books

Meek and boring heroines

Another great comic from Hark, A Vagrant. It is a fair zinger too, though the odd gutsy female appears in Dickens (Madame Defarge in A Tale Of Two Cities may not be the heroine, but she does rather steal the book due to sheer bloodthirsty charisma. She is French though so cannot be expected to know how to behave.)

That rather underscores the point, though: women in Dickens are generally either Good (meek, mild, modest, and mouse-like) or Bad (proud, scornful, controlling, and harridanical). We know which one is going to get the boy (this and other mysteries are not usually a matter of great suspense in Dickens). There is generally a young male paragon in the story too, upright, honest, clear-eyed, and full of good clean Victorian spunk. In this situation a wedding on the last-but-one page is virtually guaranteed, unless one of them suddenly dies of consumption.

However, the novel being what it is, you can expect that the young couple will have to endure many tribulations and obstacles before their chastely joyful union, including the hero sometimes marrying the wrong person by mistake. David Copperfield does this in David Copperfield, hooking up with Dora Spenlow, who is in the memorable words of Blackadder, “wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume”.

My favourite Dickensienne is probably Little Dorrit in Little Dorrit. She supports her ungrateful father and feckless brother with furious and sustained bouts of needlework, and generally is a shining light of common sense and industry though surrounded by the usual Dickensian rabble of thieves, blackmailers, villains, cheats, debtors, simpletons, angry lesbians, wicked landlords, rakish artists, corrupt officials, confidence tricksters, and evil butlers.

Least favourite: I heartily agree with Oscar Wilde who remarked, “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without dissolving into tears… of laughter.”

The Jazz Age

From Great Gatsbys by Kate Beaton of Hark, a vagrant. I love her take on Macbeth as well.

Invasion of the Potter People

In some ways it is like Harry Potter is some type of bizarre alien virus that has taken hold of people’s minds and caused them to talk about Harry Potter a lot and buy all his books and say he is really good.

Do not write in saying I am a fool for not liking Harry Potter because I do. I saw that movie about Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix which was pretty great in fact! There I said it. On the other hand the people that like Harry Potter related things too much scare me.

It is OK basically but JK Rowling’s writing is curiously stilted and uninvolving, and even though Order of the Pheonix is gorgeously filmed and put together with wit and charm, it dissolves in the mind like popcorn in Fanta. Nothing remains after a few minutes except a pleasant burp of computerised special effects.

In a way that is what is so appealing, not everyone wants Battleship Potemkin with their Cornetto, but how to explain the many otherwise well-balanced seeming people who think Harry Potter is the best thing ever. By miles.

I know it makes me seem a bit stern and grumpy, as though I want to punish children for lifting up their laughing, happy little faces to see a magical wizard and his friends and token ethnic companions defeating Evil.

I do not. I only think some type of police licensing system could be introduced, where if you received a certain number of points for offences involving being over enthusiastic about Harry Potter, you would be banned from talking about Harry Potter or writing ungrammatical and overtly sexual fan fiction on the Internet.

More Asterix books

Don’t miss these great titles, coming soon:

keithlard activity update

It’s time for another highly concentrated information pellet, predigested for you by Montmorency the Internet Owl. I’ve been doing lots of web site work - with my Mum on HuntTheArtist.com and Cornish Ceremonies, and I just set up a new Go blog where I can waffle about my favourite game in peace, without interference, or readers.

I gave up Twitter and Facebook for Lent, which was surprisingly easy, and leaves me with a lot more free time to spend on things like polishing the car, sitting on the sofa, compiling my list of the best thousand Simpsons episodes, crisp research, walks investergating local ducks and coots, picking locks, drinking intresting beers, and looking out of the window to see if the car’s been stolen yet.

It also gives me more time for reading. Right now I’m enjoying Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen’s Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind and George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1).

Man I am glad I do not live in a dystopic faux-feudal land of ice, war, incest, murder and betrayal. Finchley is exciting enough for me, especially if you try to get into Tescos on a Friday teatime, or the big kids who hang around outside the fried chicken shop mug you for your dinner money.

The Book Thief

Well I just got through reading The Book Thief, which was terrific! And I have actually stolen it, as my friend that lent it to me does not realise that she is not going to get it back. There is an irony there.

The narrator is Death, which makes a change from the usual gin-sodden female thirtysingles of chick-lit, and it is all about a little girl that loves to read. I can identify with this as I used to be a little boy that loves to read, and the only thing that has changed since then is the size of the boy, and the amount and quality of the pornography on his computer. That is by the by.

