Books I've been reading

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Constance on Fri Apr 13, 2012 11:10 pm

I finally finished the tedious biography of Jane Austen by David Noakes. What a shame there isn't a better bio of this great writer. The drawback is, apart from Austen's letters, there's little info to go by.

I recommend the book I'm reading now, Magical Thinking by Augusten Bourroughs. Weird stories from real life.He is the author of the wonderful memoir Running With Scissors, and according to the book jacket, he's written a book called Dry which got good reviews. I'll order that from the library.

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Guest on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:34 am

Constance wrote:Moony, I tried Cloudstreet but I'm sorry to say I abandoned it. It was too visceral for me--the Pickles character getting his fingers cut off, the character named Fish becoming brain-damaged after the near-drowning. I found the two families depressing. But thanks for the thought, really.

...sorry you didn't enjoy the book Constance...my daughter read it recently and rang me to say she was loving it, but wondered if anyone outside Australia would see it in the same light as a local. I can answer her now that it might be unlikely.

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 4:05 pm



Here's a review:
**************************************************************************************************************
Granny Made Me An Anarchist.

General Franco, The Angry Brigade, and ME

Stuart Christie

ISBN0-7432-5918-1

Published Scriber


Excitement at opening a present on Xmas morning is a rare thing for me these days, but I honestly couldn't have been more bushy tailed and bright eyed as a kid when I discovered the daughter had bought me Christie’s autobiography. I have read it with equal excitement.

Me and Stuart’s paths have crossed on a number of occasions during our political lives, although I am almost certain we have never actually met. As a 15 year old member of the Tyneside Anarchist Federation, we made the Free Stuart Christie Campaign a popular focus of youth protest. The Spanish embassy was a frequent visitor of our outrage with sabotage and graffiti. Our fellow anarchist Stuart had been so clearly framed by Franco’s agents. Here he was, hitch hiking to an Anarchist camp in France, when suddenly he is found on the other side of the border carrying explosives with which to kill the famous fascist dictator. A Scottish anarchist, wearing his kilt, and a baggy gansie, hitch hiking with a rucksack full of explosives, over the border into fascist Spain where they are known to love that political current so much ? Whey lad, it was clearly obvious the whole tale was nonsense. Well, that is until he was released, and the true story emerged, all bar the kilt bit had been true, and even then he was carrying the kilt sticking out of his rucksack so folk would know he was Scottish.

Stuart tells us some hilarious details of this adventure, although lets face it, at the time this was almost a suicide mission. He had in fact been given the money for his rail journey into Spain, but thought he would be much more likely to attract attention and be searched than as a shaggy haired tourist hitch hiker. He did however reason that some customs man on the border would doubtless search his rucksack, so he came up with the idea of actually sticking the explosives around his body.

"In Perpignan I found the public baths and paid for a cubicle. After a hot soak and still naked I unpacked the slab of plastique and taped them to my chest and stomach with elastoplast and adhesive tape. The detonators I wrapped in cotton wool and hid inside the lining of my jacket. The bag of potassium chlorate, the base of the chemical trigger, was too bulky to hide on my body, so I emptied it into a packet of sugar with a layer of sugar on top, and left it in the rucksack.

There was one tense moment when the lady attendant came in unannounced with clean towels, opening the cubicle door with her keys. She appeared surprisingly nonplussed by the sight of a naked, skinny young man from whose chest and stomach were protruding what appeared to be either full colostomy bags or brown paper poultices. Not realising she was in the presence of a Glaswegian kamikaze, she muttered something in French, presumable apologising for intruding on someone so modest and afflicted and quickly backed out closing the door behind her.

With the plastic explosive strapped to me, my body was improbably misshapen. The only way to disguise myself was with the baggy woollen jumper my granny had knitted to protect me against the biting Clydebank winds. At the risk of understatement I looked out of place on the Mediterranean coast in August."


There is a hilarious sequence where he gets picked up by an eccentric British person driving an eccentric car, the quid quo pro for the lift is, he is expected every time it stops to jump out and push it. Which is fine on country lanes, but when it happens in a heaving Spanish city centre, in the rush hour, under the blazing sun while all the explosives start to slip and the sticky wraps come undone, he thinks, not surprisingly his number is up.

