Books

Wasn’t there a book written about this?

“Is it really likely that the average person of African ancestry is cognitively impaired when compared to the average white person?” David S. Jones, a Harvard historian and medical ethicist, told Vox. “I can’t think of how that could actually be true. And the assumption that it is true just sounds like white supremacist racism to me. We need to subject any claims like this to really strict scrutiny.”

Not that anyone is supposed to have ever read that book, so hateful was it. But the argument has, I’m sure, been made. And rather than not being able to think of how that could be true, why not read it to see if it is?

Circularity

In non-fiction writing, Asimov particularly admired the writing style of Martin Gardner, and tried to emulate it in his own science books. On meeting Gardner for the first time in 1965, Asimov told him this, to which Gardner answered that he had based his own style on Asimov’s.

Well, they’re right, it does

To Kill A Mockingbird will no longer be taught to pupils at a secondary school after teachers claimed the book promotes a “white saviour” narrative.

That the person Atticus saves is Atticus – his soul, doing the right thing and all that – might make it worse for the race baiters…..

Book antirecommendation

Prisoners of Geography
Tim Marshall

Don’t bother.

It says it’s about ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics. It ends up being half a paragraph on a map – for Russia, the existence of the Northern European Plain – followed by 15 pages of lightly digested Economist editorials.

A useful test of a book is whether, having read it, you think you can have done it better. I’ll admit that it passes this for I couldn’t have done it better. Don’t have the stomach to read enough Economist editorials to collect the necessary number of third hand opinions to regurgitate.

Modern literature

Through a series of beautifully observed novels that deftly map the fractures of the contemporary world – Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah – Adichie has become one of the most eloquent voices of anglophone Africa. She has also become a fierce protagonist in debates over racism, feminism and free speech.

Much of Adichie’s work wrestles with questions of identity in a globalised world and, in particular, what it means to be black and to be a woman. In a world of contested identities, this has inevitably drawn her into a number of controversies, most notably with trans activists. Last week, she published a three-part essay entitled It Is Obscene, which went viral, picked up by newspapers across the world. The essay is both a passionate defence of herself against her critics and a blistering polemical reflection on the state of public debate today.

I actually read this thing, It Is Obscene. And, well, I thought it terribly weak, very lily livered, and I desperately wanted the writer to come out and say what they were actually bothered about.

No, I don’t mean in my sense of a resort of Anglo Saxonisms. Rather, well, OK, but what’s the beef? Can you please be clear about this?

Then again, I clearly don’t write literature and there might well be that interesting reason why I don’t read it either. Which is that it keeps striking me as being very weak, entirely lily livered.

Idiot, idiot, stupidity

It has taken nearly a decade to research and write, and runs to more than 750 pages. But The History Makers, described as “an epic exploration of those who write about the past”, has itself been rewritten after its author failed to take into account enough black historians, academics and writers.

The complaints are that he’s ignored black history. Which isn’t what he was writing about, rather, about writers of history. And the impact of writers of history is going to be reliant upon how many people read them, not the history itself that happened.

Sigh.

Inflation

Back in that golden age of the pulp magazines – the 1950s – the rate was penny per word. That’s why the novels of that Dianetics guy are so wordy.

Just seen an ad for sci-fi romance writers. Penny per word……

What inflation?

What trust?

“When S&S chose to sign Mike Pence, we broke the public’s trust in our editorial process, and blatantly contradicted previous public claims in support of Black and other lives made vulnerable by structural oppression,” it said.

Rather up themselves, aren’t they?

So allegations are enough these days then?

The publisher of a highly anticipated and widely discussed biography of Philip Roth is pulling the book and cutting ties with author Blake Bailey, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

WW Norton and Company, which previously released Bailey’s 2014 memoir The Splendid Things We Planned, said on Tuesday it was “permanently putting out of print our editions of Philip Roth: The Biography and The Splendid Things We Planned … Mr Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses.”

It also said it would match the amount of Bailey’s book advance to donate to “organisations that fight against sexual assault or harassment and work to protect survivors”.

Presumably Marx is about to go out of print then. He did, after all, groom Helene Demuth into giving him a son – she was a servant, that was a position of power and authority over her.

Or doesn’t it work that way?

Hmm

A panel of US lawmakers has advanced a decades-long effort to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves by approving legislation that would create a commission to study the issue.

After an impassioned debate, the House judiciary committee voted by 25-17 to advance the bill late on Wednesday, marking the first time that it has acted on the legislation.

The bill will now be considered by the House and Senate but prospects for final passage remain poor in a closely divided Congress.

The legislation would establish a commission to examine slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present. The commission would then recommend ways to educate Americans about its findings and appropriate remedies, including how the government would offer a formal apology and what form of compensation should be awarded.

Perhaps I should write up those notes I’ve got for a book on how the correct amount of slavery reparations is zero – after the schools and education system have been reformed?

