magazine or other (I hate buying them by the way - it makes me feel so shallow, but I like looking at pictures of beautiful clothes I can't afford and would never wear. So there.) with 'celebrities' describing the books that changed their lives. the only example I can remember was Pamela Anderson said that Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own changed her life because it made her feel intelligent and reminded her that she was capable and could be independent.

I don't think I can honestly say that I've read a book that has changed my life, which shocked me when I first thought about it. I've read some books that have had a profound effect on me - reading No Logo when I was 16 definitely had an impact on me, Sunday at the Pool in Kigali was so powerful it made me physically sick and there's a poetry anthology that I don't go many places without. I can't honestly say that there's anything I've read that has really affected the course of my life in a major way - there's plenty of things that have had a subtle and culminative effect on me.

There's one book that definitely changed reading for me though - Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I read this when I was doing my A-Levels and I'd never read anything like it before, and I also read it in a different way to how I'd ever read anything else. I thought about the meaning behind the storyline, I was amazed at how Atwood played with words and built layer on layer of meaning in the text and I was also able to look at it as a comment on the time that I lived in, where in the immediate wake of September 11th, the world was becoming increasingly divided. I can pinpoint the exact point in the text where I saw for the first time what the written word could do - Offred is playing an illicit game of Scrabble that would cost her her life if she was discovered, she says:

'I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling in voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them into my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious.'

I'm still tempted to suck a Scrabble tile every time I play.

Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid

I went back and re-read an old favourite recently - Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and as I was reading it, I remembered a seminar at university where we discussed it.
My class (which was all female - as most of my seminar groups tended to be) were asked what we thought of the book - and after suffering that agonising 'I'm not going to be the first one to speak in case what I say isn't the same as what everyone else thinks' silence that typified the first two and half years of my degree, I rolled my eyes and spoke up. I said that I loved the book, because I thought it was really accurate portrayal of how teenage girls interact with their mothers.
Cue a sharp intake of breath, no doubt from the girls who think that their mum is their best friend, share clothes and go shopping with them and have never exchanged a cross word - what I said was an aberration to them, because, to put it bluntly, Annie John really seems to hate her mother.
It's fair to say that while I love my mum and have a huge amount of respect for her now, our relationship throughout my teenage years was a bit like a pitched battle - I was awkward, angry and for the most part, really unhappy, from the age of 11 to about 18 - I can't even imagine how awful living with me must have been.
I read Annie John after I had left home and moved away from my family (as Annie herself does at the end of the book) and I could look back on my own teenage years as I read about Annie's. I recognised how Jamaica Kincaid describes the way the relationship between mothers and daughters changes when you suddenly stop being a child and start having an identity of your own - one that could well disappoint your parents. In Annie I see the same conflict between wanting to please my Mum and realising that I couldn't change who I was and feeling angry that she couldn't accept my personality.
It's hard to write about teenagers without it sounding ridiculous (just look at all the comments
this article about The Catcher in the Rye sparked - and all the people saying that they couldn't stand the book because of all the self-pity and angst) and I think I love Annie John so much because it avoids that trap, and because I can read it, remember my teenage years and take them a bit seriously, rather than squirm in embarrassment.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Experiments with Google Squared

I've been playing around with Google Squared today, the new offering from Google Labs which they describe like this - 'Google Squared takes a category and creates a starter 'square' of information, automatically fetching and organizing facts from across the web.

I thought I'd share my findings with you - I thought they were kind of interesting and pretty funny in places.

So, let's start simple - I'll enter 'books'....

OK 1984, Naked Lunch, Ulysses not bad....buItalict Little Black Sambo? Jesus Christ Google! That's appalling.

And what about the director and cast categories - nonsense! Sometimes a book is just a book, not a film too...

Next, I'll try 'great books'....

Absolutely amazing - we've got Homer...accompanied by an image of Lenny, Homer's friend from the Simpsons, but not Homer himself. Fantastic.

And why do we have all those Greeks and one solitary Roman? Surely there's been a great author since the year 180?

Next, an issue dear to my heart, 'Salman Rushdie'...