When the poor bugger actually gets to Spain and books into a rat trap of a room he is so exhausted he falls onto the bed, and fully dressed and wrapped in explosives he goes to sleep.

Of course he is caught, he goes down for a long sentence but escapes the death penalty mainly because Spain at the time is trying to clean up its image and join the EEC.

The story relates the campaign to free him and his relationships in prison and his reflections on whether his part in the plan had been morally correct. The idea after all had been to kill Franco as he presented the Cup at a football tournament. It would doubtless have killed the captain and maybe other players and people in the crowd too. He rationalised at the time that the football team was almost as much a part of the problem as the dictator himself, since it collaborated in being the human face of the regime, and was the fiddler while so many others burned, sometimes literally.

Stuart is saved this time round, by the petitions of his ma and granny to Franco, a great lover of both in his catholic paternalism, and despite having been Stuarts target, grants an early release. Which in some respects was embarrassing for Stuart given the continued custody of his comrades in crime and so many others who were still banged up without sight of day light.

This isn't the end of the story though, and before too long, with the development of the Angry Brigade the press have him down as public enemy No 1. Papers announce in banner headlines that the police are looking for a Scottish Anarchist who has recently done time on explosives charges in Spain ! Stuart wonders just who they could be talking about as he carries on going into work everyday.

There is an interesting description of the political and military thoughts of the Angry Brigade comrades and the state assault on those picked out as being the men and women behind the resistance. Stuart is roped in alongside the others, but the charges fail to stick and he is released. Meantime the others James Greenfield Anna Mendelson John Barker and Hilary Creek all go down for Conspiracy To Cause Explosions. The case against all of them is highly circumstantial, it is based upon the notion that these are the kind of people with motive enough, who are angry enough to have carried out the offences and cannot prove they didnt do. I among hundreds of others volunteered to go to court and give evidence to say I too am the kind of person with motive enough, angry enough to have carried out the offences, but I didnt. The idea was to take young workers, unemployed, homeless, disabled, blacks , gays and women and say "we too, it could just as well be us". There were millions of us, but the judges wouldn't wear a non-stop procession of young workers, suffering the many faced facets of social and industrial, sexual and racial repression in Britain. But in many ways, the state could have picked up many more people on very little evidence other than motive and a lack of an alibi. Meantime anyway, the Angry Brigade continued to send out communiqués and take actions.

Stuart discusses in detail some of the politics and strategy of the Brigade and its eventual rationale for winding up. I think the people who eventually took the decision to wind up the campaign were probably not the people who started it, but that is my opinion.

Looking back , and indeed at the present, I think the Angry Brigade were right, not each and every sentence they wrote, the communiqués are probably the worse thing of their entire campaign at times being pidgin-politics, or every tactic they employed, but overall. I think they were wrong to draw the conclusion that the campaign couldn't continue, but they would probably ask why I and others in that case, are not continuing it ? That's a good question. Suffice it to say, I think the class needs the means to respond to the states violence and oppression. Not as a substitute of the class, but as part of the class response. Our ability to wage armed struggle on the state on its own as a sole tactic, will never match their ability to wage it on us, perhaps the Provos drew that conclusion. Armed struggle must be linked to mass action and mass response by they people, but that doesn't mean all the people have to be engaged in armed struggle in order for it to be legitimate , take the example of our ‘hit squads’ during the 84-85 strike, but it must have their general approval. I believe any serious left or working class organisation which takes itself seriously enough to challenge any aspect of the states assault on us, and who wishes the workers to take them seriously, must in some form or another at least prepare for the task of responding to those assaults. If you cant even defend yourself, let alone give them one back, your not exactly scaring the pance of them. The Angry Brigade disbanded because of the other bomb attacks and shootings taking place at the time, and their wish not to be confused with ‘outrage’ and anti-working class actions. Today is a bad time for that type of armed response for even more of the same reasons, after 9/11 the general punter has been led to believe all armed resistance and all armed response is ‘terrorism’. That probably wasn't the case in the hay-day of the Brigade. The book is very thoughtful, very funny, and Christie’s tale is one which, many fellow working class folk will identify with.’There but for the grace of God..’

