The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one then what had gone before…”

The first sentences of the book immediately draw the reader into a world so utterly different from anything we can imagine, that one cannot stop reading to find out more about it. It is not just a dark world, but also a manifestation of the greatest fears one can have of the modern world leading humanity into an apocalypse. A world without hope, a world filled with purposelessness, placing life in a lifeless world.

The book leads the reader into a world set after a nuclear holocaust ending the world as we know it, creating a desert devoid of hope and full of despair. The story evolves around a man and a child who battle for survival in a world without any order, filled only with death and a few scattered people trying to survive yet another day. Cormac McCarthy uses a unique writing style, abolishing grammatical conventions, mingling sentences together. He chose an ice-cold narrative and a deadly factual style, putting the language right on par with the world he describes.

“The boy was sitting up wrapped in his blanket.
What is it?
Nothing. I had a bad dream.
What did you dream about?
Nothing.
Are you okay?
No.
He put his arm around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.
I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
I’m sorry. I was just so tired.
I meant in the dream.”

The book not only deals with the philosophical implications of a world without hope, but also with an obvious conflict in the relationship between the two protagonists. Whereas “the man” does not wish to discuss the past or to mention anything about the life before the apocalypse, “the child” who was born into this new world asks many questions, waiting for answers.

None of the characters in the book has names – not surprising, as this fits perfectly into the narrative McCarthy has chosen. The otherwise so somber story has small glimpses of hope, which have been placed in such sharp tones that they only highlight the hopelessness of the situation.

“Do you think there could be ships out there?
I dont think so.
They wouldnt be able to see very far.
No. They wouldnt.
What’s on the other side?
Nothing.
There must be something.
Maybe there’s a father and his little boy and they’re sitting on the beach.
That would be okay.
Yes. That would be okay.
And they could be carrying the fire too?
They could be. Yes.
But we dont know.
We dont know.”

The book has an amazing twist towards the end, which makes the reader shudder and think. The true beauty about this book, however, is the thinking it initiates about the reader’s own life and where he/she stands in this world. This book was directly made into a film last year, carrying the same title, but was also partly the basis of another film, “The Book of Eli”. Both films try to encompass the world McCarthy describes but fail to convey the same feelings one has about oneself after reading the book.

The novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 2006 and was also awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Be enchanted by a beautiful narrative – not beautiful because of the aesthetics of language, but because of every word carefully chosen to accompany a story and a feeling you will never forget.

If you’d like to obtain the book on Amazon UK, click here:

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ReadIt1st: Don’t Let the Movie Spoil the Book

ReadIt1st is a new project created by one half of the Vlogbrothers, Hank Green that urges people to read a book before they watch the movie. The project is his way of re-igniting a love for literature in Americans and the world.

He thought about creating the website after discovering that five of the top 10 movies of 2010 were based on books and that most of the people who watched those movies had never read the book that the movie was based on.

The concept of the website is simple; anyone can go onto the website: www.readit1st.com and sign up for the newsletter and every few months or so, they will receive a newsletter with a list of books to read in anticipation for the release of the movie.

This isn’t the first project that Green has created. In 2007, he and his brother young adult fiction novelist, John Green, created the Brotherhood 2.0 project. For an entire year, the brothers vowed to not communicate to the other by text; instead they made videos dedicated to the other and posted them on YouTube under the channel name; ‘Vlogbrothers’. After a while the videos began to build a fan base and four years later through their videos, the brothers have managed to build a community of dedicated followers who call themselves ‘nerdfighters’.

Over the years, the Vlogbrothers, along with their loyal ‘nerdfighters’ have endeavoured in many different projects from humanitarian projects to ‘nerdfighter’ gathering where other ‘nerdfigthers’ can meet, socialise and collaborate on projects. Their aim is to ‘cure world suck’.

Hank Green revealed in a YouTube video in which he posted a day after the launch readit1st.com that he had had the idea for the website the previous year.

He said about the website; “…it promotes something that I love, reading… through advertising it could potentially employ a writer and I would love to be responsible for a writer having a job…”

“…this isn’t something that I created for ‘nerdfighters’, I created it for the world. What I did was create it with ‘nerdfighters’…”

In this economy, many small publishers are rapidly closing down; big publishers don’t want to invest a lot of money in unknown writers anymore. Instead they produce some generic celebrity’s auto-biography that was clearly not written by the celebrity because it will sell. This makes it seem like being a writer is more a curse than a vocation. A website like this has the potential of influencing the direction of publishing in the future. If people read more literary novels, publishers will invest in writers that write that way.

Besides, it is no secret, regardless of the director, the actor or the quality of the script, very few films can be held close to the same esteem as the books they were based on. In a way, the books are prequels, the films are sequels and everyone knows that sequels are never as good as the original. Despite knowing this, people would still rather watch the films which are like an unabridged audio book than read the literature.

Most people will never read a novel again after leaving mandatory or higher education. For contemporary writers like myself, this statement is both alarming and heart-breaking for two reasons. Firstly, I write to be read by more than just myself, my friends and my family. Secondly, I believe a world where the names Hemmingway and Salinger and Bronte and Pound are forgotten is a sad world and I refuse to be a part of it. That is why today, I have pledged to readit1st because I too have watched the film and neglected to read the book and I want to change that.

The Resurrection of Oscar Wilde

Wilde’s persecution and exile have been regarded by some as a “crucifixion”. There has been a crucifixion, so, it follows; there must be a resurrection. Such is the power of the narrative; of the myth-making machinery that operates in our culture in the creation of icons.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde has a remarkable capacity to touch the lives of the twenty-first century reader, to make people feel as though he is someone with whom they are so familiar that it is as if he is their personal friend.

In fact, at times, he seems so contemporary and like “one of us” that we could be forgiven for thinking he is alive and well and living in the twenty-first century. The word that always springs to mind when considering such notions is “spirit”.

Indeed, over the past century, there have been numerous reports from people, claiming that Wilde has “appeared” to them, or has been “spotted.” One sighting, by a student at Magdalen College in 1934, claimed that he was seen drifting across the College quad in his graduation gown.