Now here's where I think Google Square starts to come into its own - the list is pretty standard, nothing I don't know and haven't read before, except for the last entry 'In Good Faith' an essay which I've never even heard of before. I gues what's its really intended for is compiling statistics and making comparisons, but I think that using it against the grain could potentially be interesting too...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Things Fall Apart reading - Fabrica gallery

Last Friday I went to a reading of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart by Rounke Williams at Fabrica in Brighton.

If you haven't read Things Fall Apart I'd definitely recommend it - it's one of the seminal texts in the postcolonial canon (if there can really be said to be such a thing) and an unassuming, but very powerful, look at colonial relations.

Rounke Williams' bio on the Fabrica site says - 'Born of mixed parentage (Nigerian/British), Rounke grew up in Lagos and studied Achebe's novels at school. As her father was one of the newly educated classes that took over after independence in 1960, these books held more than an objective fascination for her. The fact that her mother was from the country of the colonisers, provided extra depth to her reading of these classics. Rounke came to the UK in 1978 to finish her formal education. From 2000, she facilitated the development of resources for Brighton and Hove local authority on cultural diversity for school children.' She is also a writer, and has stories published in African Love Stories: An Anthology and The Map of Me: True Tales of Mixed Heritage Experience. Rounke's passion for Nigerian literature as a whole, not just Achebe, was really energising - she prepared a brilliant reading list (which I'll repeat in brief below) which has provided me with a load more books to look out for and also reminded me of how many authors go out of print or fail to make it to print in this country.

Being fairly familiar with the text already, it was was great to discuss it and share ideas - something I hadn't realised that I'd missed since I finished university last year. However, what I enjoyed most was listening to it being read aloud. Rounke proved to be a great storyteller, which is a rare thing - I think I could have listened to her read the whole novel. Some texts seem to just blossom when you hear them - I always read poetry out loud (or mutter it under my breath, depending on where I am!) and I'm wondering now why I don't do it with novels more often. Someone at the reading also alerted me to a great resource called LibriVox - which provides free audiobooks to download, as read by enthusiastic volunteers. I haven't given it try yet, but I'll report back when I have.

Anyway, here's Rounke's (non-exhaustive) Nigerian literature reading list - I've tried to include relevant links where possible.

(I'll try and add to and improve these links when I've got a bit more time)


There's so much I want to blog about, but time is not my friend at the moment - the reading of Things Fall Apart I went to at Fabrica in Brighton on Friday night, the BBC's poetry season, the Derek Walcott-Ruth Padel fiasco, not to mention The Selected Works of TS Spivet which I am reading and loving at the moment. I'm going to have to make time, or actually start acting like someone who works in digital media and get myself a dongle and take my laptop on the train....

Monday, 11 May 2009

Mau Mau veterans to sue UK & A Grain of Wheat

I read today that Kenya's Mau Mau veterans are to sue the UK for their treatment during the insurgency in the 1950s - and was instantly reminded of reading Ngugi Wa Thiongo's A Grain of Wheat at university and all the compelling contextual material that we read alongside the novel.

The case is being brought by five now elderly Mau Mau veterans - their lawyers have documented 40 incidents of torture, and a spokesman has said they are confident of success. Meanwhile the UK government says their claim is invalid because it has been so long since the alleged abuses took place.

I can't tell the story of the Kenyan conflict or Mau Mau here - I don't want to trivialise this shameful chapter in British history or do injustice to those who died or suffered. However, as an illustration of what happened, the Kenya Human Rights Commission relates that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed and 160,000 were detained in concentration camp-like conditions. Noted texts on the subject include Histories of the Hanged: Testimonies from the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya and Britain's" Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya - I haven't read either.

It is against this backdrop that A Grain of Wheat is set. Originally published in 1967, it is centered around Mugo and the other inhabitant of his village, whose live are transformed by the conflict in the run-up to Uhuru or independence. The text weaves together myth and history - Ngugi is an uncompromising and deeply political author and reading the novel for me was like an explosion - I had no idea about this chapter of history and this ambitious and passionate text was such a stirring depiction. When I first read it, I looked at newspaper articles and Mau Mau sings from the period that really enriched the experience for me.