There are many many interesting sections in the beginning of the book about early working class childhood in Glasgow and in particular that curious combination of militant trade unionism with political loyalism. Stuart toyed with the Orange Order in his early youth as did many of his peers. This book is greatly inspirational, not least it gave me a kick up the arse to start writing my own encounters with life in an overlapping period of great revolutionary upsurge and militancy across the world.

A fascinating book about a working class hero whatever his retrospection's are now and Christ know,s he is entitled to these after what he has been through and what he risked.


David Douglass
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 4:17 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHsdGdrAPWw
Vive La Revolution- Mark Steel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ea1TIKUtqc&feature=relmfu
Vive La Revolution (Part 2)- Mark Steel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-p9d1UsyLg&feature=relmfu
Vive La Revolution (Part 3)- Mark Steel



Here's a review:
***************************************************************************************************************
Mark Steel has made The French Revolution his own, taking this far-from obvious comedy subject to produce a book, this tour, and, soon, a DVD.
You can certainly see the appeal for an old leftie firebrand with an unshakeable belief that people power can overthrow injustice. This, after all, was the defining moment in European history: a time when the old order was overturned by common men challenging a decadent Royal family who assumed they had a divine right to rule, however arbitrarily they chose.

But Steel doesn’t present the textbook version of events. He has no truck with dry historical teaching that assumes every important figure from the past speaks with actorly received pronunciation, straight out of Rada.

Instead, he excels at bringing the revolutionary fervour to vivid life by seeing it though the eyes of regular people. Riotous mobs don’t have demands, as academics tend to surmise, but are largely confused people fired up by a newfound taste of freedom, yet unsure what to do with it. Likewise, the storming of the Bastille is likened to the chaotic attempts at organising a ragtag collection of chaotic South London socialists, all with better things to be doing.

In his unique retelling of history, Steel proves fascinating, bringing a unique viewpoint and amusing, obscure detail to the bald facts. Some of the most entertaining parts of the show are when he simply reads extracts from genuine documents of the time – the po-faced account of the King’s sexual ejaculations being the best case in point – to underline the mundane and petty distractions of great figures.

There’s a sense this core tale could be more interesting than funny, which Steel addresses by bolting on several straight stand-up routines about the modern world, ostensibly to make point that his observations from 200 years ago still have relevance today, although they really form set pieces to ‘gag up’ the show.

It means Viva La Revolution has a split personality; part fun, informative, and easy-going lecture, part straight-down-the-line comedy show. And both sides are inevitably compromised by the existence of the other.

Sometimes, when the show really shines, the two halves mesh together perfectly, such as when Steel considers the claim that violent rap music breeds more violence, then imagines the 1812 Overture prompting a spate of ‘drive-by cannonings’. Even this great segment is unrelated to the French Revolution. Too often you can see the joint between the two component parts of the show, and we jolt uneasily between them.

Some of the more modern observations – such as the now-predictable routine about Islamic suicide bombers supposedly promised 72 virgins in heaven – are distinctly ordinary; as are some segments specifically tailored to this Brighton crowd about the chi-chi retailers of the Lanes.

The best routines, inevitably, are when his passion is stoked. When he repeatedly declares a hero’s actions ‘brilliant’ – overemphasising the word to convince you of the fact – you know he’s about to make a forcefully funny point. Rants become outrageous, and the lines he employs shine with wit, and they work all the better when they fit with his main narrative, rather than broader observations of today’s world.

The net result of the show’s dual personality is that it never quite catches light, though it has all the ingredients to do so. Steel could probably have taken a guillotine to some of the more tenuously linked stand-up to better tell the story that so obviously inspires him. It would have cost some laughs, but added to the satisfaction of the show.

But though the levels of fascination and hilarity ebb and flow, the result is always enjoyable, as Steel is a compelling orator who always holds the audience’s attention with his genuine enthusiasm for the topic. Come the next revolution, we should put him in charge of history teaching.

