Libraries, Lotto and Land Ownership

Oh Heck Yes

Mortgages do funny things to people. Apart from the direct result of owning a block of land, it caused two strange reactions in me.

Firstly, I started buying scratchies.

There’s nothing like staring down 25 years of debt to suddenly imbue someone with the irrational belief that they’ll get the winning ticket. After laughing at my Father for buying Lotto tickets, I’m one step away from doing it myself (scratchies are a gateway drug, kind of like the marijuana of gambling). Apparently I’m more likely to be struck by lightning or become infected by malaria – but it doesn’t matter. The precious will be mine!

Secondly, I’ve joined the library.

I resisted this. I didn’t think I could do the ‘deadline’ thing. I’m the kind of person who buys a book and either reads it immediately or leaves it on a shelf to wait for a few years. My problem is that I come across so much interesting stuff to read that my attention is always being swept along by a fast tide.* But I’ve decided to harden up on that.

I also emoed out about not being able to stare at all the books I’ve read. I know I’m sad, but it’s true. The idea of giving it back afterwards and not being able to stare at its creased spine triumphantly was daunting. It’s also daunting that when I do eventually buy the books I really enjoyed that they will be pristine on the shelf – the dreaded sign of the book poser!(You know the person I’m talking about. They have all the classics in clear view on their book shelf, but they are mysteriously unspoilt)

But unrelenting self-imposed poverty is…well, unrelenting (25 years for God’s sake!). And I finally cracked. So I joined the Newcastle City Library, which is located on Laman Street (behind the fig trees everyone is arguing about lately).

Libraries are strange places. They are generally majestic on the outside and then slightly dingy once you walk past the entrance. They mainly care for the less fashionable in society – those that don’t have the income to purchase their own books, such as the elderly, the unemployed, poor university students and children. Yet they are one of the most important institutions in any functioning democracy, alongside the free press. Venerable and unassuming, all at once. Continue reading

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Some Thoughts On The Bible….

I’ve been reading the King James version of The Bible for a little while now. I chose the King James because I was Christianed as a protestant (Church of England), so I thought I may as well go with The Bible most relevant to me. Also, I don’t like how the simplified Bibles, such as the New International Edition, get rid of thou/thee and unto. It’s all about the ‘unto’; it makes The Bible so much more atmospheric.

About a year ago, I made a blog called ‘Reading The Bible: An Atheist’s Experience’, and was going to post my thoughts and opinions on each book of the bible (For instance, I would have written 50 posts for the entirety of Genesis). But I found other blogs that were doing this and their conclusions just came across to me as crude, unintelligent and reductionist. So I decided against making the blog, closed it down and have continued reading The Bible without comment. At the moment I am up to Exodus 13. This isn’t really a review of The Bible – once I started reading it I realised that it is impossible to review something with so much content and history – I just want to discuss some of the things that have crossed my mind so far. I’ll probably do some more ‘random thoughts’ posts like this once I’ve read more.

The reason that I started reading The Bible is that I find ignorance inexcusable. This quote I think explains some of my anxieties about the lack of biblical knowledge amongst people my age:

‘Those who teach college students today see first hand the effect of these practices, … in the diminished store of their knowledge about the cultural traditions they are supposed to inherit. With the collapse of religion, biblical references, which formerly penetrated deep into everyday awareness, have become incomprehensible, and the same thing is now happening to the literature and mythology of antiquity – indeed, to the entire literature of the West, which has always drawn so heavily on biblical and classical sources. In the space of two or three generations, enormous stretches of the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’, so invoked by educators but so seldom taught in any form, have passed into oblivion. The effective loss of cultural traditions on such a scale makes talk of a new Dark Age far from frivolous.” – Pg 150, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch.