This is not the first time that Kenya's former independence fighters have brought a claim against the British government, and if this new claim is successful, thousands of other people could come forward to build a huge class action suit. I don't think compensation equals justice, but it would be an expression of remorse and a significant admission of culpability.

Friday, 8 May 2009

52 Poems

I Tweeted about this earlier this week - I thought it was quite a sweet app, I don't think it's going to bring poetry to the digital generation or anything like that, but it' the kind of thing that's nice to have...

E-readers - friend or foe of the bookworm?

Some interesting chat about e-readers on the Beeb this week - an article by Michael Fitzpatrick here and a video of Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) talking about the Kindle 2 here if you're interested...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Blood Relations - Anish Kapoor & Salman Rushdie

I've managed to see some of the Anish Kapoor pieces that we are privileged to have in Brighton at the moment as part of this year's festival. As I've mentioned before, I'm an admirer of Kapoor - I can remember seeing his sand sculptures at a gallery in Liverpool when I was very young. The bold colours, strong shapes and irresistible texture of the sand must have made a big impression on me - Ive never forgotten it.

I could happily talk about all the pieces I saw, but I'm just going to look at Blood Relations - because as a collaboration of sorts with Salman Rushdie, it's got a literary bent, and this is meant to be a blog about books after all.

Situated in the fabulous Fabrica gallery, Blood Relations is a sort of bronze tank, divided into two by a thick band of Kapoor's signature blood-red and engraved all around with text written specifically for Kapoor by Rushdie. To read the text in order and in its entirety you have to walk around the whole piece six times.

Inside, the tank is again divided into two halves, one filled with what looks like either red paint or blood, the other with large, red, fleshy lumps and pile of something that looks suspiciously like entrails.

I found the piece sensual and almost hypnotic, but with a disturbing edge - walking around and around the sculpture to read the text is slightly dizzying and really draws you in. It takes you on a physical journey, perhaps paralleling the mental process that Kapoor and Rushdie hope the experience will inspire.

Rushdie's text - an 'interrogation of the Arabian Nights' - exhibits all his usual characteristics as an author - humorous and insightful, and I noticed other people there half laughing at the words as they read them, before casting a wary, almost guilty, eye back toward the bloody mess lurking inside the tank.

It might seem an overly blunt and clumsy analysis to suggest that Blood Relations muses on the Satanic Verses furore - but as Rushdie's words encircle the bloodbath, in which the viewer/reader comes to be implicated as they slowly circle the tank, taking in the words, this is what came to my mind. There is a sharp contrast between Scheherazade, who tells stories night after night to keep herself alive, and Rushdie, whose storytelling in The Satanic Verses ultimately and tragically became implicated in a number of deaths - which is brought into focus as you orbit the tank, reading the words, delaying the inevitable glance you know you'll make at the gore that lies within.

One line stuck with me from the text engraved on the piece - 'There are no answers. There are only questions. We are alone with our imaginations'. I think these words encapsulate how all great art makes me feel - that more often than not, there is no answer and that it doesn't matter that there isn't - because the questioning is the most important thing.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

I'm on Twitter

I'm now on Twitter

First lines...

I love Iain Banks - but I bought Complicity months and months ago, but read the first page and decided I wasn't into it and put it back on the shelf.

I picked it up again a couple of days ago, and looked at those first lines again, and still felt disinterested but shrugged and ploughed through it because I was on my daily commute, so the only other option I had for reading material was the Metro - which isn't really an option if you actually like reading.

Complicity is a great book, classic Banks in its dark, disturbing, gritty Scottishness - I was thinking what a shame it was that those first few lines could have stopped me from reading it. I looked back to try and pin down what it was that put me off - but now I've read it, I don't know what it was. (If you click on the link you can see the first few pages - maybe you can see what I couldn't). Perhaps I got used to the tone of the novel, or I can view it in the context of the book as a whole, who knows.