Review: Steve Bennett
Brighton, October 9, 2007


Last edited by eddie on Tue Apr 17, 2012 1:20 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Constance on Mon Apr 16, 2012 11:06 pm

blue moon wrote:
Constance wrote:Moony, I tried Cloudstreet but I'm sorry to say I abandoned it. It was too visceral for me--the Pickles character getting his fingers cut off, the character named Fish becoming brain-damaged after the near-drowning. I found the two families depressing. But thanks for the thought, really.

...sorry you didn't enjoy the book Constance...my daughter read it recently and rang me to say she was loving it, but wondered if anyone outside Australia would see it in the same light as a local. I can answer her now that it might be unlikely.

Oh Moony, now I read my post and it sounds funny. I thought I was just sharing, but I think I sound annoying! My apologies.

I finished the wonderful Augusten Bourroughs memoir Magical Thinking and ordered his Dry (a memoir of recovery from alcoholism) from the library. They don't have it as a book - only on CDs so I'll have to listen to it in the car. His writing is a little hard-core, so I don't know it I want to have the girls listen to it. May just have to listen to it in the dining room while I sort out Julia's Chinese school homework. I have to look up half the words before we can do it. Typically five or six pages of dense material. I don't know how the other families manage. All but two of them don't speak Chinese at home.
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Guest on Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:33 pm

Constance wrote: Oh Moony, now I read my post and it sounds funny. I thought I was just sharing, but I think I sound annoying! My apologies.
...hi constance. I took your comments in the way you intended them. Honesty is refreshing. Magical Thinking and Dry sound good. I'll see if I can order them. Cool

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Constance on Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:12 pm

Moony, definitely order Burrough's Runing with Scissors first. He wrote it before the other two. Isn't that a great title?
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 22, 2012 2:42 am


Reasons to Be Cheerful- Mark Steel

Here's the (apparantly anonymous? scratch ) Ciao! website review:
************************************************************************************************************
I read John O'Farrell's review of being a liberal middle-class Labour supporter in the 1980's, and loved it. Now, Mark Steel brings the rough boys' version.
Mark Steel creates this humorous autobiography written from the point of view of a genuine working class boy through to young (and eventually middle aged) man, with no punches pulled and no apologies made. Steel talks about his experiences as a young under-payed manual worker, graduating to a mind-numbing clerical job, with periods of genuine poverty and unemployemnt. His political journey is very different to O'Farrell's and a million miles away from most career politicians.

He talks of how his activist streak brought him into membership of the Socialist Workers' Party, and in a refreshing change from the "youthful exuberances" of many current political leaders with a radical past, makes no apology for this.

Mark Steel's journey takes us through many of the most important polictical events of the 1980's- from the Anti-Nazi League, through the Miners Strike, the Poll Tax and the first Iraq War. He also refers to some of the lesser known and more controversial events such as the Steel Strike, provoked as a purely political event by Thatcher, and many international campaigns that I found myself blissfully unaware of.

This book is such a good read for anyone on the left of centre, not because it is some sort of trotskyist historical document (which it isn't) but because it tells these many stories from our own history, from the perspective of an ordinary man, and does so in a straightforward, non-preachy and hysterically funny perspective.

Steel manages to intersperse the political with an array of personal experiences, from the injustice of his punishment for eating a banana in a school corridor, right through to the bewilderment of a council equal opps training day. He introduces a range of brilliant characters, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that they are real people, not the creation of a comic writer (many of whom would struggle to do better...)

This is essential reading for anyone with a social conscience, anyone who wants to learn about the events of the 1980's in an engaging way, and above all, anyone who is fed up with politics being the preserve of puffed-up professional politicians !
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 28, 2012 1:10 am

Few things are funnier than ageing and disillusionment

Nicholas Lezard

The Guardian, Saturday 11 April 2009

Of the writing of books about the male midlife crisis there is no end, it would sometimes seem; but despite the rather irritating cover photograph, which screams "lovable comedy geezer" into my ear rather too loudly for my liking, I picked it up, for Mark Steel can be very funny, his politics are spot-on, and he loves cricket.