On missing Alan Coren

The starting point for many an Alan Coren feuilleton was some scrap of a story from a newspaper. Which then triggered the soaring flight of fancy. The discovery that perhaps the Pentateuch really was written by the one person led to a quite wondrous story of how Moses and Aaron had to get it together overnight for example.

At which point:

MIT scientists hope to talk to spiders after creating music from their webs

We can imagine varied basic jokes here. Can’t they tune the damn thing? Or never did like modern jazz perhaps. Or an extended play upon Chinese whispers. The difficulty, the thing missed by the absence of Coren, is the 1200 words playing upon that joke, each line of which adds to it.

As is so often true in the wider world, ideas are easy, it’s execution that matters.

Ah…..yes…..

His 30-plus books include the novel Nicely Nurdled, Sir!, a homage to his lifelong love of cricket, and From the Sea End, a history of Sussex County Cricket Club, as well as The Bath Detective, a whodunnit trilogy.

He got a certain aspect of Bath right, certain characters even. Not necessarily people you understand, but ways in which corners of the place worked, characters being a hole for a person to exist in if you get me.

As whodunnits not that great to be honest.

W’RWPTPWTCAIFO

We’re well past the point where the correct answer is fuck off.

The acclaimed author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has pulled out of translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, after their publisher was criticised for picking a writer for the role who was not also Black.

Job ads

So, looking at writing job ads – one job I was doing just fell through – and they’re asking for romance writers.

Well, every writer always wonders whether they can write a Mills and Boon. So, a little more research and it’s for interactive romances. Read a bit, the set up, then the reader makes a decision and it passes down one line of the plot tree. Almost all in dialogue.

OK.

To the examples and – this is porn, not romance. Or maybe someone can tell me, romance is these days a cover description for porn?

Fairly light porn, to be fair. Having a knee trembler outside the nightclub and enjoying it type porn but porn all the same…..

NPIMBY

National Park In My Back Yard:

The railway banks that inspired The Railway Children must be saved from developers and turned into a park to protect wildlife, campaigners say.

Locals in Lewisham’s Grove Park area of south east London want to preserve the section of railway that Edith Nesbit’s home overlooked before she wrote beloved 1906 children’s book The Railway Children.

Currently a patchwork of privately-owned areas and council-owned land that is used by the community, campaigners want to turn it into an “urban national park”, providing a haven for nature and for green space for local families.

It’s a bit of a tenuous link isn’t it? Presumably we should also preserve Reading Gaol ‘cuz Oscar wrote a poem about the place. Except, as with the retirement of Tom Lehrer from satire, that’s already being claimed, isn’t it?

To bring you up to date on little Big Sis

Another book out, Three Hundred Bridesmaids.

Well worth it, read on etc.

Were any of your characters inspired by real people?

My characters are, of course, entirely imaginary and most definitely bear absolutely no resemblance to anyone

Err, yes.

I tend not to do that much research. My book Three Hundred Bridesmaids is set in 1976, a year I remember really well,

Well, yes. It’s set at a place which isn’t a million, million, miles from the place she went to school. The year being around when she was there.

An independent school in Dorset has fallen into administration after being hit with “considerable challenges” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

St Mary’s Shaftesbury, a private Roman Catholic day and boarding school for girls aged nine to 18, had been operating at a loss for some time, according to a letter sent out by the board of governors.

But then always draw upon experience to write your fiction, right?

Modern fairy tales

Err, yes:

In Hansel and Greta (note the name change), Winterson gives us children in despair at the destruction of their forest to make way for a railway line. The antagonist is a nasty aunt called GreedyGuts, who says that “the point of life is to eat as much as possible, make as much money as possible, go on holiday as much as possible … buy two new cars every year, a jacuzzi in the garden, and a Luxury Level Executive Home… ” Hansel and Greta, of course, triumph, plant trees, and all is right with the world.

In Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator, meanwhile, the eponymous heroine and the prince decide to be friends, and she opens her own cake shop, above which she houses hungry, frightened children “running away from the wars in other kingdoms”.

How strikingly imaginative.

And now to reveal the actual secret of fairy tales:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Sir Pterry’s drop bears

There’s always an allusion to something in the more bizarre of Sir Pterry’s inventions. Perhaps a combination of vagule recalled weirdnesses from real life:

Australia is known for its strange and deadly wildlife, with plenty of attention given to venomous snakes and bird-eating spiders. But it seems one terrifying aspect of outback fauna has been thoroughly ignored: the wombat’s deadly bum.

The rump of the wombat is hard as rock, used for defence, burrowing, bonding, mating and possibly violently crushing the skulls of its enemies against the roof of its burrow. Although the jury is still out on that one.

The marsupials’ bums are made up of four plates fused together and surrounded by cartilage, fat, skin and fur. Alyce Swinbourne, an expert in wombat bottoms from the University of Adelaide, says wombats will use their backside to “plug” up their burrows, stopping predators entering and protecting softer areas of their anatomy.

Wombats don’t live in trees but koalas do. Combine the two and we have our drop bear.