John Stokes in his book, Myths Miracles and Imitations, writes of Wilde having been seen in New York in 1905 and again in 1912 by his own nephew, Arthur Cravan.  In the latter example it is a dark and rainy night … and the apparition of Wilde appeared to Craven in his flat. According to Stokes, Cravan turned upon Wilde and abused him, but, suddenly overcome by pity, ran after him, calling his name and, when he realised Wilde had gone forever, he returned a desolate man.

Such a story seems to me to provide the perfect metaphor for the history of Wilde’s cultural reputation.  It is almost a story in miniature of his fall and subsequent rise to glory.  He was abused, he fled this world and now that world is sorry and wants to call him back, so much so that wishful thinking sometimes overflows into belief that he has been “seen”, spotted somewhere.

Elvis Presley also has the capacity to generate such rumours.  Elvis has been “seen” in some fairly surreal situations: pushing a trolley full of fish fingers outside a supermarket in L.A., where his Cadillac was parked in the disabled spot; eating a meal in Burger King wearing a white robe (what else do ghosts wear?); washing his smalls in a laundrette in West London, telling the attendant “you ain’t nothing but a hound dog” when they ran out of soap flakes.

There have been various attempts to make “contact” with Wilde. Perhaps the most amusing case was the recording made of the late Leslie Flint, a famous medium back in the 1960s.

When asked to speak, he replied, “I have never been known to say nothing” and he told the medium he was still writing and having his plays performed, saying that, “more money has been made out of my reputation since my death than I was ever able to make out of my plays, which goes to show that sin is very successful.”

The point of these ramblings about sightings and so forth is that such cases are illustrative of the power of personality – the power of the spirit. Aided and abetted by the advent of the media and its rapid expansion since Wilde’s time, some of that power is accrued through the reproduction of images, the Oscar Wilde industry, as it has become known.

Although dead for over a century Oscar is very much alive to us, not simply in the sense of being immortalised through his works as indeed many authors are, but because he was – is – larger than life – because he was more than a writer – he was a celebrity. Like many celebrities, such as Elvis Presley, it is hard for many to believe that he is dead.

He is so much a part of modern life that it is hard to believe he died all those years ago.  Wilde, in the manner of a spirit, retains a “presence” – one might be tempted to say “omnipresence” – within popular culture.

Of particular note is Wilde’s appeal to the teenage demographic, an appeal which is at least in part due to the fact that he speaks to the outsider in people.

It is no wonder then, that the author Michael Bracewell had, he confessed, two posters on his bedroom wall when he was growing up: one of David Bowie and one of Oscar. “Bowie came down after awhile”, he noted. “But Oscar stayed.” Stephen Fry too, noted that teenagers “trembling on the brink of bourgeoisification” look to Oscar as an inspiration. Indeed, there is a certain fragility about his position in Victorian society, his status as a wit and an artist – that seems to provide the perfect metaphor for the struggle against conformity endured by young people, especially teenagers, for whom individuality (a.k.a. identity) is vitally important, but who are all too keenly aware of their vulnerability to the ravages of social pressure.

Wilde’s brief career is very “teen”, in the sense that it represented a brief oasis of self-expression, flourishing in a desert of conformity.  It was all too quickly quelled, he was packed off to prison where he was stripped of his individuality, had to wear a uniform and to do what he was told.  He can be regarded as a metaphor for those with artistic aspirations who maybe cultivated an interesting style for just a few brief years of their lives, before they have to forsake themselves and end up working in an environment that does not make room for individual expression.  Like the 1890s itself, his was a flame that burned too brightly and was all too soon snuffed out.

Of course, Wilde does not merely appeal to teenagers. HE appeals to people from all walks of life. He has, albeit posthumously, become a figurehead for a whole range of communities, that have gathered around him, fought over his legacy and claimed him as their own.  The main one of these is, of course, the gay community. Over the years, much has been written about Oscar’s gay identity, about whether or not he would care to be seen as a “gay” author.

On the centenary of Wilde’s death, thousands of people came from all over the world to pay their respects, leaving flowers and messages at his graveside, such as, “love you always” and “I will keep you forever in my heart”. One message, written in French, said, “For Oscar Wilde the outraged martyr, who died in the name of love”.

The notion of Wilde as a modern celebrity is a frequently discussed one. In the twentieth and twenty-first century, with artists and celebrities becoming, for many people, like Gods or Guru figures, Wilde and his reputation fit with ease into this cultural template.

Wilde himself would perhaps not be surprised, living as he did in a culture where this had already started to happen, when the spiritualist Madam Blavatsky was looking to nominate her guru to popularise spiritualism and when actresses like Sarah Bernhard were commanding the kind of adulation now given to stars like Madonna and Kylie. Indeed, Wilde himself commanded such adulation, when on his American tour with his manager and publicist, the Victorian equivalent of Max Clifford.

Wilde epitomises the spirit of our time and that is why it feels as if he is alive and well and living in Chelsea, or Paris, or wherever one might picture him to be.

As Ellmann so aptly pointed out, “he belongs to our world more than to Victoria’s”. After a decade of celebrations Wilde’s “resurrection” is finally complete and he is restored to us in all his resplendent glory.

Julia Wood is the author of The Resurrection of Oscar Wilde: A Cultural Afterlife. (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2007) £15.00 pbk 164pp ISBN 978-0-7188-3071-7

Happy Birthday Stephen King

On 21 September City Connect celebrates the birthday of Stephen King, the bestselling horror and science fiction author. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, many of which have been adapted into feature films, television movies and comic books. Read his biography to find out more about his life and work.

Biography

Stephen King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction.  As of 2011, King has written and published 49 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, five non-fiction books, and nine collections of short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.

Stephen King was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the family under the pretense of “going to buy a pack of cigarettes,” leaving his mother to raise King and his adopted older brother, David, by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend’s death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired some of King’s darker works, but King himself has dismissed the idea.

King’s primary inspiration for writing horror fiction was related in detail in his 1981 non-fiction Danse Macabre, in a chapter titled “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”. King makes a comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of an H.P. Lovecraft collection of short stories that had belonged to his father. The cover art—an illustration of a yellow-green Demon hiding within the recesses of a Hellish cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which “that interior dowsing rod responded to.”