What's Going On?
: The Meanderings of a Comic Mind in Confusion
by Mark Steel

And I am glad I did. I have sometimes wondered if Steel has been going off the boil lately, but that might simply be a matter of over-exposure, and of his trying too hard to cram jokes into places where they might not fit. But here he has managed to get them all in, and they fit beautifully, for his twin subjects are ageing and disillusionment. Few things are funnier. "One of the shocking aspects of becoming 40 that I hadn't appreciated," he writes, "was that once you get to that age it doesn't stop. You carry on getting even older than that."

But it is in the disillusionment that we have this book's main motive force. As he puts it, he had a problem "specially designed for someone in my time and place. I grew up confident that I would be part of the generation that would change the world so that people would matter more than profits." Well, as you can see, nothing matters more than profits to our government, and one of the most gratifying things about What's Going On? is the way the author tears into Tony Blair, New Labour and all that ghastly crew. This is the not-insignificant matter of the shocking, dismaying betrayal of our greatest expectations, and Steel musters his arguments not only with passion but with the facts to back his passion up. You will find it hard, for instance, to read the section on GlaxoSmithKline, Jarvis and Philip Green (who loves his wife so much he gives her £1.2bn of his company's annual dividend of £1.299bn - the interesting detail here being that she lives in tax-favourable Monaco). You may well find yourself almost bursting with indignation.

It is also the petty, balls-aching indignities of everyday life which rile him. Having children has, as it tends to do, given him an insight into a new world of responsibility, but it is one which is constantly frustrated by people beholden to the business ethic: "Most workplaces act as if having children is a peculiar hobby. If you say, 'I've got to leave at five to pick the kids up', you might as well have said you've got to get back to feed your octopus, or 'I have to get home by six because that's when I have my wank'." (Steel's most-used comic trope is the "you might as well have said" outrageous comparison. There are, though, so many times when he says what he was thinking of saying that you do find yourself wondering why he doesn't actually try saying it at the time; of course, he has said them in a book - this one - so in a sense the whole work is a massive exercise in esprit d'escalier. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as long as the gags are good.)

But what elevates Steel's book, gives it a poignancy and depth which at its outset one might not have expected, is the account it gives of the break-up of his relationship. The tears of a clown might be a miserable cliché, so it takes some talent for it not to pop into your head; Steel has that talent. You might question what on earth a break-up has to do with the decline of the left or the Iraq war (he makes the excellent point that, considering the misgivings within the very highest levels of the armed forces about the war, a military coup would mean that this country's government would move to the left), but Steel weaves his personal story through the political one in such a fashion that each somehow manages to illuminate the other. And if the personal stuff is sad - genuinely affecting - then at least we can recover with his political anecdotes, which are often hilarious. "The sometimes complex arguments behind seeking allies [in the anti-war movement] within the Islamic faith became a fucking doddle compared to the conundrums unleashed by working with George Galloway."
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 29, 2012 6:59 am

The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills

Scarlett Thomas enjoys a bus ride

The Guardian, Saturday 22 August 2009

There is a joke about a man who asks for a return ticket on a bus. "Where to?" asks the bus driver. "Back here of course," replies the passenger. Passengers have no reason to believe they will get where they want to go in Magnus Mills's sixth novel. The poor souls in this unnamed city are always at risk of being too early, too late or dumped in the middle of nowhere after a bus driver has been "adjusted" and put out of service on the ring road. None of the drivers, it seems, is quite able to maintain "headway", "a fixed interval between buses on a regular service", and so they are regularly adjusted or slowed down. Officials are always waiting to pounce as the drivers steer their buses haphazardly between the bus garage, the "southern outpost", the "cross" and the "bejewelled thoroughfare".