When I read this quote it really put into words something that I hadn’t been able to express. Modern curriculums are designed to be more inclusive – in English I learnt about all sorts of liberal concepts, such as ‘inner journeys’ and ‘aggression and the individual’ – but the courses were devoid of a solid foundation, which is the study of literature, in particular the classics (in my High School’s defence, they were pretty good with Shakespeare. We read ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Othello’, other classes did ‘Romeo and Juliet’). The result is that my generation has effectively been severed from its own culture in some ways, which is very tragic. I have many more thoughts on how the well-meaning, but idiotic curriculums designed by liberally minded intellectuals have negatively effected education, but that is for another post.

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What have I been reading? 2011 Edition!

Christmas brought me a bounty of reading material; much to my father’s chagrin. My Christmas presents were all fiction as well, as I have been trying to beat down my non-fiction bias lately. Here’s some of the books I’ve got through lately.

  • Dead Aid – Dambisa Moyo
  • Raising My Voice – Malalai  Joya
  • Voices of the Fire – Alan Moore
  • From Hell – Alan Moore
  • The Case of the Pope – Geoffrey Robertson QC
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Bill Bryson
  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John Le Carre
  • The Constant Gardener – John Le Carre
  • The Man In The High Castle – Philip K Dick
  • The Fox/The Captain’s Doll/The Ladybird – D H Lawrence
  • The Culture of Narcissism – Christopher Lasch
  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

And I have to whinge about something. What is it about critics and making careless mistakes? I finished John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ the other day and decided to have a look in ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ to see what they had to say on the subject.

The author of this particular column (EF apparently) harped on about the symbolic death of the american dream and other hyperbolic fancies, before giving a short synopsis about the wrong characters. It was Candy who wanted to move in with George and Lennie, not Slim. IT WAS CANDY!

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Fusion Junction: Queen of Arts

Publisher: ABDOTC Publishing

Date Published: 2008

Pages: 116

Size: 12.3″ by 9.5″ (Hardcover)

Artwork by Female Illustrators

‘How wrong it is for women to expect the man to build  the world she wants, rather than set out to create it herself.’ – Anais Nin

 The Fusion Junction series returns, this time with an all female line up in the special ‘Queen of Arts’ edition. Published in the same year as ‘Fusion Junction 3’, ‘Queen of Arts’ retains the format of featuring four artists and including brief interviews afterwards. (For reviews on the previous books, click here for FJ1, FJ2 and FJ3)

The selection is reasonably diverse in culture as well as technique. Two of the artists, Maggi and Nox (who return from Fusion Junction 1), represent modern Korean game art. Saskia and Loish hail from western europe – Germany and Holland respectively.


Maggi is first in the line up (real name Jeong Won An, aged 26). Her style is a highly palatable pseudo Victorian amalgamation, as if she is re-imagining western europe with a hundred times more frills and bows. Her character design is decadent, with a high attention to detail, however she tones down some of the outfits by rendering them in whites, grays and warm browns. This helps to balance the embellishment, lest it get overwhelming. On show here is mainly her individual character designs, though a few ‘picture’ artworks are featured. Some of the artworks look a little unfinished though, in particular the facial details need to be sharpened. Continue reading

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A Room Of One’s Own

Author: Virginia Woolf

Publisher: Penguin

Date Published: 1928

Pages: 112

I bought ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ for three reasons. Firstly, it was $10; who can say no to such prices? Secondly, Virginia Woolf possibly has one of the most bad arse names of the century (it sounds like she’s from a comic book – and packing heat). Thirdly, I felt as if I owed the feminist literary movement some page time. It was more of a ‘I should read this, I owe you’ feeling, rather than a burning desire.

But I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it that much. Part of this was due to my expectations – and let me be frank here – I was expecting a whiny tone and a vehement polemic rather than a discussion. I was imagining something akin to that special group amongst the modern feminist circle; the well off, white, liberal intelligentsia who have little grip on reality but a very low threshold for being offended.

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To review or not to review?

