Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Work is kind of killing me right now, hence the two week gap. Not long finished reading Raising Steam, so that'll be my next piece, but no day off until Sunday. Ah well, until then...

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

L-Space- A Colourless Preview

Although people catagorise reading fiction in the same vain of popular culture as films, TV, video games etc., for this writer one of the key differences that makes the former uniquely stand out is that I find it to be an almost exclusively past-based past-time. What I mean by that is that there's very little market beyond absolute hardcore fans of individual authors for upcoming books in the same vein as other mediums. A great deal of this is likely down to the fact that it's quite difficult to come up with exciting advertisements for novels, compared to the glory of film trailers, game adverts (though most of those usually have a 'not game footage' disclaimer at the bottom of the screen which makes me not want to buy it out of spite) or even for albums, since the overall appeal of a good book generally just isn't something that can be described in a short blast without lacking. There are exceptions, of course, usually resulting in massive sales for something like The Da Vinci Code, but these are few and far between.

I didn't queue at midnight for this...

This isn't something that's ever bothered me, because I think that one great feature about becoming a literature fanatic is the beautifully ever-growing realisation that there are far more unread genuine classics out there just waiting to be found than you ever might have expected. For every author you already enjoy there are three others with a similar style you might enjoy just as much. For every genre you become a fan of there are at least five other sub-genres spinning out of it waiting to offer you a brilliant new perspective on the same themes. Even if changes in the English language mean you don't particularly enjoy reading older work (and to be honest I've been getting lazier and lazier in that regard the further I move away from my past academic life) there's still an uncountable amount of amazing books from the last one hundred years out there.

But in some ways it is a bit of a shame that I very rarely get excited about new books coming out, because there's a lot to be said for the sense of anticipation arising from expectation. In the past I used to get this feeling at least once a year when Terry Pratchett announced a new Discworld book, so that when I finally grew up (a bit) and got a job I made sure I bought a new hardback copy as soon as possible. For a little while I used to do the same with new novels by Michael Crichton, until my fan love for him brought on by modern science thriller classics (by the standards of the genre) like Jurassic Park and Sphere was eroded through increasingly dull new books. As regards to Pratchett, the sheer number and apparent limitlessness of his productivity meant that the allure of a new Discworld book lost its shine over the years.

Sadly boring cover.
But what was supposed to be a short intro has gotten way out of control, so time to get to the point of this post; in five months I'm finally going to be able to get my hands on a book that I've been waiting for for about two years now- or three if you count the time elapsed since the release of 1Q84 (clumsily reviewed in its two parts here and here). A new book by the best author in the world, Mr. Haruki Murakami is almost here. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was first announced by the author in February 2013 and arrived on Japanese shelves only two months laster. Since then I've been scouring various sources for the announcement of the inevitable English translation (I would learn Japanese but I can barely speak English), and in that time it seems to have been translated into every damned language except English, which has been really annoying me.

Regular Murakami translator Phillip Gabriel is once again translating, and I know that the reason for the wait is simply the difficulty in performing the task to the quality that fans expect. In fact a gap of a year and a half is actually the shortest time yet for a Murakami translation (Norwegian Wood had a thirteen year gap), presumably thanks to the increased interest in his work shown by the midnight openings for the 1Q84 release, so I probably shouldn't complain. And anyway, at the start of this column I was somewhat bemoaning the lack of enjoyable anticipation in the book world compared to more up-to-date media, so I really definitely shouldn't complain. Thankfully the cycle should begin again after because I'm fairly sure I read recently that Murakami's next project is already in motion, a new collection of short stories that have already appeared in various places, so that shouldn't take too long to come to fruition. The anticipation cycle continues.

 
... But I did queue at midnight for this.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Jean-Dominique Bauby- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
1997

“I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches his home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.”

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a book I picked up on a whim, mostly because it looked like an interesting and very quick read with the promise of some modern day French existentialism. I've long been trying to break down serious works of philosophy, with very limited success, and adding to my frustrations in the past were books including Albert Camus' The Plague and Jean-Paul Satre's Nausea- two books and authors known as the masters of existentialism, but whose work seemed too alien for me, though perhaps I would've fared better with the help of a tutor or some basic research rather than just diving-in head first as I did.