In 1973, King’s novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King actually threw an early draft of the novel in the bin after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500, with paperback rights earning $400,000 at a later date. This first novel by King revolves around the eponymous Carrie, a shy high-school girl, who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who tease her. Sissy Spacek starred in the title role of the 1976 film adaptation and was nominated for that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.

Soon after the release of Carrie in 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer. After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (published 1977). The novel was adapted into the 1980 classic horror movie of the same name starring Jack Nicholson and was directed by Stanley Kubrick.

His 1987 novel, Misery, was adapted into a highly successful film starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

In 2006, King published an apocalyptic novel, Cell. The story follows a New England artist struggling to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell phone network turns the majority of his fellow humans into mindless vicious animals. King noted in the book’s introduction that he does not use cell phones.

In 2008, King published both a novel, Duma Key, and a collection, Just After Sunset. The latter featured 13 short stories, including a novella, N., which was later released as a serialized animated series that could be seen for free, or, for a small fee, could be downloaded in a higher quality; it then was adopted into a limited comic book series.

In 2009, King published Ur, a novella written exclusively for the launch of the second-generation Amazon Kindle and available only on Amazon.com, and Throttle, a novella co-written with his son Joe Hill, and released later as an audiobook Road Rage, which included Richard Matheson’s short story “Duel”. On November 10 that year, King’s novel Under the Dome was published. It is a reworking of an unfinished novel he tried writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and at 1,074 pages, it is the largest novel he has written since 1986’s It. It debuted at No. 1 in The New York Times Bestseller List.

On February 16, 2010, King announced on his website that his next book would be a collection of four previously unpublished novellas called Full Dark, No Stars. In April of that year, King published Blockade Billy, an original novella issued first by independent small press Cemetery Dance Publications and later released in mass-market paperback by Simon & Schuster.

King’s next novel, 11/22/63, was published in 2011 and was nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award Best Novel. The eighth Dark Tower volume, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was published in 2012. King’s next book is Joyland, a novel about “an amusement-park serial killer”, published on April 8, 2012. It will be followed by the sequel to The Shining (1977), titled Doctor Sleep, scheduled to be published in late 2013.

King’s formula for learning to write well is: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He also has a simple definition for talent in writing: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the electricity bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

When asked why he writes, King responds: “The answer to that is fairly simple—there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.” He is also often asked why he writes such terrifying stories and he answers with another question “Why do you assume I have a choice?”

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Happy Birthday George Orwell

City Connect pays tribute to Eric Blair or as he was better known, George Orwell born June 25th 1903 but sadly passed away January 21st 1950 from tuberculosis.

Biography

Eric Blair was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, in the then British colony of India, where his father, Richard, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humour, he would later describe his family’s background as “lower-upper-middle class.”

Education

At the age of five, Blair was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley, which his sister had attended before him. He never wrote of his recollections of it, but he must have impressed the teachers very favourably for two years later he was recommended to the headmaster of one of the most successful preparatory schools in England at the time: St Cyprian’s School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Young Eric attended St Cyprian’s on a scholarship that allowed his parents to pay only half of the usual fees. Many years later, he would recall his time at St Cyprian’s with biting resentment in the essay “Such, Such Were the Joys,” but he did well enough to earn scholarships to both Wellington and Eton colleges.

After a term at Wellington, Eric moved to Eton, where he was a King’s Scholar from 1917 to 1921. Later in life he wrote that he had been “relatively happy” at Eton, which allowed its students considerable independence, but also that he ceased doing serious work after arriving there. Reports of his academic performance at Eton vary: some claim he was a poor student, others deny this. It is clear that he was disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority. In any event, during his time at the school Eric made lifetime friendships with a number of future British intellectuals.

Burma and afterwards

After finishing his studies at Eton, having no prospect of gaining a university scholarship and his family’s means being insufficient to pay his tuition, Eric joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He resigned and returned to England in 1928 having grown to hate imperialism (as shown by his first novel Burmese Days, published in 1934, and by such essays as ‘A Hanging’, and ‘Shooting an Elephant’). He adopted his pen name in 1933, while writing for the New Adelphi. He chose a pen name that stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England (and George V was monarch at the time), while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.

Orwell lived for several years in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes doing itinerant work, as he recalled in the book Down and Out in Paris and London. He eventually found work as a schoolteacher until ill health forced him to give this up to work part-time as an assistant in a secondhand bookshop in Hampstead, an experience later recounted in the short novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Spanish Civil War

Soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell volunteered to fight for the Republicans against Franco’s Nationalist uprising. As a sympathiser of the Independent Labour Party (of which he became a member in 1938), he joined the militia of its sister party in Spain, the non-Stalinist far-left POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification), in which he fought as an infantryman. In Homage to Catalonia he described his admiration for the apparent absence of a class structure in the revolutionary areas of Spain he visited. He also depicted what he saw as the betrayal of that workers’ revolution in Spain by the Spanish Communist Party, abetted by the Soviet Union and its secret police, after its militia attacked the anarchists and the POUM in Barcelona in May 1937. Orwell was shot in the neck (near Huesca) on May 20, 1937, an experience he described in his short essay “Wounded by a Fascist Sniper”, as well as in Homage to Catalonia. He and his wife Eileen left Spain after narrowly missing being arrested as “Trotskyites” when the communists moved to suppress the POUM in June 1937.

World War and after

Orwell began supporting himself by writing book reviews for the New English Weekly until 1940. During World War II he was a member of the Home Guard and in 1941 began work for the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working on programmes to gain Indian and East Asian support for Britain’s war efforts. He was well aware that he was shaping propaganda, and wrote that he felt like “an orange that’s been trodden on by a very dirty boot.” Despite the good pay, he resigned in 1943 to become literary editor of Tribune, the left-wing weekly then edited by Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche. Orwell contributed a regular column entitled ‘As I Please.’

In 1944 Orwell finished his anti-Stalinist allegory Animal Farm, which was published the following year with great critical and popular success. The royalties from Animal Farm provided Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life. From 1945 Orwell was the Observer’s war correspondent and later contributed regularly to the Manchester Evening News. He was a close friend of the Observer’s editor/owner, David Astor and his ideas had a strong influence on Astor’s editorial policies. In 1949 his best-known work, the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four, was published. He wrote the novel during his stay on the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland.