There's a saying about how you can never step in the same river twice, and perhaps you can never read the same book twice. How you read and interpret text is shaped by how you feel, your situation, even where you are - for example, the experience of reading reading Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde and The Fixer before and then again after I had visited Bosnia was like reading different books.

Perhaps it's also why we can reread books we love time and time again, year after year, because at different stages in our lives, we can draw something new from them.

I think I need to keep this in mind, as I'm now struggling with the first chapter of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things....

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Swine Flu

With swine flu all over the news and the threat of a global pandemic upon us, I can't help but think of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake... Its description of a future where just one man is left alive after a series of deadly viruses destroys the entire human population (leaving behind just Crakers, pigoons & wolvogs - if that doesn't mean anything, read the book!) is brought to mind by all these bleak predictions of an uncontrollable dissemination, followed by mass-deaths. Is Atwood something of a visionary, perhaps?

Monday, 20 April 2009

My spelling....

is dreadful!

I was mortified when I looked back and saw how many spelling mistakes I make - I've gone back and put all my mistakes right now (I think)...

New Indian writers

As you might have noticed, I read quite a lot of Indian literature, so I was interested to see Amit Chaudari discussing new Indian authors in the Guardian.

I'm not start on the issue of nationality and whether it is birth, ethnicity, language or experience that attaches an author to a particular nation (not now anyway) but it would seem from the article that India is continuing to produce (in one way or another) an incredible wealth of talent and creativity.

'Ones to watch' from other Indian author and publishers etc are also listed - and I don't think any name is repeated, and it's certainly added a lot more names to my book particular I'm on the look out for poetry by Anita Roy's recommendation, a poet called Rokkaiah or Salma, from the Tiruchy district of Tamil Nadu, which I visited a few years ago. She dropped out of school in the 9th grade, and married young, but started writing poetry at the age of 13, and, under a pseudonym (Salma) published two collections of poetry against the wishes of her conservative family.

Incidentally, I finished Manil Suri's The Age of Shiva today - I was disappointed by it to be honest. It's well written, but I struggled with the central character so much that I couldn't enjoy it - it wasn't that I disliked her, it was more that I felt nothing for her, which stopped me from really appreciating the book. I might try and explain myself better later....

The Desk Set

I stumbled upon this group called the Desk Set - the organisers say:

"The Desk Set is a group of New York City area librarians, archivists, bibliophiles and other bookish types who meet informally to explore and enjoy literary resources, connect with like-minded folks, and raise money for institutions who promote literacy.

"Founded in 2006 by Maria Falgoust and Sarah Murphy, the Desk Set’s primary objective is provide a fun and productive community for people who share an interest in books, literacy and libraries. We also aim to introduce people to cultural institutions of note that they may not otherwise get to explore. Our final goal is to raise funds for organizations whose work we admire - places like Books Through Bars, the New Orleans Public Library, Behind the Book and Passages Academy - by throwing parties that raise money and promote awareness."

I thought what they do looks amazing - if it doesn't exist in the UK, it should....

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Should I laugh, or cry?

I'm laughing at myself, but it's sad really.

I'm meant to be an intelligent, enlightened, no-nonsense woman, who sees beyond the myths of femininity constructed by society, but today, I bought two books:

1. A low-fat, low-calorie, low-GI, low-protein, low-sugar cook book
2. Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.

What a perfect encapsulation of the dilemma of 'womanhood'....

I buy one book to help me lose weight because I feel insecure and that I need to be thin to to be worthy, which also puts me in the kitchen and firmly in the traditional female domain. this book will leave me ultimately disappointed, because it will not make me emaciated in all the right places, but abnormally voluptuous in others, more confident & secure, younger, taller, immortal...

But I also buy a second - perhaps to comfort me when the first one doesn't achieve what I was promised it would - a neat slice of accessible feminist theory that tells me that I don't have to be beautiful & that beauty is a conspiracy against women, but ultimately won't make me feel any better about the fact that my face and body don't fit with the accepted ideal of 'beauty', that won't stop me wanting to buy new clothes and make up and half-believing that they will be the end of my insecurity, yet simultaneously hating myself for even half-believing such a pack of bullshit...