In the past I have  enjoyed the existentialist novels of Milan Kundera, (specifically the classic The Unbearable Lightness of Being), as well as the various elements that pop up in other literature from time to time, partially because the comparatively recent releases combine with a more approachable and humane narration, but more likely because my interests in the genre are amateurish at best and I need all the help I can get. Jean-Dominique Bauby's autobiographical modern world classic seemed to fit in to the (made up by me) category of light existential philosophy with everything going for it to begin with.

I want to see more of that jacket.
At only 140 pages (with larger than usual margins in my edition), as an autobiography it's very short, but this is really the tale of the author's second life, a tragic, poignant and at some points even uplifting one. Jean-Domique Bauby was a successful journalist and editor in his native France until one fateful day in '95 where he suffered a huge stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, trapping him as an almost completely immobile prisoner in his own body. From then on until the end of his life Bauby could only communicate through blinking his left eyelid, doing so at the right moment to select the right letter as an assistant read through the alphabet. Through this painstaking method he composed this book, itself primarily about his life inside the hospital since his stroke.

The main thing that struck me about this book was the quality of Bauby's prose, which is really, really good, maybe as a result of having so much free thinking time to arrange his thoughts as well as possible. The books short length was likely because of the difficulty of the writing process, but this adds to the quality too, since obviously Bauby isn't able to experience many new things while trapped in his state and to be honest I think I would've lost interest if this had been a longer treatise on the same subject- the fleeting nature of his thoughts and observations add to the ethereal ambiance overall.

I'm hesitant to praise this to the extent that I've read other reviewers do, since I think they're reaching for sympathy brownie points, but I do recommend it to anyone interested in the premise as an interesting curio that should lodge itself in the back of your mind alongside thoughts of mortality and imprisonment. It's very well written, not as depressingly sad as it could have been, and a genuine one of a kind situation encapsulating a life that we probably couldn't otherwise imagine.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Not Books II- Kaijus and Monkeys


My first attempt at cataloging the non-book entertainment I spend/waste my life soaking up like a sponge wasn't as messy as I feared it would be, so this is my second attempt. The first installment was a collection of quick thoughts written over the course of a few days, but the plan now is to keep an open .rtf file to be added to when I finish something, and published when it looks long enough. For some reason you all need to know this.

TV Shows-

The IT Crowd- Series 01-04 & Special (2006-2013)
A good traditional British or Irish sit-com seems hard to find these days, at least to the standards of the classics. As a very English person from England, I don't really have much interest in the voluminous quantities of US comedies (though my girlfriend can't get enough of them), but I do have that undying loyalty to certain classic six-episode season favourite examples like Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Father Ted and Black Books. Those last two were created by the same writer; the annoyingly-talented and likable Graham Linehan, and I've enjoyed them for years (the thing I love about this style of comedy is that even though most shows don't have a huge episode count, they have always had immense replay value amongst my friends and I, to the point of excess), which is why it suddenly seems very strange that it took me so long to get around to watching Linehan's third sit-com success, The IT Crowd.

The IT Crowd charts the adventures of three unfortunate souls working in the basement at Reynholm Industries in the IT department, where they spend most of their time answering phone calls with 'have you tried turning it off and on again' over and over again. The format and style is essentially identical to that Father Ted and Black Books, where the characters' mundane lives are occasionally inturrupted by unexpected situations usually caused through their own doing, then get worse and worse until they somehow escape at the end. Stretching to four seasons and a final special, I think the show initially suffered from a concept that didn't strike a chord with as many viewers as, say, a bunch of ridiculous Irish priests did, but the show gained in popularity as it got older.

It gets better with age too, as Lineham seems to get a better grasp on how to use his characters. The fourth season is the best, in my opinion, and by the end I felt it was a big shame it didn't go for one more series. Altogether I don't rank it as highly as I do Ted or Books, but then I've seen those multiple times and only sat through the full run of IT Crowd once, so that might change over the coming years. 