Between 1936 and 1945 Orwell was married to Eileen O’Shaughnessy, with whom he adopted a son, Richard Horatio Blair (b. May of 1944). She died in 1945 during an operation. In the autumn of 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell.

In 1949 Orwell was approached by a friend, Celia Kirwan, who had just started working for a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, which had been set up by the Labour government to publish pro-democratic and anti-communist propaganda. He gave her a list of 37 writers and artists he considered to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. The list, not published until 2003, consists mainly of journalists (among them the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin) but also includes the actors Michael Redgrave and Charlie Chaplin. Orwell’s motives for handing over the list are unclear, but the most likely explanantion is the simplest: that he was helping out a friend in a cause – anti-Stalinism – that both supported. There is no indication that Orwell ever abandoned the democratic socialism that he consistently promoted in his later writings – or that he believed the writers he named should be suppressed. Orwell’s list was also accurate: the people on it had all at one time or another made pro-Soviet or pro-communist public pronouncements.

Orwell died at the age of 46 from tuberculosis which he had probably contracted during the period described in Down and Out in Paris and London. He was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life. Having requested burial in accordance with the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saints’ Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire with the simple epitaph: Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25th 1903, died January 21st 1950.

Orwell’s work

During most of his career Orwell was best known for his journalism, both in the British press and in books of reportage such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War), Down and Out in Paris and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities), and The Road to Wigan Pier (which described the living conditions of poor miners in northern England). According to Newsweek, Orwell “was the finest journalist of his day and the foremost architect of the English essay since Hazlitt.”

Contemporary readers are more often introduced to Orwell as a novelist, particularly through his enormously successful titles Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The former is considered an allegory of the corruption of the socialist ideals of the Russian Revolution by Stalinism, and the latter is Orwell’s prophetic vision of the results of totalitarianism. Orwell denied that Animal Farm was a reference to Stalinism. Orwell had returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and anti-Communist, but he remained to the end a man of the left and, in his own words, a ‘democratic socialist’.

Orwell is also known for his insights about the political implications of the use of language. In the essay “Politics and the English Language”, he decries the effects of cliche, bureaucratic euphemism, and academic jargon on literary styles, and ultimately on thought itself. Orwell’s concern over the power of language to shape reality is also reflected in his invention of Newspeak, the official language of the imaginary country of Oceania in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a variant of English in which vocabulary is strictly limited by government fiat. The goal is to make it increasingly difficult to express ideas that contradict the official line – with the final aim of making it impossible even to conceive such ideas. (cf. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). A number of words and phrases that Orwell coined in Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered the standard vocabularly, such as “memory hole,” “Big Brother,” “Room 101,” “doublethink,” “thought police,” and “newspeak.”

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Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written by Robert M. Pirsig is probably the oddest title that you can possibly find in the book shelves. However, this novel has not attracted many readers because of its peculiar title, but rather due to its philosophical depth written in a way comprehensive to everyone. The book is centered around one protagonist who is on a 17-day motorcycle journey through the United States with his son Chris. Throughout the book one central question is reiterated over and over again: “What is good and what is good writing?” More precisely, the main character asks “What is quality and how is it defined?” Although, this may not seem an obvious philosophical dilemma for the untrained eye, the reader soon realises in a very beautiful narrative that it is virtually impossible to define quality. In fact, what is it? Who sets the standards? What is quality based on? What in fact is quality? These questions, which are rooted in his past, drive the protagonist slowly insane. Pirsig leads the reader cunningly throughout many epochs of history addressing the central question of quality and its implications to our modern world.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses.”

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

This book is certainly a modern classic dealing with a very deep philosophical question. Do not be afraid of technical terms about motorcycle maintenance, for that really is a way of Pirsig to draw the attention of your mind to details in a very unfamiliar way. This book is mesmerising and unique in style. Are you ready for an outstanding piece of modern writing which will stimulate your brain and change the way you perceive the world?

“After reading this book, I saw the world with different eyes. After carefully thinking about it, I realised that everything around me is measured against a standard. But who is to set a standard and why does everyone seem to blindly follow it? What is deemed beautiful in one culture is not deemed beautiful in another. This book really helped me see the world with different eyes and question the definition of quality other people have tried to force on myself. At the end of the day, I am the only person living my own life.”

Robert M. Pirsig wrote a sequel to this book, called “Lila”, which discusses the definition and use of values and morals in our culture. We will report on this book on City Connect in one of our next book reviews.

If this literature interests you, you can order it directly from Amazon:

 

The Erotica Phenomenon for Modern Girls

Erotica is no longer confined to the pages of Mills and Boon, read in private typically by housewives and elderly ladies who live alone. With the arrival of the internet this once hidden past time has now found a way to reach the wider community with readers being able to pen their own fantasises anonymously on sites such as Fanfiction.net. This access has lead to books such as Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey storming the literacy world and while academics are puzzled to why such poorly written novels are popular the answer itself is very simple.

It’s sex.

The purpose of erotica is provide its reader with a pleasurable fantasy in which for a few hours they can escape reality. Readers can switch off, and be turned on, by these sensual stories in the same way that many do by watching porn. The only reason why this “Mummy Porn” is so controversial is because people are no longer ashamed to read such things in public.

We as a species are embarrassed by the human necessity of sex, religion portrays it as sinful, culture dictates that it should not be spoken of and on a whole we are intimidated by the power of pleasure. Now that some people are comfortable with the fact that desire for sexual stimulation is a healthy part of human nature the rest of us are running round scared. Remarks about the written quality of such books are just desperate attempts to shame erotica back into hiding. Fans of the genre don’t chose these books for their depth or intellectual insight rather they chose them for their ability to satisfy their desires. Just because one enjoys the guilty thrill of erotica every now and again does not mean they are incapable of appreciating classics as well.

Twilight for many young girls, including myself, opened the doors to sexual fantasy. Though the story itself was poorly constructed with a somewhat abusive relationship it provided the opportunity to get to grips with the confusing desires that accompany puberty. For many teenagers this a is a difficult time period because they simply have no one to talk comfortably about the strange new feelings they are experiencing which increases the appeal to hide among the safety of books.