Is it laughable, or lamentable? Again, I'm stuck in the middle between laughing at the situation, and being sad, because it's my own life and attitudes that I'm mocking - I can see how ridiculous it is, but I don't know how to do anything about it...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Everyday poetry

There's a feature on the BBC website at the moment about everyday, functional poetry that I thought was fantastic. The idea is that if poetry has a purpose and function it might help to breathe new life into an art form that is losing popularity.

So the BBC invited four poets: Ian McMillan, Niall O'Sullivan, Wendy Cope & Joe Hakim to turn the everyday into verse - things like wiring a plug, using a cash machine or getting a speeding ticket. You can hear the Joe Hakin version here - They are short, with a Haiku-esque quality and there's something pleasing about seeing the mundane transformed and presented in a different light.

The poems contributed by readers are interesting too - Bill Campbell turns the well-known 'You do not have to say anything, but it might harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence' into:
Be quiet? Omissions may haunt you
Speak? Admissions may damn you

As a saviour for poetry I'm not convinced this has any future - but it's different and diverting.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Something topical...the G20

I spent most of the day not working and watching the protests on Sky and BBC news today, and remembering a time when I would have been there myself, before the Stop the War marches in 2003, when I saw that despite millions of people turning up to protest peacefully about something that was so obviously wrong nothing changed and nothing ever would.

Rowena Mason, blogging for the Telegraph put together a reading list for G20 leaders - books that she thought could have 'helped to prevent this crisis - exposing greed, financial carelessness, complacent over-consumption and others qualities that went towards creating economic busts of the past'.

  • Money: a Suicide Note, by Martin Amis
  • Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe
  • Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach
  • American Pscyho, by Brett Easton Ellis (love, love, love Christian Bale in the film of this as it goes)
  • The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
  • Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
  • L'Argent, by Emile Zola
It's not a bad list, as I'm so taken with The White Tiger at the moment I'd throw that in for good measure, maybe JM Coetzee's Disgrace and no such list is complete without 1984 (natch) - but I don't think reading any of these book would make the blindest bit of difference. Books are powerful things, but I don't think they aren't powerful enough to make a real difference anymore - but I'd love someone to contradict me on this!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The White Tiger is all it's cracked up to be...

Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger deserves the hype it's had...I resisted reading it for so long, and I wish I hadn't now.

It was one of those books that I didn't want to end because the protagonist, Balram, was so compelling - a character that you don't know whether to feel sympathy for as a victim of society or condemn as a murderer and a thief. The way the story of the servant-boy from a village in 'the darkness' who became a millionaire in India's technological capital of Bangalore is told as a 1001 Nights-like evening-by-evening narrative to the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, is nothing short of genius too, if you ask me. The parallels between Balram and Scheherazade could definitely bear some analysis - the common girl who won the heart of a murderous king by stringing him along with magical stories night after night, and the murderous common boy who forces an international leader to listen to the story of his life night after night. Maybe I'll come back to it another time...

One of the blurbs on the book said something about how The White Tiger talks about a side of India that we rarely hear about - the underbelly. I beg to differ. People love to read about 'India's underbelly' - there's a whole market of 'poverty porn', for people that get off on the idea that they are seeing the 'real' version of any developing country from the comfort of home - Slumdog Millionaire, Shantaram, Bandit Queen to name but a few. We hear about 'India's underbelly' all the time - but not necessarily like this. The White Tiger doesn't glamourise or exoticise poverty and corruption, or horrify people by hammering them with disturbing image after disturbing image. I think Adiga attempts to explain the experience of poverty for one man - why it exists, why it thrives and the deep anger and pain it provokes in Balram, and the lengths he is pushed to by his background, and the servitude he was born into.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

We Think: Mass Innovation, not mass production

I started trying to read We Think: Mass Innovation, not mass production by Charles Leadbetter this weekend - it looks at the culture of mass-participation and sharing that is developing online, & as such is loosely related to what I do for a living and my blog obviously too! I don't often pick up work-related books, but I thought it'd be interesting...I didn't get too far with it but I will persevere. It's also very topical, with so much talk around at the moment about the possibility of some newspapers making their online content available only to paying subscribers, in a climate where we expect just bout everything online to be free....