The Simpsons- Season 01 (1989-1990)
I'd been pondering for some time the possibility of tackling perhaps the greatest TV show of all time from the beginning. Not to the end of course, besides the fact that it may never finish I doubt I could maintain my interest for that many episodes, but through the classic years, at least the first ten seasons. Now in the interesting times we live in DVDs are cheap and plentiful, especially if you don't mind buying pre-owned copies, and the hypnotic notion that we all need to collect every season of TV show we've ever liked combined with the eventual realisation that we probably really shouldn't means that there are plenty of cheap DVDs available for all. I don't know what the moral of this tale is, other than it's kind of surreal and ridiculous when you think about it and the nature of the human race and all that.

So, the first season of The Simpsons. Everybody's seen at least a few episodes, especially the first one. In my case even though I hadn't seen many of these episodes for perhaps ten years or more, I remembered most of the plots and punchlines thanks to my copy of The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Your Favourite Family, an episode guide covering seasons one to eight (that I really wish I still had, hopefully my sister has it somewhere). I used to really enjoy episode guides when I was a kid, probably thanks to the difficulty in obtaining a full series of a TV show back then (unless you wanted to deal with a million video-cases), though it gave me a strange sensation watching through these episodes knowing that my memories rely on the guide.

When watching these episodes I tried to keep in mind that these were originally made when the world as a whole had never heard of The Simpsons, at a point where the creators were trying to sculpt their vision and comedy while being popular enough to justify the show's position on Fox. The animation, obviously, is a little sketchier than later standards, presumably due to the budget, and the character voices are sometimes slightly off in relation to how I've come to know them. Also there's much more of a serene pace to it all, with less outlandish plots than we'd later see, focusing on family life and happiness, in a surprisingly existential way. My favourite episode from the season was easily Moaning Lisa, where Lisa is shown how to musically express her sadness through the blues by legendary character Bleeding Gums Murphy, but every episode is pretty great in its own way. 

Luther- Series Three (2013)
When I first discovered this take by the BBC on the gritty maverick detective format of crime fiction I binged through it in a few days, though that really wasn't difficult since the first two series are comprised of only ten episodes. With lead actor Idris Elba becoming something of a Hollywood star over the past few years it didn't seem likely that a third series would be made, so it was fantastic news that four more episodes of Luther were on the way, because DCI John Luther is a seriously fantastic and captivating character.

Elba's brooding, charismatic portrayal of Luther went hand in hand with some nasty crime fiction scripts from creator Neil Cross, featuring suitably disturbing serial killers mixed in with conspiracy and in-fighting amongst the police. The third series totally re-embraces the format, with Luther under attack from all sides. Like series two, three features four one hour long episodes. There's an underlying plot running through the whole season where Luther has to deal with a vengeful internal investigations group, but there are two killers to be dealt and they get two episodes each. Compared to most shows that's not much content, but even though I love the show I have to admit that the brevity improves it. The same plots and style stretched out over too many episodes would've been overkill thanks to how past-paced the show is.

Series three is, I think, not quite as good as the second, but better than the first. My only real problem with it was Luther's almost super-human abilities of recovery and speed (in the last episode at least), which kind of took me out of it. I have read criticism from others about the repetition of the theme of so many people in the police trying to screw Luther over, but that's always been part of the nature of the series, placing as many obstacles as possible in his way to increase the tension and drama.

As the show makes use of the inverted detective format (where the audience is privy to the crime and criminal at the start of the show, rather than a whodunnit) and since Luther usually takes about ten minutes to figure out the identity of the murderer it leaves lots of room for thematic moralising. The show's greatest strength is Elba and his ability to communicate the character through his body language and movement, and at the core of that character is basically a hero fighting against the evils of the world and resisting his own corruption. That's really all I want from a TV show.

Films-

Pacific Rim (2013)
From one Idris Elba project to another, Pacific Rim was one of those films where, beforehand, I felt like there was a chance that it could be amazing if done right, but such anticipation led to paranoia and I kept putting off watching it for a while. After watching Luther I was in the mood to watch it, the first new film I've seen in about six months. Pacific Rim was, as far as I'm aware, a pretty successful blockbuster so you've likely seen trailers and summaries etc, so I'll summarise the plot quickly; giant robots fight giant monsters. Easy sell, really.