If as society we more honest and accepting about sex these stories wouldn’t be such a big deal as we would be confident in ourselves and our desires. Even if that includes fantasizing about a 104 year old virgin vampire.

Image reproduced from digitalcitizen.ca and hammerandquill.com

My Childhood Bookshelf

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

 ~ Dr. Seuss

 The power of a good book cannot be underestimated. Children read many things when they’re young, from textbooks to comic books, and I would encourage every parent to have a few age-appropriate novels on their bookshelves (or their e-readers, whatever the future holds!) Reading for pleasure can be enriching, instructive and highly enjoyable. I am a big advocate of books, being a Literature student, and as a child I hungrily read everything I could get my hands on. Fictional books can not only instruct, but inspire creativity, resilience and a sense of adventure. From what seems like nonsense, children can form their attitudes and opinions on life, and grow a healthy imagination. I certainly would not be the same person without the fantastic stories I read as a child; let me illustrate this point by telling you a little bit about my childhood bookshelf and what my favourite books taught me.

Lemony Snicket- A Series of Unfortunate Events:

These are the stories, collected into 13 novels, that a very imaginative and twisted man called Lemony Snicket (aka. Daniel Handler) wrote about three unlucky orphans. Klaus, Violet and Sunny Baudelaire are remarkably resilient and intelligent, but their tale of misery and misfortune is so unfortunate that the blurb of every book warns the reader off the book altogether. This, of course, is very cleverly intended to make a child want to read more.

Though the fantastically bleak situations the Baudelaire siblings face are undoubtedly awful, I waited eagerly every Christmas for the latest one in the 13-book series. The childrens’ flight from the evil Count Olaf and the mystery that dogs them from a lumbermill to a boarding school and beyond taught me that life is an adventure and challenges are there to be overcome. More than anything else, the main characters’ spirit, determination and loyalty to each other taught me how to flourish in adversity. Obviously I am never going to find myself having to make orange granita out of snow for evil villains, or being forced to run laps all night by an evil gym teacher (don’t ask). Nevertheless, the random recipes, bits of code-breaking and snippets of trivia included in this book captured my imagination.

The great thing about these books, though, was the way that Lemony Snicket acted as a personal thesaurus without being boring; introducing big words and complicated literary concepts in a story for young people. These books broadened my vocabulary and taught me proper grammar, making me the writer I am today. These books are totally addictive and are suitable for boys and girls from 10 upwards. Even the parents will be fascinated. I’d also like to mention that there is a film, but it doesn’t follow the plot very well and in my opinion, it’s not a patch on the books. Under no circumstances should you investigate these troublesome tales.

Walter Moers- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear:

This is a hefty volume for true adventurers. I read this in a few weeks and then read it again. And again, and again…I carried the book around until it fell apart. Anyone who’s into fantasy worlds filled with magical creatures (think Middle Earth, Narnia or Hogwarts) will probably love this. The illustrations are also fantastic. Walter Moers’ alternative world Zamonia has its own encyclopedia (literally) of strange places and wildlife. The sheer imagination needed to create an entire world astounded me as a child. It still does. Not only is the story of the loveable Captain Bluebear’s 13 and a half lives a great tool of escapism, but it made me think, dream and start to write. Bluebears have 27 lives and Moers only tells us about half of them. What better start for a kid to start thinking up more adventures?

Expect a bit of everything in this book: minipirates, sea monsters, desert islands, a professor with seven brains and even a life-saving pterodactyl. This is pure craziness on paper and takes a huge leap of faith to engage with. In short, this is less a novel and more of a catalogue of wonderful places and things for a young person to explore. All curious children, and all adults in need of an imaginative boost, should give this book a try. It’s an epic journey that Captain Bluebear invites the reader on, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Enjoy the ride! It’s available.

Enid Blyton- The Faraway Tree

Moon Face, Saucepan Man and the Angry Pixie: just some of the magical characters you’ll meet if you read the Faraway Tree trilogy. These are fairy stories of the best kind, with delightful but naughty children having adventures away from the prying eyes of their parents. Jo, Bessie and Fanny are three curious kids who are led by Brownies to discover the secret world of the Faraway Tree in an enchanted woodland near their house. This tree is populated by an assortment of strange and wonderful characters who form a community that welcomes the children into their world. At the top of the tree is a whole world that changes with every journey. There is a delightful Land of Birthdays but also more alarming environments like Topsy-Turvy Land.

Each time the children venture up the tree, they take their readers on a quest that always ends happily, like any good fairy story, with a narrative that is well-constructed and teaches a child the value of friendship and doing the right thing. The children often have to save each other from various predicaments, solve problems and negotiate with difficult characters; such as the aforementioned Angry Pixie, who hates people prying into his business. These are useful social skills for a child to learn. I personally learned a lot of good values such as tolerance, curiosity and teamwork whilst reading these books, as well as being delighted by the prospect of extraordinary adventures just beyond my garden gate. Like all the other books I mention in this article, The Faraway Tree books develop and stimulate a healthy imagination, which in my opinion can never be a bad thing. You can find out more about these books here.

Eric Carle- The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While this book is aimed at a considerably lower age group than the other books I’ve mentioned, this article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging its genius as one of the first and most engaging books I have ever read. It continues to give me great joy at the age of 21 and I consider this book (in its original hardback version) essential reading for any child. There are so many things that The Very Hungry Caterpillar can teach a small child as they first begin to discover the world. Its colourful pages and engaging illustrations are so alluring to a young child and taught me an appreciation for art and an understanding of colour. The caterpillar’s meals are organised by days of the week and by numerical quantities, which taught me about time and mathematics. The different categories of food in the book (fruit, meat, sweets etc) taught me about food groups and the importance of a balanced diet. The caterpillar’s life cycle is explained in a simple enough way for children to grasp the basics of biology, and this fun-filled description of a caterpillar’s life cycle stuck in my mind throughout my childhood. In short, this story is so full of information about the world around us that it should be on the National Curriculum.