The Maintenance of Headway
by Magnus Mills

"I'd been half full of people when he'd stopped me, and when I arrived at the underpass I had to kick them all off again. As usual they didn't want to go, but after some gentle persuasion they complied." One official hides in laybys, waiting to reprimand drivers who are running ahead of schedule. As he says: "There is no excuse for being early." An early-running bus will pick up fewer, happier passengers. A bus running late or on time is likely to pick up more passengers, who will be less happy because they have had to wait for longer. Being early, of course, is what makes others late, which creates a sort of prisoner's dilemma for the drivers. Therefore, when they aren't trying to get a decent cup of tea at the southern outpost they sit in the canteen at the garage talking about whether or not the maintenance of headway is a good idea. At one point a driver who has had to kick off passengers at the underpass for two nights running asks: "But what about the people?" His colleague responds that people aren't important. Only bus movements are important.

Thus begins a subtle meditation on what it means to try to impose order in a fundamentally chaotic world. Mills's novels always refer to nonsensical dockets, log-books and other records of the paradoxical nature of work. In The Scheme for Full Employment, the idea of full employment, which benefits the community, is set against that of being fully employed, which benefits the worker. Here, the individual bus driver or passenger unknowingly competes with a collective in a game that is impossible for anyone to win. In order to waste minutes on a journey without traffic, diversions or waterworks, drivers are encouraged to pretend their buses have broken down or to pull in at empty stops, sacrificing their passengers' schedules to a more abstract timetable. Everyone messes this up, of course, including Jason, whose permanently frightened passengers are punished for ringing the bell too often, and Mrs Barker, who always runs late because she's helping the needy and stopping wherever her passengers want.

At times this short novel may seem in danger of evoking a philosophical journey you'd take on a Hoppa rather than the legendary Routemaster, and I suspect Mills has much more to say about power, officialdom and even buses than he has done here. However, his reticence has always given readers space to think, and his deadpan celebration of chaos is even heart-warming. Order looms darkly in the background as usual, threatening to ruin everything.

• Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr Y is published by Canongate
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Tue May 01, 2012 2:58 am

^

Finished Magnus Mills. Roared with laughter. It's a world I recognise from the London Underground: pompous, know-nothing Management attempting to impose order on a completely chaotic world that only the front-line workers really understand.

Mills worked as a London bus driver for 12 years before he achieved his first success with "The Restraint of Beasts", which is all about the sinister underbelly of agricultural hi-tension fencing.

Mills is great on the world of blue-collar work, and I can think of no other writer who captures its absurdities and contradictions as well.

His prose style is sparse and deadpan, so the books are short.

Finished it quickly, then, and I've started on this:


Biography of guerilla artist Banksy (see Paintings and Photography thread).
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  eddie on Sat May 05, 2012 3:00 am

Finished Banksy. Just started this. Takes me back to school history lessons when I was 13 or 14. Julius Caesar. Boudicca. Marauding Vikings. Alfred burning the cakes. Danegeld. The kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumberland etc. etc. Not unpleasant.


History of England Vol I: Foundation- Peter Ackroyd.

Here's the synopsis from the Waterstone's website:

Having written enthralling biographies of London and of its great river, the Thames, Peter Ackroyd now turns to England itself. This first volume of six takes us from the time that England was first settled, more than 15,000 years ago, to the death in 1509 of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII. In it, Ackroyd takes us from Neolithic England, which we can only see in the most tantalising glimpses a stirrup found in a grave, some seeds at the bottom of a bowl to the long period of Roman rule; from the Dark Ages when England was invaded by a ceaseless tide of Angles, Saxons and Jutes, to the twin glories of medieval England its great churches and monasteries and its common law. With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place, he tells the familiar story of king succeeding king in rich prose, with profound insight and some surprising details. The food we ate, the clothes we wore, the punishments we endured, even the jokes we told are all found here, too.
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:19 am

Summer has been relatively productive.
Over the course of a bit more than one week I read this brilliant piece of writing:



For someone with a keen interest in medieval philosophy and the relation between "faith" and "science" this is one epic piece.
I remember reading part of it when I was 17 or so - I didn't bother to finish as I found it quite boring.
Ever since I have become more acquainted with medieval thinking, turning a hermetic work into a joyous delight for me.