Full of spectacular CGI, Pacific Rim looks like it cost a ton of money, full of extended battle scenes where cities are destroyed and giant monsters are thoroughly punched in the head. The plot of the film is fairly simple, with further details about the origins and purpose of the giant kaiju monsters left purposefully limited, which really ended up being my only real bugbear (that's a real phrase, right?) with the movie. I understand the films purpose to be a 2014 Hollywood representation of a popular Japanese movie sub-culture didn't require too much background detail, but to be honest, even though I'm happy to watch this kind of CGI destruction, I've also seen it so many times in so many mediums since the dawn of modern CGI in films that it doesn't offer enough by itself.

On a more positive note, the world presented in the film is fantastic and compelling, largely thanks to the great decision to introduce it with an introduction telling of the arrival of the monsters before moving further into the future to a much-changed world; there could be some great comics written from this. The performances are all pretty good and likable from a mostly unknown (to people like me) cast, although I was a bit disappointed that Elba didn't get to do more than play a fairly one-dimensional army commander type. Other than that I didn't really get much from this film at all except action, which I suppose is okay from an unpretentious action blockbuster, so a general thumbs up.

 Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Kick-Ass the first caused quite a stir when it came out in 2010 for having the temerity to show an eleven-year-old violently killing people and swearing a lot. I quite liked it as a black-humoured snarky deconstruction of some modern comics and film, particularly thanks to Nic Cage being genuinely brilliant in it. Since his character snuffed it he wasn't going to be back for the sequel, so this time Jim Carrey stepped in to fulfill the role of box office draw- only to cause another wave of controversy when he withdraw his support for the film thanks to its continuing brand of adolescent uber-violence. In the end, though none of this really mattered when Kick-Ass 2 was released because it was unfortunately condemned as not a very good movie, probably bringing an end to creator Mark Miller's hopeful franchise.

I mostly enjoyed it, but a lot of it was as a visually-based guilty pleasure. The storyline barely evolves from the first film, with Kick Ass desperately trying to make a difference as an urban hero, this time finding and joining a whole group of fellow vigilantes inspired by him, led by Carrey who is honestly superb as a good guy character who's a heavy rip-off of Watchmen's The Comedian. Villain The Red Mist from the first film and takes things up a notch by forming his own group of supervillains. Pretty standard stuff, propped up by immature dialogue that I found pretty funny. The action is extremely fast-paced and violent throughout, though it's so consistently non-stop that it lost some of its shine. When it tries to take itself seriously though, through deaths of supporting characters and such it just doesn't work on any level, and I didn't really care whatsoever if Kick Ass or Hit Girl learned and developed or whatever because the tone of the film excluded that from the start. I did enjoy it though and I'd probably watch it again in a few years, assuming we're not all zombies by then or something.

Computer Games- 

The Secret of Monkey Island- Special Edition (1990/2009)
Last time out in Not Books I praised the Phoenix Wright series for being brilliant modern takes on the classic adventure game genre. Since I finished the second game in that series, I went back to a game I probably haven't played in five years but which I could almost complete with my eyes closed. Probably considered THE classic adventure of all time, Ron Gilbert and LucasArt's The Secret of Monkey Island gave me an excuse to play it again when I finally got around to buying the now-five year old special edition remake. For those not acquainted, the Monkey Island series follows the cartoon adventures of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his many troubles with the evil ghost pirate LeChuck, who's always trying to turn Guybrush's on/off girlfriend Elaine into his undead bride.

Originally released in 1990 for the Amiga and on DOS amongst others, the original version is graphically very, very dated but is revered today for having one of, if not the funniest script in gaming history. The special edition thankfully doesn't change any of the latter, and makes an attempt to update the former somewhat. Unfortunately (for me) I didn't really like the new graphics much at all; I was hoping for it to be redrawn in the smooth, bright and colourful cartoon style of The Curse of Monkey Island (the third installment, from 1997), but instead the developers try to update the grim, deep colours of the original and the result is a kind of overly shiny, barely detailed pseudo-3D. I found it so ugly that for a while I switched to the original graphics again until I realised that was a bit of a waste of money since I've got the original on CD somewhere.