It is also the interactive potential of this book that makes it special. Eric Carle has created a book that the child can actively participate in reading and with a little imagination, many craft activities such as collage-making can be undertaken in a primary school classroom. The book’s simple text can also be used to teach basic concepts of English language to non-native speakers, or translated into other languages, can help high school students to learn the basics of French or German in a much more interesting way than recitation and grammar exercises. The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s strength is in its simplicity and relevance to almost every aspect of a child’s early learning. Eric Carle is a delightful author and all of his books are worth reading and using in a teaching environment. To discover his whole catalogue, visit here.

Now, go forth and read, teach and enjoy. What’s on your childhood bookshelf?

Image reproduced from http://www.thetwincoach.com

Tigger on the Couch

London Life Coach & Relationship Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams reviews “Tigger on the Couch”, a book that looks at mental health problems and personality disorders using fairy tales and children’s stories. Follow Sloan on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s website www.sloansw.com

When I was first introduced to this book I was very impressed at the way Laura James approached the concept of mental health problems , an angle so inventive that it avoided the stigma so often associated with disorders such as schizophrenia, addictions, histrionics and ADHD to name just a few.

I found her case studies witty and amusing revealing many mental health issues that trouble my clients enabling me to provide them with metaphors that they could relate to.

Fairy tales are often used in many cultures to help children grown up with a set of values/morals that help them navigate this very difficult world. Likewise it is my belief that Laura James’ book Tigger on the Couch allows adults to circumvent the pitfalls that life puts before us.

I often tell my clients their life is a screenplay as them as the star and it is the leading man or lady complete with flaws and problems that are not only interesting but that we can learn a lot from. To emphasise this point I find myself recounting some of the case studies in Laura James’ book Tigger on the Couch to which I have had very successful responses.

Without going into too much detail as I really think this book is useful to all whether it is understanding yourself, your friends, your colleagues or even your partner, I have chosen a few of my favourite stories from the book to share with you.

One of my favourite books is Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne and who can not fall in love with Tigger with his continual excitability bouncing around in fantastically fun interaction with a large variety of people. However on a closer psychological analysis as Laura James points put, Tigger’s constant bouncing, running, climbing, fidsgeting and overall hyperactivity not to mention his irresponsible attitude which results not only in consequences for himself but for his friends is a clear sugn of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder most likely of the Impulsive type. For example, Tigger often arrives at Pooh’s house in the middle of the night unable to control his impulses. This type of behaviour reeks of a disordered individual as someone without Tigger’s disorder would have known it is more appropriate to visit during the day or call first. Tigger also makes bold statements, impulsively claims whatever food he is offered is his favourite, gulping down large mouthfuls only to find he doesn’t like it at all. Add to that Tigger’s poor impulse control which he often exhibits by the belief he can do anything having no sense of fear or responsibility.

ADHD is generally managed with behavioural therapy and/or medication however using Tigger as an example to patients with ADHD shows that even the most annoying of habits can be managed under and are lovable qualities as is Tigger.
Another favourite character of mine is Cinderella, although her early life was happily spent with her parents after her mother’s tragic death and her father remarrying the most awful of step-mothers with two evil step-sisters to boot it was no surprise that Cinderella began to lead a life needing to please everyone but herself. This sis very common in SF (Sensory-Feeling) typology however we have little detail on Cinderella’s MBTI data. Either way using Laura James’ analysis or my suggestion of SF typology, it is very clear that Cinderella has lost touch with her own emotions and thus suffers from Approval Addiction. Although Cinderella took her step-mother’s rejection hard, more often than not in situations like this the Approval Addicted client if more upset that her blood relative (in this case her father) did not protect her therefore allowing her to be treated in an abusive manner.

Until the point where Cinderella meets her prince (i.e. has contact outside the family unit) she has yet to build up the self-esteem to confront her step-mother with reference to the unfairness of the situation. Although more often than not Cinderella is seen as the epitome of a love story, from a psychologist’s perspective all she has done is create a drama triangle where she continues to play the role of the victim casting her step-mother in the role of villan and putting her prince on a pedestal in the role of rescuer. This pattern is often seen in people with low self-esteem and/or children who develop coping strategies to enable order and peace in the household by ensuring they please everyone. In playing such a game it is impossible not to lose one’s self. Using Cinderella as an example to clients, it enables the therapist to help the Approval Addicted client to set up firm boundaries for themselves and others, confronting any issues that surface, making peace with the past and moving on.

Laura James also talks about other fairy tale favourites such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz, Goldilocks, Pippi Longstocking and Willy Wonka to name just a few.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the checklist/exercise at the back of each section which allows you to work out which character you are most like and in theory which personality disorder you are more likely to have, if any. Although the checklists are fun I would urge anyone to make sure any disorder was properly diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist before any attempt at self medicating.

Having said that, this book is a fantastic read. Its witty case studies really help you understand yourself and others and I highly recommend it.

Images reproduced from greeneheaton.co.uk, piscitella.com and kidzcoolzone.com

Film Review – The Hobbit

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

It has been nine years since the final instalment of one of cinema’s finest movie trilogies. Nine years of DVD and Blu-Ray releases, box sets, director’s cuts, and extended editions. In that time, The Lord of the Rings has become one of the most-loved, most appreciated series of films for men and women of all ages, and, along with the Harry Potter series, has helped to rekindle a love of literature that, at one point, seemed to dissipate for an entire generation. So now, after nearly a decade of pre-production hell, which included director changes, production company bankruptcy, schedule changes to incorporate the right actor, and an array of other nightmares to deal with, Peter Jackson’s latest journey into Middle Earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has got a lot to live up to.

Before there is any delving into the plotline, whether the 3D version is better than standard 2D, or whether the choice of filming in 48fps (frames per second) was beneficial or not, there must be a look at the original masterpiece in its original form. A fantastic children’s book, exploring one (half)man’s journey from mundanity to adventure, proving that any man, no matter their size, can make all the difference in the world. Inspirational, innovative, and incredibly entertaining, regardless of what your age is when you choose to read it. But at just under three hundred pages, or just over, depending on the edition, it is hard to understand how it is going to be made into three (yes, three) three-hour films.