Also: I've read it in English, thanks to a Kindle-edition that became available in early July.
When I was younger I read a Dutch translation. After 'Crime and punishment' last year, this is the second time I find myself completely immersed into an English translation of a work that I found rather boring in Dutch.

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:27 am

Furthermore I either read or am currently reading one of the books below - just pick one of you should wish to discuss it:












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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:48 am

I would consider more a sort of very basic introductory work - some interesting little facts here and there, but not revolutionary insights.
As for the gold-standard, the most interesting aspect that is being mentioned is how Spain defaulted numerous times in the 16th century after having found insane amounts of gold in its Latin-American colonies - the economy had already switched from gold to more 'liquid' economic values.

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:50 am

I'm 100% confident the Pinhead will enjoy this work a great deal more:


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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:45 am

The title is taken from a badge his father received after he participated in the First World War.

Fisk is indeed very critical of the USA, but he's just as critical about almost all middle-Eastern regimes he writes about.
Many tales about the torture people suffered are absolutely terrible. It's also uncanny to see the names of towns we have come familiar with through international conflicts over the past decade pop up when older conflicts are being discussed. If even a tenth of what he writes is true, I think we should come to understand that these regions are home to people who have been deeply and understandably traumatized - often at the pace of at least once every generation.
I'm still ploughing through this volume - it's over 1200 pages long.

2 things that really caught my attention:

- Fisk tells of how the men who were to become 'the Taliban' actually grew up in concentration camps, usually situated at Peshawar just outside of the Afghan border into Pakistan. He paints a portrait of people who have grown up for roughly 16 years in camps that were completely void of all the artifacts of everyday life we are accustomed to. To Fisk' mind, the inspiration for the cultural revolution initiated by the Taliban was actually more the conditions in which these men lived the first years of their life than the Sharia as such. He also relates how Bin Laden was protected by the Afghan Taliban regime, but didn't really see things exactly the same way. He also mentions an multinational gas and oil firm which initiated negotiations with the Taliban some 6 months after they took power. On its payroll were a latter adviser to W. and Karsai, the current President of Afghanistan;

- Another interesting chapter concerns the war between Iraq and Iran. Fisk writes down a number of interesting issues but what struck me most was the dramatic difference in the psychology of both people. The Iraqis were deeply traumatized by the events, as we would expect from a people suffering war. But the Iranians, on the other hand, were enthusiastic martyrs who even sent very young kids totally 'ready' to die in the battle to their fronts. Two people with a single religious faith, but such a different psychological response to the events that befell them;

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  felix on Wed Sep 12, 2012 11:48 pm

Andy wrote:The title is taken from a badge his father received after he participated in the First World War.
Hi Andy, good to see you again cat Very Happy - not a badge, but a medal:

The Victory Medal, 1914-19



This medal was awarded to all those who entered a theatre of war. It follows that every recipient of the Victory Medal also qualified for the British War Medal, but not the other way round. For example if a soldier served in a garrison in India he would get the BWM but not the Victory Medal. In all, 300,000 fewer Victory Medals were required than British War Medals. All three services were eligible. It is not generally known that Victory Medals continued to be awarded after the Armistice, for the British forces who saw action in North Russia (up to October 12th, 1919) and Trans-Caspia (up to April 17th, 1919) also qualified.

The medal was struck in bronze. On the obverse is a full-length figure of Victory. On the reverse is the inscription "The Great War for Civilisation". There is no clasp, but a ring attachment through which the ribbon is passed. The official description of the colour of the ribbon is "two rainbows with red in the centre". An oak-leaf emblem was sanctioned for those who were mentioned in despatches.
5,725,000 Victory Medals were issued.

The soldier's regiment and number are inscribed around the rim.

from http://www.1914-1918.net/grandad/themedals.htm
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Thu Sep 13, 2012 6:04 am

RE: Fisk

First, regarding the notion 'cultural revolution', I'd say the blame is on my. You're reading an all in all hastily written summary of a non-native speaker about a voluminous work he's reading in a language that's not his native tongue. No doubt I will occasionally use terms in a way that is not 100% accurate.