The audio is mostly better. Voice actors from the more recent Monkey games return to fully voice this remake and it's generally good, though on occasions the voice actors seem to get the timing and projection horribly wrong. The music is also redone and it's great throughout. Finally the original interface is updated, I believe mostly to simplify things for the X-Box controller, and the updates are fine. Other than that there's not too much to say about the remake as a whole other than praising the original game. To be honest even though I enjoyed the playthrough I'm still not especially pleased with the remake thanks to the graphics redesign that I was hoping for so much more from. Oh well, I've got the Monkey Island 2 remake lined up and at some point I'm going to sit down and try to perform the sourcery necessary to make Monkey 3 work on my modern (ish) laptop, which is probably going to drive me insane.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Truman Capote- In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood
Penguin Modern Classics
 Truman Capote
1966

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

When I finish reading a book I always enjoy browsing the Internet to do some amateurish research on it (never before I finish reading for fear of spoilers), usually beginning with the brevity of Wikipedia. Goodreads often follows that with some quick and often utterly infuriating reader reviews, finally followed by whatever random links Google search gives me, where the most interesting stuff usually comes from. I hope that doesn't make me seem unoriginal or lazy, it's just that I'm always curious as to the wider world's reaction to stuff that I've just formed my opinion on, which I suppose is asking for trouble. Anyway, Truman Capote's seminal genre-defining In Cold Blood led to one of those rare occasions where I  agree with a lot of contemporary opinions (as opposed to professional ones where reviewers aren't really allowed to be honest about disliking classics). On Goodreads I decided to rate it four out of five stars. I was momentarily torn on that since I can certainly see why the book is unanimously considered a modern classic but my own tastes knocked a star off... and I'm getting ahead of myself.

Like apparently every other amateur reviewer, my first introduction to Truman Capote was through Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I very much loved. It's an easy book to love; thanks to its novella length it doesn't outstay its welcome; its prose is gorgeous, its characters are mesmerising, a brief glimpse into a perfect fictional world. After reading that it was obvious that my next encounter should be with In Cold Blood, which, from what I knew of it, promised to be a much heavier and more harrowing experience. In truth I knew very little of it thanks to my prior unintentional avoidance of all things Capote, which included the Oscar-winning biography film from 2005. I'd never heard of the Clutter family murders, Dick Hickock or Perry Smith, didn't know of Capote's in-depth investigation of the crime, and, to be honest, didn't even know that this book was non-fiction until skimming the blurb while ordering it from Amazon.

As a result of all of this ignorance I was able to start reading the book with a clean mental palate, which, in hindsight, was mostly for the better. Time for a quick summary; In Cold Blood tells the true story of the build-up and aftermath of the night of November 15th 1959 in Holocomb, Kansas, where criminals Dick Hickock and Perry Smith murdered four members of the Clutter as part of a home invasion robbery that netted them less than $100. Capote began his journalistic investigation of the crime almost immediately afterwards but took six years to finish the book, basing it on meticulous lengthy interviews with the people involved in the case, including the killers themselves. The gravitas of the reality of the situation permeates every line in the book, but, as everyone apart from me already knew all along, Capote isn't simply a normal, plain true crime writer, he's a literary giant; and so In Cold Blood is composed with the care and attention to narrative of a classic fiction. Perhaps more care and attention, necessary in order to manipulate the awkwardness of reality into more palatable, engrossing reading.

At this point the argument emerges of whether such stylish arrangements combined with allegedly manufactured conversations between characters automatically damages the quality or integrity of the book at its core, but to really answer that subjective question you have to decide for yourself what the key purpose of the book is. Now personally I don't really care too much about the absolute one hundred percent accuracy of the story, at least in terms of Capote's presentation (and probable dramatisation) of conversations and his interpretation of the thoughts and feelings of the characters, but I do care about the core message of a book resonating with me through the characterisations and the overall style, which is where I lose lit. crit. points somewhat by admitting that Capote's work here didn't do it for me at the level of my favourite classics.

