Archive for the 'Books' Category

Things I read )

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses, in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, as it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay. – Martin Amis

(via crashingly beautiful)

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Why Old Books Smell Good

“Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.”

– From Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide

(via a perfect commotion)

Just because it’s awesome (“all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I got the opportunity to use a quote in conversation to a colleague about a difficult work situation which a friend and former colleague once said to me at the right time:

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

– Lord of the Rings

excellent writing advice

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

5. Keep a copy of Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway on the left hand side of your desk. Keep Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up on the right. When you get stuck, pick them up and pretend that they are having a fight, like you used to do with your GI Joes. Just sort of bash them together for a while.

from 10 rules for writing (dogless, well-nourished) fiction by Lynn Coady

:)

Why I love P.G. Wodehouse (“terrific”)

Monday, December 7th, 2009


I am a tremendous fan of P.G. Wodehouse but I don’t know many people who have read as much of his work as I have (plus I’ve got a several audiobooks that I listen to often) so I thought I’d occassionaly share some of why I love P.G. Wodehouse.

In Code of the Woosters, Madeline Bassett (“the Bassett” – a ghastly girl, a ‘droopy, soupy, sentimental exhibit, with melting eyes and a cooing voice and the most extraordinary views on such things as stars and daisy chains’) is convinced, (wrongly, of course), that Bertie Wooster has come to Totleigh Towers due to undying love for her.

“Why did you come? Oh, I know what you are going to say. You felt that, cost what it might, you had to see me again, just once. You could not resist the urge to take away with you one last memory, which you could cherish down the lonely years. Oh, Bertie, you remind me of Rudel.”

The name was new to me.

“Rudel?”

“The Seigneur Geoffrey Rudel, Prince of Blay-en-Saintonge.”

I shook my head.

“Never met him, I’m afraid. Pal of yours?”

“He lived in the Middle ages. He was a great poet. And he fell in love with the wife of the Lord of Tripoli.”

I stirred uneasily. I hoped she was going to keep it clean.

“For years he loved her, and at last could resist no longer. He took ship to Tripoli, and his servants carried him ashore.”

“Not feeling so good?” I said, groping. “Rough crossing?”

“He was dying. Of love.”

“Oh, ah.”

“They bore him into the Lady Melisande’s presence on a litter, and he had just strength enough to reach out and touch her hand. Then he died.”

She paused, and heaved a sigh that seemed to come straight up from the cami-knickers. A silence ensued.

“Terrific”, I said, feeling that I had to say something, though personally I didn’t think the story a patch on the one about the travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter. Different, of course, if one had known the chap.

Things I read today (neuroscience of literacy – you’ve begun to read)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Right now, your mind is performing an astonishing feat. Photons are bouncing off these black squiggles and lines — the letters in this sentence — and colliding with a thin wall of flesh at the back of your eyeball. The photons contain just enough energy to activate sensory neurons, each of which is responsible for a particular plot of visual space on the page. The end result is that, as you stare at the letters, they become more than mere marks on a page. You’ve begun to read…

But reading isn’t just about seeing — we still have to imbue those syllabic sounds with meaning. This is why, once the letterbox area deciphers the word — this takes less than 150 milliseconds — the information is immediately sent to other brain areas, which help us interpret the semantic content. Such a complex act requires a variety of brain areas scattered across both hemispheres, all of which must work together to make sense of a sentence…

…our brain wasn’t “designed” for reading; we haven’t had time to evolve a purpose-built set of circuits for letters and words. As Deheane eloquently notes, “Our cortex did not specifically evolve for writing. Rather, writing evolved to fit the cortex.”…

In fact, even the shape of letters — their odd graphic design — has been molded by the habits and constraints of our perceptual system. For instance, the neuroscientists Marc Changizi and Shinsuke Shimojo have demonstrated that the vast majority of characters in 115 different writing systems are composed of three distinct strokes, which likely reflect the sensory limitations of cells in the retina. (As Dehaene observes, “The world over, characters appear to have evolved an almost optimal combination that can easily be grasped by a single neuron.”) The moral is that our cultural forms reflect the biological form of the brain; the details of language are largely a biological accident.

Reading in the Brain By STANISLAS DEHAENE, Reviewed by Jonah Lehrer

a single neuron, fascinating

Just because it’s awesome (Hugh Laurie’s “The Gun Seller”)

Monday, October 26th, 2009

I love Hugh Laurie. I’m a fan of him in House, MD and I adore him, as I’ve mentioned before, in Jeeves and Wooster. Fry and Laurie is brilliant and he was my favorite part (and quite a revelation after knowing only Bertie) in Peter and Friends. Not only is he a fantastic actor he’s also an amazing writer.

In his first book, The Gun Seller, the opening just stuns – I can’t think of another like it:

Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

Right or left, doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don’t…well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s just say bad things will happen if you don’t.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly — snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint — or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?

Well exactly. Of course. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.

Unless.

Unless unless unless.

What if you were to hate the person on the other end of the arm? I mean really, really hate them.

This was a thing I now had to consider.

I say now, meaning then, meaning the moment I am describing; the moment fractionally, oh so bloody fractionally, before my wrist reached the back of my neck and my left humerus broke into at least two, very possibly more, floppily joined-together pieces.

The arm we’ve been discussing, you see, is mine. It’s not an abstract, philosopher’s arm. The bone, the skin, the hairs, the small white scar on the point of the elbow, won from the corner of a storage heater at Gateshill Primary School — they all belong to me. And now is the moment when I must consider the possibility that the man standingbehind me, gripping my wrist and driving it up my spine with an almost sexual degree of care, hates me. I mean, really, really hates me.

He is taking for ever.

His name was Rayner. First name unknown. By me, at any rate, and therefore, presumably, by you too.

I suppose someone, somewhere, must have known his first name — must have baptised him with it, called him down to breakfast with it, taught him how to spell it — and someone else must have shouted it across a bar with an offer of a drink, or murmured it during sex, or written it in a box on a life insurance application form. I know they must have done all these things. Just hard to picture, that’s all.

Rayner, I estimated, was ten years older than me. Which was fine. Nothing wrong with that. I have good, warm, non-arm-breaking relationships with plenty of people who are ten years older than me. People who are ten years older than me are, by and large, admirable. But Rayner was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier, and at least eight however-you-measure-violence units more violent. He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened, fighter’s nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.

I mentioned the book in conversation the other day and found an excerpt and was blown away again reading it so wanted to post some of it – though I really recommend reading the whole thing.

The writing is so good – funny and beautifully crafted – combining violence and tough guy swagger with aching awareness of his own failings like the best of Raymond Chandler (and that’s saying a lot). Global poltics, espionage and a little love story (or two) are thrown into the mix. The story is good but it’s the writing (“unless unless unless”) that just sings.

Remember – this is his *first* book.

Things I read today (never cruel or small)

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009


From the ever-interesting Levi Stahl (like me, a true Wodehouse fan):

Proust sets a conception of strength of character, of a kindness and dignity so fundamental that even when our longings make us ridiculous–as Swann’s pursuit of Odette can’t help but do–they can never make us cruel or small.
– Levi Stahl, I’vebeenreadinglately

A beautiful concept. I want to remember this: a strength of character, of a kindness and dignity so fundamental that even when our longings make us ridiculous … they can never make us cruel or small.

a poem I read today (“or just after”)

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

– “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

Sunday afternoon melancholy

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

The feeling of Sunday is the same everywhere, heavy, melancholy, standing still. Like when they say, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
– Jean Rhys