What you see on this blog is the result of some pretty random circumstances. Some of my favorite books are on here, and some of my favorites sit quietly on my shelf, and might never to be reviewed.

There have been some books where I felt it wasn’t right to review them; Anne Frank’s Diary is one of them. I just didn’t feel good critiquing the writing efforts of a 14 year old Holocaust victim. Yet, I reviewed Malcolm X and Gandhi, authors who have both met tragic ends at the hands of extremists.

Other books are so daunting that I just can’t do it. This generally happens when I love a book – I find that I’m paralysed because I fear I won’t be able to adequately portray why its so special or do the book justice (finishing the Paradise Lost review was a miracle. I’m not sure how I did it, but the review still pales in comparison to my love of the book and explaining the epicness of John Milton). Some books that fall into this category are Nausicaa by Hayao Miyazaki, Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and The Once and Future King by T H White. I also tend to find fiction harder to review than non-fiction, hence why two thirds of my reviews are of the latter.

There are some  books that are so heinously shit that it would be a waste of time to review them. All I would be doing is slagging the book off without any form of discussion or insight. Other books are neither here nor there, and there just isn’t anything interesting to say about them.

Another more mundane reason why I don’t review some books is that I finish them and don’t make notes fast enough (‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson is an example). I can’t remember succinctly the exact points I wanted to make and which sections I wanted to quote. I promise myself that when I read them again I will make notes and write a review; but I probably won’t read them again for years because my reading list is so huge. I wonder if other people with blogs have the same kind of occurances.

Anyway, here is a list of books I have completed lately. Hopefully they will pass through the trials I’ve mentioned above and make it to this blog:

  • A Walk In The Woods – Bill Bryson
  • At Home – Bill Bryson
  • Breaking the Sound Barrier – Amy Goodman
  • Standing Up to Madness – Amy Goodman
  • Static – Amy Goodman
  • The Exception to the Rulers – Amy Gooman
  • Through the Narrow Gate – Karen Armstrong
  • The Spiral Staircase – Karen Armstrong
  • Civilisation and Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud
  • A Thirsty Evil – Gore Vidal
  • Empire of Illusion – Chris Hedges
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The Origin of Species

Author: Charles Darwin

Publisher: Penguin

Date Published: 1869

Pages: 459

I have finally finished ‘The Origin of Species’, a book that is still so controversial that a movie about Darwin’s life couldn’t even find distribution in the United States. It took me over a year to finish.

‘The Origin of Species’ is about the means in which evolution occurs; Natural Selection. Through descent and modification Darwin shows how flora and fauna has drastically changed throughout time. (For the most part I adopted my ‘David Attenborough’ inner monologue while reading this book, which I recommend as highly effective and agreeable).

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Gandhi: An Autobiography

The Story of My Experiments With Truth

Author: M.K Gandhi

Publisher: Penguin

Date Published: 1927-1929

Pages: 454

Gandhi succeeded in uniting India in a national movement and did as much in the first half of the twentieth century as any other single individual to change the course of history. In this classic autobiography, first published under the title ‘The Story of My Experiments With Truth’, he recounts the story of his life from boyhood and child marriage, through the first stirrings of non-violent protest in South Africa to the early phase of his part in India’s fight for independence.

I came to this book in what I suspect is the most common way for westerners – I watched Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’. I am not a person who is generally moved by stories about ‘do-gooders’, as they are usually characterised by idolising the subject beyond the reality of their own humanity. But there was something about ‘Gandhi’ that interested me. His advocation of non-violence and his ability to inspire others to risk their life for this ideal was new to me.*

‘The Story of My Experiments With Truth’ is about Gandhi’s physical, social and personal experiments in cultivating purity and removing any falsehood from himself and those around him. This is the emotional journey that led him to be capable of the public brilliance he is renowned for.  These goals and experiments are described in great detail, particularly his self imposed dieting, fasting and abstinence. Though the book loosely follows chronological events Gandhi often side tracks to explain concepts about his spiritual quest for Truth in great detail (especially in the latter half), rather than focusing on events of historical precedence. Truth is the central theme and the elusive guiding force of this autobiography. ‘Satyagraha In South Africa’ would be better for readers who are interested in a chronological recount (Gandhi even notes this himself).