Dick Hickock & Perry Smith

The key to the book, in my opinion, is the in-depth characterisation of the Dick and Perry beyond just the Clutter murders, though I've read many people focus almost exclusively on the disturbing nature of the crime. Author Tom Wolfe famously coined the term Pornoviolence (in his critical essay of that name) specifically in relation to In Cold Blood and the percieved enticing anti-glamour of the crime existing as the attraction of the book, but I vehemently disagree; Capote doesn't spend a huge amount of time on the night in question alone to the extent that the violent details are tame by modern standards, particularly in the true crime genre. The key to the novel is Capote's deep but not overt analysis of the killers' characters, and he far from glamourises them as people; this isn't American Psycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it's an often disconcerting look at what might make a complex person capable of committing a psychotic crime. On a personal level I didn't really start enjoying the book much until after Dick and Perry's arrest (spoiler alert), specifically the depiction of the trial and then their times in prison on death row, mostly because of the introspection they offer now they have the time to consider their actions.

The undoubted consensus is that In True Blood is an American modern classic, vital reading for any serious literature fan, but, there does seem to be a similar consensus that it's not a huge amount of fun to read throughout, unlike, say, key work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Mailor or Capote's more stylish other smash hit, Breakfast at Tiffany's. The narration is often very dry, which works extremely well in contrast to some of the quotes, but clashes with the clear stylistic arrangements used to drive the narrative of the story. The style also seemed, to me, to demand that the reader take the seriousness of the crime at face value; which is again fine (though limiting) when taking the novel as pure crime fiction, but suffers through its simplicity when pushed into the more uncertain boundaries of pseudo-fiction (I found it impossible to be shocked by anything in the book, especially compared to a contemporary novel like Naked Lunch, for example, released seven years earlier). Finally along those lines, it was hard for me to get fully invested in a non-fiction character study of the two killers when I didn't feel like I could completely trust their stories, particularly anecdotes from childhood that seemed relevant.

But these are criticisms for criticisms' sake, because this is my blog. Though it wasn't the instant favourite I naively had hoped it might be, In Cold Blood struck me hard with a compelling real story put together by an incredibly talented writer. In just the few days since I finished it I've found myself thinking about aspects of it more and more, to the extent where I know this isn't going to be a book that quickly fades from memory. It's an often chilling and almost always fascinating modern classic, and though the style wasn't to my exact taste I can only compel every fan of such literature to find a copy and come to their own conclusions regarding the effects on them of such an experimental idea.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

L-Space- Louis Theroux in LA

After posting some brief thoughts on Orwell and I yesterday, I wasn't intending on writing another post quite so soon, but almost immediately ran into another interesting, albeit far more modern, article that took my attention thanks to its author. Louis Theroux has long been a cult favourite of mine and many others; son of iconic travel writer Paul Theroux (and brother to screenwriter Justin), Louis made his name with the BBC in the mid-90's through a series of investigative documentaries entitled Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends. In each show the mild-mannered, amiable and very likable Louis threw himself into a particular sub-culture, usually in the US, and tried to understand what made the strange people he met click. As his popularity grew he began to make increasingly serious shows about more dangerous social issues from across the world; including introducing much of the non-US world to the cult of the Phelps family at the Westborough Baptist Church, in Louis' most famous work. In 2005 he released as yet his only book The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures, which I own but unfortunately didn't enjoy as much as his TV work.

Louis Theroux & Friend

The article that I read was written by Louis (I have to always call him by his first name because he's so nice, so nice that my Grandmother named her dog after him) and published on the BBC News website as a preview of his upcoming three-part series of documentaries (the first is airing tomorrow night on BBC2 in Britain). It's entitled Louis Theroux: Moving to Los Angeles and exists as a personal take on the making of these shows (themselves named Louis Theroux's LA Stories), where he writes about the effect of temporarily moving his immediate family to Los Angeles at the time. He refrains from detailing too much of the shows' contents and instead talks about the concepts behind them, all the while assembling his own overall impressions of life in such an apparently strange city, which is really what made the article stand out for me.

One of the main appeals to Theroux's persona is his completely convincing presentation of himself as a such a likable English chap in the face of such oddities as porn stars or pro-wrestlers or genuinely disturbing extremists; and it's also his greatest strength in terms of encouraging his interviewees to open up to him. When you consider his life and career as a whole Louis is probably stretching the truth somewhat with his disbelief at the strangeness of LA (in comparison to his time in Johannesburg, for example), but as a fellow Englander it was easy to understand his point of view. I've never visited LA and I probably never will, but it's existence as the global capital of entertainment production has ensured that I've encountered more fictional versions of it than I can remember (off the top of my head, video game LA Noire and superior Buffy spin-off Angel seem most prominent to me).

