Showing posts from March, 2016

Libraries gave us power...

Libraries made the news for all the wrong reasons again this week. Not because they were doing anything wrong  libraries remain a wonderful, free, access-for-all environment in which to borrow books, use computers, and engage in community events  but because they are still being underfunded and shut down despite all this. 

The people who make these decisions don't see the use in libraries, forgetting that vast numbers of people have not got the money to buy all the books they want to read, or maybe don't have Internet access at home, or, God forbid, want to enjoy social events in an accessible community venue. The Telegraph described libraries as obsolete at the same time as they acknowledged that a third of British people use them. A third! I bet less than a third of the population read The Telegraph but they wouldn't describe themselves as obsolete, would they?

I use three libraries regularly: the one nearest my house, the academic one in which I work, and the public one I…

The art of the short story

I wrote the other week about how excited I was to have some Chekhov as my latest arbitrary read. Admittedly, they're short stories that I've read before, but there is a definite pleasure to be had in rereading such perfectly-crafted pieces.
This particular edition contains only seven stories but they demonstrate many of the features of great short story writing. For instance, the characters are always imagined in depth, particularly the complexities of their internal lives. These characters are often dissatisfied, struggling to find something to give meaning to their existence. They're also flawed, perhaps taking too much pride in their social status or struggling to live up to their own ideals. This dissatisfaction with their lives and themselves is rarely resolved, unless through death. Which isn't ideal either.
The lack of resolution is one of the hallmarks of Chekhov's writing. It's not just in the way that the characters' own stories end; it's in the…

Dancing about architecture

There's some contention about who said it, but there is definitely some truth to the idea that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It's difficult to articulate what makes a great song work. If you start talking about time signatures or the melismatic quality of the singer's voice, it still can't help the audience really understand the music.

Musician autobiographies can be even worse. Often, they're just records of unbridled hedonism, which can be fun in small doses, or self-serving justifications of the musician and their work, a way of showing that they are true artistes and not just money-hungry narcissists. I'm rarely convinced.

But what about the autobiography of a music writer? Sure, they'll be as potentially guilty of self-aggrandisement and exaggeration as the musicians, but they also have writing experience (avoiding the pitfalls of the ghostwritten memoir), hopefully some journalistic integrity, and they're not trying to push…

On the decline of the classics


On the myth of the unnatural woman

It was no surprise that my most recent arbitrary read, Fiona Cassidy's Anyone for Seconds?, was not to my taste. Described on the cover as "[a] wonderfully warm and witty debut novel about modern family life", it sounded like the kind of domestic chick lit that just doesn't work for me. But I didn't expect it to make me angry. It did. It really did.

Here's the thing. In order to be the kind of comfy reading that a woman will supposedly do on her sofa with the book in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other, it posits an idea of what it is to be a 'normal' woman that casts huge swathes of the female population as something unnatural and unappealing. 

For instance, one of the ways we know which women we are supposed to like and identify with is because they are described as physically 'normal'. Frankie, the main character, has a bit of a spare tyre, while her best friend Ruby has wild, untameable hair. They are physically flawed and are ther…