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Book binge

I binge-bought a load of books today...taking advantage of the buy one get one half price offer that's on in Books Etc round the corner from by office. I do it every now and again - I never feel guilty for spending money on books like I do when I buy clothes or anything else, because I feel in some way like I'm doing something that's good for me.

I bought:
  • The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
  • The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri
  • The Story of Forgetting, Stefan Merrill Block
  • We Think: Mass innovation, not mass production, Charles Leadbeater
  • The Map of Love, Adhaf Soueif

Now I've just got to find time to read them...

Monday, 23 March 2009

The one poem I know off by heart

The one whole poem I know off by heart (except The Owl and the Pussycat, but I'm not sure that counts) is by Emily Dickinson. I decided to learn it off by heart when I was about eighteen, and I have no idea why. Every now and again it comes back to me at the strangest times, like it did today:

I found the words to every thought,
I ever had, but One,
And that defies me,
As a hand did try to chalk the Sun,
To Races nurtured in the Dark,
How would your own begin?
Can Blaze be shown in Cochineal
Or Noon in Mazarin?

I'm not sure why it interests me - the quirky, characteristic, offbeat style, the rhythm that makes it feel like a hymn, or the colonial/missionary overtones in the lines 'As a hand did try to chalk the Sun,/To Races nurtured in the Dark, or the vivid colours and times of day she conjures up with her strange analogies. Whatever it is, its stuck with me this far, and I have a feeling it always will.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Alan Moore article in the Guardian

I missed this earlier in the week, but just in case anyone else hasn't seen it there's a good interview with Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, From Hell & the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on the the Guardian website.

The sense that I got of Moore from the interview was that he's got a lot more integrity than most.

The interviewer, Steve Rose, notes that on the day he met him, Moore had turned down interviews with Time and CNN, because he was too busy getting ready for a charity gig at his local pub.

It might sound like arrogance, given that everyone's talking about Watchmen at the moment, but it makes sense when you consider that Moore has done his best to avoid being associated with film, right down to assigning his share of the profits to Dave Gibbons, the artist with whom he originally wrote the graphic novel.

He told Rose, "I am aware of the immense power of absence. I'm not being completely disingenuous here. Of course I'm aware it doesn't hurt my reputation, but I'm not playing hard to get as some publicity ploy. I'm genuinely busy with stuff that is really important to me."

I can understand his distancing himself from Watchmen, and all the other adaptations of his graphic novels - they haven't been great have they? From Hell, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen weren't actively bad films, but they aren't that good either and they pale into insignificance when you compare them to the graphic novels they are based on.

Moore makes the point to Rose, "There is something about the quality of comics that makes things possible that you couldn't do in any other medium. Things that we did in Watchmen on paper could be frankly horrible or sensationalist or unpleasant if you were to interpret them literally through the medium of cinema. When it's just lines on paper, the reader is in control of the experience – it's a tableau vivant. And that gives it the necessary distance. It's not the same when you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."

He's got a good point - the medium is an incredible one and provides an experience to its readers that it's hard to improve on, so why try? Is trying to turn a graphic novel or a comic into a film a futile exercise? You've got the words and the pictures, what else do you need? However, I do love the film Sin City, as an exception to the rule, because it looks so incredible - it feels like Frank Miller's drawings have started to move on the pages (a bit like that A-Ha video - which is an inappropriate comparison, I know).

Bearing in mind what Moore thinks about the power and possibilities of his medium, I'm intrigued to see his new offering Lost Girls, which is porn in graphic novel form, illustrated by his wife Melinda Gebbie.

"We felt we could reclaim and redefine what pornography was, and we deliberately chose to use that word. We didn't want to hide behind 'erotica' – because it's not etymologically accurate for one thing, and I'm very fussy about that kind of stuff, and there's a class element to it. Pornos graphos – drawings or writings of wantons – that will do," Moore tells his interviewer.