As for Bin Laden & Saudi Arabia: Fisk tells the tale of how the CIA went looking for an Arab prince to lead a missions against the USSR after it invaded Afghanistan around Christmas 1979. In this search, they actively tried to appeal to the old romantic image or the Arab conqueror.
As you can image: none of these well-off spoiled brats was willing to hand in their luxury to soft sweet asses on Afghan turf against the Sovjets.

Bin Laden was outraged by this form of what he considered moral corruption and this anger made him initiate his first pseudo-military action - recruiting muhajedeen from various Middle-Eastern and African countries. This evolution let to a falling out between the Saudi regime and Bin Laden on the one hand, and - along with his investments in civil projects in countries like Sudan - helped to shape a very popular image of Bin Laden in the Middle-Eastern mindset.

Fisk speaks with great respect about the man Bin Laden, clearly thinking him a lot more intelligent than numerous other key figures he speaks about. All the while, he also underlines the monstrosity of the acts we know Bin Laden to be responsible for. This open and honest ambiguity make for an interesting read: of course we think of a very terrible person upon reading Bin Laden's very name. But that doesn't mean, of course, that he can't have been a very intelligent and even kind person just as well.

Now as to the difference between Taliban and Bin Laden: Fisk enters into some guessing here. He had last spoken to Bin Laden in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Bin Laden only spoke briefly about them, but with some ambiguity in the choice of his terms. I should look up the precise formulation, but in essence it comes down to 'I don't like some of the things they're doing, but I'll accept them for lack of a better alternative'. The mindset of the Taliban - extremely hostile against all worldly beauty -, if we are to believe Fisk, was quite different from that of a more cultivated radical Muslim such as Bin Laden.

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  Andy on Thu Sep 13, 2012 6:23 am

pinhedz wrote:And on a completely different topic--I'm sure that Jacques Le Goff must have discussed "Roman de Fauvel" somewhere in his voluminous writings.
Have you run across any of his opinions of this great satirical music drama of the middle ages?

I bought these 2 books quite cheaply at the Gravensteen in Ghent when I was visiting there.
Ghent is a great city in many aspects, especially if the Middle Ages are of interest to you.
It clearly had its golden age some time before Antwerp become the metropole of the world - its odd to think it once was, but so it is -, so it was nice for me to be confronted with a more Roman architecture.

The two works weren't all that interesting to me to be honest - apparently I do know more about Medieval history than I usually think I do.
I read them on the metro to and from work and there most significant use to me lies in the bibliographies.

I know that Le Goff has written lots more. But the 'Roman de Fauvel', I don't remember having read about it.
It's something new to me all together.

A satirical drama does remind me of something I came across in The Name of the Rose, namely the Coena Cypriani - a work that inspires a wild dream making a mockery out of traditional Christian tale from Adso of Melk, the novels protagonist. I have been looking for a readable translation of this piece of condemned satire, but sadly even the internet isn't always all that you think it to be. Smile

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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  nombre de otro on Mon Sep 17, 2012 9:49 am

I've not heard much about it but the news made me wonder how is it that a silly movie (even if it's insulting) makes people so angry, with blood they say they'll defend their God and all of that, so many people in the arab world reacted in a similar way. It can't be they're all psychopaths and I couldn't imagine it's just their religion (in the worst way), as if they were all from the same big sect that doesn't let them think for themselves to see how grave it is
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  felix on Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:15 am

random ego of otro nombre wrote:I've not heard much about it but the news made me wonder how is it that a silly movie (even if it's insulting) makes people so angry, with blood they say they'll defend their God and all of that, so many people in the arab world reacted in a similar way. It can't be they're all psychopaths and I couldn't imagine it's just their religion (in the worst way), as if they were all from the same big sect that doesn't let them think for themselves to see how grave it is
I'd imagine that something like 99.9% of the world's population has NOT seen the 'offensive' movie (or youtube video, is it?) - and I'd imagine that percentage is a little higher in the muslim population. Though I understand that many of those 'outraged' by it do believe that it has been shown on US 'State Television' ...
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Re: Books I've been reading

Post  blue moon on Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:21 pm

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
The Echo by Minette Walters
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