Originally, or so legend says, Peter Jackson wanted to make two films, working very closely to the formula of the original book. However there was one point, which most likely happened during the aforementioned pre-production misery, where the trilogy was decided upon, filling all filmgoers, those who have read and fell in love with the book, with trepidation about how one-hundred pages of book are going to remain entertaining over three hours, and not stray too far from the original plot. For most, it did not seem possible.

But now, almost a month after The Hobbit’s release into the UK, it can be said that it has, in fact, been done incredibly well. For any naysayers that are still out there, do not doubt any longer. The start of this trilogy is not one to be frowned upon anymore.

The film starts, quite nicely, with an elderly Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), the same Bilbo Baggins we meet in The Fellowship of the Ring, beginning his detailed account of when he ventured on a battle to fight the deadly dragon Smaug in his younger years. Is this different from the book? Yes. A letdown? Not in the slightest.

Without giving too much away – for those who are still not in-tune with author J.R.R. Tolkien’s original plotting – what the film then supplies is a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) journeying with dwarves, battling with goblins, being subject to a battle between stone giants, and meeting a very menacing Gollum, all whilst on his journey to help his new friends claim back their stolen home from a dragon.

Unsurprisingly, this film is going to be forever compared to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and there is not much that can be done to change that. However, the most finite piece of advice that can be given to anybody about to view this film is: forget everything that you know about the original epics. This is nowhere near the same level of intensity that they incorporated. Much like the book, this is a film, primarily, for children. It is whimsical, there is a lot more buffoonery, the fight scenes have a jovial nature, and there are not the intense elements of fear and danger that consistently appeared through its predecessors. It is a fun film, and there is not a lot more than can be said about that.

There are elements of the film that could, potentially, be improved. Whereas in the book, the band of dwarves had clear personalities and moments, which made them all stand out from the others, here they all mesh into one, with only one or two having unique moments. Furthermore, including characters such as Saruman The White (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) could have been culled. Albeit they are good to make subtle nods to The Hobbit’s predecessors, their overall purpose seemed only to be to convince die-hard fans that the film is not a perfect representation of the book they adore.

Overall, this film should get a lot more praise than it has had. For three-hours, it does well as a very entertaining piece of cinema. There are, as with a lot of modern films, times when the pace could be picked up, and areas where the CGI could be improved. Nonetheless, this does stand as a very enjoyable film. Will its two sequels be as entertaining? In two years time, we are sure to find out.

I Read “Mummy Porn” Before It Was Cool

My first foray in the world of adult literature was at the young age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me a huge stack of Mills & Boons novels to read. At the time my reading and spelling abilities were below the average for my age and my mother assured me that reading filth would help.

Being young and slightly innocent, I had no knowledge of Mills & Boons but my older sister quickly informed me that they were basically pornographic fiction. Back then I knew what sex was, well the basics, but Mills & Boons open my eyes into a sub-culture of sex that I didn’t know existed.

The ever growing popularity of the international best seller 50 Shades of Grey has put filthy literature back on the map (and I use the term literature very loosely). Now this article is not another comical analysis of why 50 Shades of Grey sucks. In fact seeing as I haven’t nor do I have any immediate plans to read into the hype, I feel my critique on the new craze will be based on my bias and love of real literature and the classics.

Still I can’t help but read the humorous criticisms and laugh where appropriate. I have read some of the best/worst lines from the book and I have come to the conclusion that it is simply not my cup of tea but I can’t judge those millions who have drank from Mr Grey’s dirty cup.

As a budding writer, I hope to one day publish a novel that will receive great success and I owe my passion for this vocation to those filthy Mills & Boons novels that my mother made me read all those years ago. The first class honours degree in Creative Writing and Journalism that I recently received is proof that reading filth helped me one way or the other. No, it didn’t help me become a better writer but it stirred a fascination for the written word in me that has motivated me to write and read every single day.

When I think of Mills & Boons, literature is the last thing that comes to mind but those books educated me on the basics of language and filled me with the confidence to read more literary advance works by authors like Dickens, Wolfe, Plath and others and so for this I am eternally grateful that those filthy books exist.

It is for this reason that despite my distaste that society and mainstream media feels the need to a praise a piece of work that originated as fan fiction for a boring and poorly written novel, (I didn’t finish Twilight but seeing as I read some of it, I think it’s appropriate to comment), the eleven year old in me feels the need to somewhat defend it.

To me E.L. James and writers like her aren’t authors, they are entrepreneurs who saw a gap in the writing market and capitalised on it and for that they deserve much respect. As a writer, I still haven’t made £50 from my fiction yet James as made $50million to date. Now I do not envy James for this, I’m happy for her, after all the purpose of writing is to be read and she has certainly achieved this thing that many writers, who are probably far more talented than James have failed to do.

When I finally make a name for myself as a writer and people ask me about my literary history, for me it will start with Mills & Boons not Catcher in the rye or The Great Gatsby, it will be some filthy novel with a title that I cannot remember and I and fine with that.

Stephenie Meyer inspired James to make $50 million; I hope one day my fascination for literature which began with Mills & Boons will inspire me to also achieve some kind of greatness.

I guess what I am trying to say is that these ‘mummy porn’ novels as they have been dubbed by the media are gate-way books into literature. For an aspiring writer like myself, I couldn’t be more delighted that people have become fascinated with books again, even if their fascination begins with 50 Shades of Grey.

Winter Wordfest: 50 Years of Private Eye

Charming, educating and amusing its audience with a diverse and colourful program, Winter Wordfest descended upon the ADC theatre on Sunday 27th November in a celebration of Literature.

New and established writers covered a whole range of exciting genres in one day, these included; Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who discussed his book, Back From The Brink, 1000 Day’s Living At Number 11, Gordon Brown and Britain’s financial crisis; Clare Tomalin with her new biography on Charles Dickens, published for his 200th Birthday; Peter Popham thrilled the audience by analysing his vibrant book ‘The Lady And The Peacock ‘, which illuminated the Burmese female Politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, who served a prison sentence for twenty one years; Indian poet, novelist and travel writer Vikram Seth, charmed a packed theatre on his love of Chinese poetry and his new book The Rivered Earth ; Columnist and author David Baddiel joked on stage about his fourth novel, The Death of Eli Gold, he also had to mention his love of football and stand – up comedy.