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Have You Ever Wondered What Paedophiles Do With Their Spare Time?

Apparently between their jobs and abusing children they read book reviews – or more pointedly book reviews of Lolita. (Some would see this as befitting Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, others as ironic).

I bring this up because it is really interesting what you learn about the world, or more precisely the shady back streets of the internet, when you start a blog. Often what you post doesn’t reach the audience you imagined or brings in a different kind entirely.

Since publishing the Lolita review I have unfortunately learnt that the (ever so wacky) Japanese have an entire comic genre dedicated to the animated fondling of children, named ‘Lolita’ or sometimes ‘Lolicon’, and that I have brought the interests of that audience to my website accidentally. Fantastic, isn’t it?

The top searches for my site end up being:

american psycho
gothic lolita
magic lolita
black magic

Some of these are due to the Gothic Lolita fashion style and the book review I did of it, but also amongst this are things like lolita sex, lolita rape, underground lolita, lolita incest, naked lolita and many other weird combos of the word Lolita. This rabid preoccupation for Lolita on the internet has probably given me half my traffic (*hangs head in exasperation*), but most of them probably would have realised the post was about an actual book and closed the window immediately anyway (thank god!).

Anyway, Lolita remains my most popular post (with probably 1% being readers interested in the book). My top five rating book reviews are:

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
American Psycho – Bret Easton Elis
Black Magic, White Noise
Cooking: A Commonsense Guide
Fusion Junction 1

It is surprising what is and isn’t popular amongst your posts. You’ll find that something you thought would definitely bring in the crowds, such as Presidential Material: Barack Obama (during the election season) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover goes cold (who doesn’t like reading about ladies getting off with gamekeepers?). Others that are seemingly obscure, such as ‘Black Magic, White Noise’ and Mucha, receive a great response. Though I have never bothered planning my reviews around what I thought would get good hits (I just write about books that produce some kind of response in me), I now know that even if I had tried I would have failed miserably. It’s utterly unpredictable.

My sister is bugging me to read Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series because she thinks I will get a lot of hits – but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Not only have I already been told the entire story, been forced to watch the first few movies (which were terrible), I’ve also read about two pages of my friend’s copy of the first book. It was average writing at best – only a person who doesn’t read anything would be impressed by it. I couldn’t be bothered wasting precious hours of my reading and living time on it.

So what have we learned? Mostly that people on the internet are not really interested in politics or 20th century industrialised England, but they are very fond of cartoon kiddie porn, psychotics, vampires and cooking. Seems about correct.

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Cooking For Friends

Publisher: Harper Collins

Date Published: 2008

Pages: 272

‘As a chef, I work at a thousand miles an hour, but when I’m at home I want to slow down.’

My Father received this book for his birthday, but although he cooks like a madman he doesn’t actually use cookbooks and he hates Gordon Ramsay with a passion (present FAIL!). We don’t own any of his books or watch his TV shows, so this is my first intimate experience with his franchise. ‘Cooking For Friends’ is meant to be a look into what Gordon prefers to cook at home for his family and friends.

The introduction comes across as contradictory, disingenuous and strangely random. He makes a point of talking about his family life, despite a very public affair. I have no idea whether Ramsay is or isn’t a good parent, but it seems a bit rich yapping about how ‘his kids do the washing up’ (eg. ‘keeping it real’) while he is apparently doing his part by chasing skirt. He also makes a point of complaining about trendy food and venerating traditional British dishes before including a recipe for Pear Tart Tartin (perhaps the most ‘Frenchest’ and triendiest dessert at the moment in the restaurant world).  

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