Serious Face.

Most of this fiction is likely heavily fake, but the concept of so many different versions of this place, twisted this way and that based on the whims of writers and directors, resonates heavily with the unbelievable aspect of the real city. The philosophy of life imitating art is something I strongly believe in throughout everyday life and human behavior, and so the idea of a city that is largely based around fictional versions of itself is fascinating. It's also a little scary, when briefly thinking about how out of control the human race is in regards to its consumption of various forms of entertainment (especially now that 'reality' TV is clearly anything but and just accentuates the issue). Authors like Paul Auster, who I'm currently beguiled by more than ever thanks to Oracle Night, seem to recognise the surreal nature of our reality and presents fiction that challenges our perceptions of it, which is brilliant in a way but also digs further into the massive, unending black hole of transubstantial reality, where, as the classic scientific idiom goes, it becomes impossible to analyse something without effecting it.

I'm going to wrap this up now because I didn't really intend to start rambling on for so long and I've got no intention of trying to write some sort of lengthy essay on such a hard-to-define subject. Also I'm getting away from the original point of the post, which was to link to a very enjoyable and well-written article by a respected journalist. I'm very much looking forward to the three upcoming documentaries, and they''ll almost certainly turn up in the next installment of Not Books, which I've been occasionally working on and discovering that, for someone who writes a book blog, I watch entirely too much television.

Friday, 21 March 2014

L-Space- Confessions of an English Literature Reviewer

I have the day off work, so a lazy morning of watching awful morning television shows while lounging about on the sofa eventually turned into a short trawl through Wikipedia links. Wikipedia is my go-to place in times of boredom, and I've set the random article function as my homepage (which more often than not results in a short article about a village in Eastern Europe for some reason). Through reading an article on litotes (and trying to work out how to pronounce it) I was quickly led to an article about George Orwell's Politics and the English Language (1946) (here, originally published in Horizon magazine), an essay I'd never read before. I found the full essay (here, possibly even legally) and it's fairly short and succinct; a well-written rant against the way that a few factors had been leading to the decline of the English Language.


Orwell's main cause of discontent was the manipulation of the language's various faculties in political writings in order to disguise the nature and/or hypocrisy of its actual meaning, and of the writer or political party behind it. As a natural-born cynic regarding the topic I can't really say much about the political aspect, only that almost seventy years later such techniques are undoubtedly ubiquitous in particular segments of modern society, the most obvious of which is advertising (and we all know advertising rules the world). Orwell wrote the comedy novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying on the subject of advertising, which one day might get re-read and reviewed here.
 
My most necessary rule.
Orwell goes further in his essay by addressing the application of political dialogue in literary criticism, which is, to be honest, what made me thoughtful enough to write this short post. His point is that a lot of literary criticism relies upon the reviewer creating a kind of false sense of immaculate articulation through tossing in to their reviews as many longer words as possible, regardless of their actual effect or even meaning. It's not difficult to recognise Orwell's point (and some of the examples quoted in the essay are ridiculous), and now I'm constantly set to worry that I regularly do the same thing in my reviews; sacrificing accurate reviewing for the sake of flowery prose, thus making the whole exercise a waste of time. Muddying the waters, so to speak.

I think everyone who's ever written a few articles on absolutely anything must be guilty of this to a small extent at least, and it's not something that a writer should overly worry about if it doesn't occur to them that it's something that they're prominently doing already. Personally I am worried, so this short post is an attempt to follow Orwell's rules while talking about them (very meta, I think). I started this blog to hone my non-fiction writing skills precisely thanks to the quality of prose displayed by my favourite authors like Orwell, and almost two years on I think the project is progressing decently, but not perfectly. Ah well, onwards and upwards and all that. At present I'm currently reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (albeit slowly) so that will be on the review schedule, as will the next Discworld book and possibly, possibly the continuation of the Comics Snobbery series. But maybe not.