It’s not fair to say Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen headlined the day, but due to their ticket sales it became very obvious they were the festival favorites, as they celebrated the 50th birthday of Private Eye Magazine, which also ended the successful event. The pair also agreed to do a second slot earlier in the day, as Diana Athill had to withdraw for health reasons.

According to ADC – ‘Tickets for Winter Wordfest went on sale to the general public last Friday (28th October) and it was our most successful opening day ever. In less than half an hour, our event with Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen marking the 50th anniversary of Private Eye had sold out, breaking Box Office records at the ADC Theatre’.

Adam MacQueen

The virtually unknown Adam MacQueen and author of the book ‘Private Eye The First 50 Years’, has worked for the satirical fortnightly magazine for the past 14 years, written two novels, been part of the editorial team of Popbitch.com (I’m not slightly embarrassed that I’ve never heard of this website before) and was acting editor of the Big Issue, so its obvious he’s very successful in his own right.

Without taking any credit away from Adam, it must be nice to know your book will be an instant seller before you write the first word. Having Ian Hislop to promote your book must be reassuring to say the least. Ian admitted ‘ The book was completely down to Adam, I had virtually nothing to do with putting it together’.

Wearing a pin-stripped suit that looked to big for him, and scrunching his face up like a public school boy as he laughed, it was obvious to see how proud Ian Hislop was of the magazine, as he answered questions from Adam about working at the Eye, and the ups and downs of the previous two and a half decades as the Editor.

‘ Do you like your job?’ asks Adam,

‘No I bloody hate it’ was the immediate retort, before the trademark smile and possibly only un-sarcastic comment of the evening, ‘No it’s great, of course I love it’.

Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop then told the story about Peter Cook’s (the late owner of Private Eye) ‘finest hour’. Ian explains, ‘ Robert Maxwell, the then proprietor of the Daily Mirror had got the Eye removed from newsstands over a potential libel, and was planning to print a million copies of a rival magazine called “Not Private Eye”.

Ian told how his loyal team set about sinking Not Private Eye, by sending a crate of whisky to the journalists working on it, which was ‘Cook’s ingenious idea’. Later they drove around to the Mirror’s London HQ to find all their journalists, ‘totally legless’ in Maxwell’s office.

Ian reminisced how he and his gang had grabbed a dummy front cover of the Not Private Eye, who’s front page claimed Ian had been, ‘approaching young boys on Hampstead Heath, which was totally untrue – it was Clapham Common’, he confidently joked.

Peter then orders a crate of Champagne from The Daily Mirrors catering and then phoned Robert Maxwell himself from New York, laughing down the phone shouting, ‘Hello Captain Bob, guess where we are’. Just before security threw them all out.

Whilst not claiming to be Private Eye’s number one fan, I have had a subscription for the past six months, as a way of learning and trying to impress my friends about Politics, Super Injunctions, The Leverson Inquiry and Rupert Murdoch’s mess, without being bored to death. Private Eye seemed a great and cheap way to do this, as an issue only costs £1.50. Nevertheless I have found on occasions some articles slightly long-winded and pointless. This is probably down to the fact I don’t have the strongest grip on British politics to understand where some of the jokes are. However this new book is an excellent way to see what scoops the magazine has covered, as they have specialised in gossip and mis-deeds of the powerful and famous over the past 50 years. I can see many of these books being animatedly ripped open from devoted Private Eye readers stockings this Christmas.

Images reproduced from cambridgewordfest.co.uk

Buyers Guide: Amazon Kindle

Summer is here and to me that means one thing… holidays! When I think of a holiday, I think of books. Whether you’re going to Europe, America, the Caribbean or more tropical climes this summer, I’m sure most of you will be stuffing a few paperbacks in your suitcase to read while you’re basking in the sunshine by the pool or on the beach. With the introduction of Amazon’s revolutionary Kindle and Kindle 3G you now have thousands of books at your fingertips.

Every year airport bookstores get a huge influx of travellers in July and August who are looking for books to while away the time. Although this uplift in sales is great for stores like WH Smith, the average traveller often finds that their chosen reading material takes up quite a bit of space – especially if like many of my friends you are a speed reader. It can get to the stage that you’ve got a paperback squirreled away in every bulging pocket of your luggage.

Thankfully there is now a solution for those who are tired of lugging around handfuls of paperbacks. The Amazon Kindle has come to the rescue. This handy device is a godsend to any literary traveller as it weighs a mere 247g – which is much lighter than the average paperback. What’s more, the Kindle is capable of storing up to 3500 books. That wasn’t a typo. I said 3500! The Kindle is unashamedly the size of an impressive library and yet comes in a compact hand held package that will satisfy even the most avid of readers at home and abroad.

The Kindle comes in two versions. The standard Kindle costs only £111. If you want 3G wireless functionality – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t these days – then you can purchase the Kindle 3G for £152. That may sound a bit high but is the same price as a good iPod. More importantly, once you have the Kindle 3G in your grasp you have the benefit of being able to access thousands of titles within minutes from Amazon. In fact, Amazon proudly boost that you can “think of a book and start reading it in 60 seconds”. That’s a hell of a lot faster than the time it would take you to shop at a regular airport bookstore and avoids those tiresome never-ending queues that we’ve all had to put up with time and time again at the airport. Now with the Kindle you have a whole bookstore to yourself and you’re only a few quick clicks away from the bestseller list or your favourite authors and genres.

Other features of the Kindle which will interest you are:

  • Kindle screens can be read clearly in direct sunlight – perfect during summer sun!
  • Kindle has up to one month battery life – handy on those 14 night holidays!
  • Kindle 3G has no monthly bills or annual contracts – you only pay for the books downloaded!

You can learn more about the Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk.

For the fashionistas out there or just those who want to protect their precious little Kindle, there is a wide range of jackets out there in dozens of designs and finishes to keep your Kindle safe and sound. My favourite are the leather jackets available at Amazon – right now there is a special Kindle Summer Promotion at Amazon where you can get 20% off any Amazon Kindle cover with your Kindle or Kindle 3G purchase.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to buy your very own literary powerhouse and get ready for a whole new reading experience that will change the way you buy and read books forever!

Image reproduced from news.cnet.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / burkeswim