Moore did his research too, reading feminist theory and analysis of pornography - and it's refreshing to hear someone call porn porn, but a big task to try and reclaim it, but if there's a medium in which it can be done, then why not the graphic novel, and if there's a author to do it, why not Alan Moore?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Twittering a whole book? Really?

The author RN Morris is serialising his crime novel A Gentle Axe through social networking site Twitter.
Apparently the 'Twitterisation' is only a slightly abridged version of the full novel but I can't help but wonder who on earth would want to read a novel in 144 character chunks?

Alex Holroyd, press officer at Faber, Morris' publishers told The Bookseller: “His intention is to do the whole thing online, although it will depend on feedback and interest. It’s a bit of an experiment – he is already a keen blogger and has quite a presence on the net, so we are hoping it will transfer over.”

Sounds like a bit of a PR stunt to me, featuring the much talked-about buzzword of the day 'Twitter'...which I too was briefly conned into thinking was the future, before realising it was mildly diverting and kind of useful, but not the earth-shattering technological revelation it's made out to be...

I had a look at Mr Morris' Twitters - as a PR stunt it doesn't seem to be working that well, so far he's got just over 200 followers, a low number in Twitter terms, but then perhaps this is a literary experiment rather than attempt to court the press with a gimmick...

The benefit of reading a novel 144 characters at a time I suppose is that you really get to focus on the words, what they mean, the subtext behind them. The process also displaces you as a reader, making what would otherwise be a normal text strange - each individual line is rendered in a completely different light by being Twittered - "But what did they know of the cost to her soul, or of the tears she had shed over the years?". But then again, you have to wait another hour to get the next few words and how can you remember what came before and get engrossed in the plot in the same way you would if you could read the text normally?

I don't think the novel and Twitter are going to best friends - to be honest, I can't see much replacing the book. In the printed paperback, literature has found an amazing format that has stayed almost unchanged for decades, and for good reason too - its perfect. I can't imagine reading any other way - although I would secretly love to test out e readers although part of me would feel like I was betraying my books...

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Literary events at Brighton festival 2009

I picked up the programme for Brighton Festival today - there are some fantastic events on...not least the literary ones. The whole event is curated by the Indian-born artist, Anish Kapoor - I can remember going to the Tate in Liverpool when I was very young, about 4 or 5 I think and loving his vividly coloured, bold art which reminded me of sand castles. The whole festival seems like a more serious and ambitious endeavour this year, and I can't wait for it to start. Ever since I've lived in Brighton, the coming of the festival has heralded the coming summer, sunny days wandering in the Laines and warm evenings spent on the beach, so in anticipation, I've compiled my book-related Brighton Festival 2009 wishlist....
  • City Reads: The Book Thief. I love the idea of this, and I'm going to join in - the concept is to get everyone in Brighton reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. the communal reading culminates in the author discussing the project and the book in an event at Brighton Dome on 23rd May. Find out more here.
  • Alaa al Aswany. The author of The Yacoubian Building, Alaa al Aswany is one of the most widely-read authors writing in Arabic and will be appearing at the Pavillion theatre on 24th May - more info here.
  • Very Hungry Caterpillar Storyplaytime. My favourite book when I was little - this is as good as children's books get and hasn't aged a bit. It's on 10th May at the Jubilee Library, and you can get tickets here.
  • Thirteen. So far, to me at least, this is the best sounding event of the festival...based on Thirteen, the cult novel about a tired Brighton taxi driver who experiences an altered state of reality by Sebastian Beaumont, you are picked up by a cabby to experience an adaptation of part of the novel. The event runs hourly during the night of the 10th May and the venue is only revealed when you buy your ticket...but guess what? It's sold out - and I haven't got a ticket.
  • Kamila Shamsie & Gavin Esler. Kamila Shamsie, author of Salt & Saffron and Burnt Shadows & Gavin Esler, Newsnight presenter and author of A Scandalous Man, talk about the relationship between history and fiction, reality and storytelling. It's on at the Pavillion Theatre on 17th May - get your tickets here.