It is set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, which is not as heartwarming as it sounds; bad books are always set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany and one family’s saga of love and loss spanning six world wars. But it is Hitler’s Germany seen through the eyes of Adrian Mole; Liesel, the book thief, is more interested in penny dreadfuls, the boy next door, and playing football than Kristallnacht. She does have a Jew in her basement, but when you are a kid, everything your parents do seems normal. Then, embarrassing.

Over time we come to know the characters in Liesel’s ordinary little town, though given who is telling the story, the outlook for them was always bleak. But it is not a story of horror or Holocaust. The Book Thief remains upbeat; the magic of reading and the kindness of strangers light up a little corner of Germany in Hitler’s shadow. I normally only like books about people blowing things up or going into space, or, better, blowing things up in space, so it is a rare mark of approbation for me to declare this book a “keithlard’s Must Buy”. Or steal.

Oh noes

Twitter is down (addickts everywhere are jonesing for their fix right now. Not me obviously.)

But a blog entry seems a big job compared to a 140-character tweet. That text box is massive!

Also, it seems like you have to say something important and worthwhile, where Twitter just asks you ‘What are you doing?’. I will pretend this is Twitter. Well, I had some tacos for dinner earlier and watched Top Gear (it was the one where Richard Hammond races an Aston Martin against a German man on roller skates wearing a jet engine). Then relaxed in a bubbly bath listening to Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, and reading more of We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I was going to affiliate that book but I realise I find it too distasteful to actually recommend to anyone. It is well written but just unrelentingly sour and depressing from the start, then unpleasant and frightening, and finally sickeningly violent and disturbing. Like American Psycho without the fashion tips.

I now need to read something innocent and cheerful, like Paddington, except I would be worried that Paddington would start pouring acid into Mr Gruber’s eyes or something. But then they would chuckle about it afterwards over a mug of cocoa.

Books Q1 2008

It is a bit like primitivepeople who has been keeping a diary of the books he has read this year. I have gone one better and kept a photo book diary!

You can click on any of the books to see a bigger pickture. If you like any of the books, or if you like me, why not comment to say how much you like the book, or me.

The spice must flow

I am reading The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a beautiful hypnagogic dream of prose poetry heady with scents and spices, as though Joanne Harris had written The Famished Road, only with more curry recipes. I like the idea that each spice is a power and a spell, cinnamon friend-maker, chilli lanka fire-child, cleanser of evil, wild ginger the gnarled root of wisdom, asafoetida hing the antidote to love. The Mistress of Spices sees into people’s hearts and is gifted to know the spice that will help them, like the confectionery witch Vianne in Chocolat with less bonking. Except she starts to get too closely involved with her customers’ lives and the spices turn nasty on her.

I have got another cold at the moment so need a Spice Mistress to make me delicious biryanis and vindaloos ekcetera, curry boosts the immune system. There is no real evidence for it, but it is a scientifick fact.

keithlard's bath news

Well I did not have it the other night in fact, as I got distrackted by watching a programme about a top secret Russian aeroplane which was 150 times the size of a Jumbo jet. They had to have special giant stewardesses to push the huge supper trolley (I made that last bit up actually. But the rest is terrifyingly real.)

It was quite exciting yesterday as I was working at an advertising trade show in Olympia, full of smartly dressed shiny faced people with practised fake smiles and industrial strength make-up. There were also a lot of evidently hired dolly birds, in skimpy outfits or skin-tight PVC (eurgh! clammy!). I would love to be a fly on the wall at the meeting where their manager says ‘So that concludes the briefing on our new corporate sales strategy… oh, and it would really help us out if you could wear a silly plastic nurse’s outfit tomorrow.’

The funny thing is if they were allowed to just wear normal clothes and talk to people normally, they would probably have more effeckt as no one is going to buy a £1 million PPC bid management platform from someone dressed as a lunchtime stripper. Also, I bet they do not say to the male sales people, ‘Oh, and would you mind wearing tight rugby shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt? And being attractive?”

Anyway, when I got home I thought I’d have that relaxing bath as I have been feeling a bit stressed out lately due to doing about 4 people’s jobs. I am one of Nature’s techies and it is nice being indispensible, but even I get a bit worn out when I am fixing laptops with one hand, typing code with the other, and reconfiguring a server with my feet. So I had a tasty creamy chicken soup and crusty bread for dinner and got into the bath.

It is great actually having baths as it is like a hot, wet bed. Actually that simile does not sound awfully attractive but you know what I mean. I had a glass of posh wine and listened to Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and read Christopher Priest’s The Prestige and Patrick O’Brian’s Post Captain. It was quite a long bath!