Sunday, 18 January 2015
"Was I cowardly not to want to explore the farther reaches of consciousness, afraid of getting lost, of being unable to return? I had been on my own since I turned seventeen, and that early independence made me old: I was never sure anyone would pick up the pieces if I fell apart, and I thought of consequences. The young live absolutely in the present, but a present of drama and recklessness, of acting on urges and running with the pack. They bring the fearlessness of children to acts with adult consequences, and when something goes wrong they experience the shame or the pain as an eternal present too. Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that make you navigate more slowly and steadily. But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss."
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide To Getting Lost
Saturday, 10 January 2015
Actual thing that actually happened* in a Russell Group university library NEAR YOU:
PUNTER: [approaches information desk] Help me I have no idea how to do this thing.
ME: What thing?
PUNTER: This thing which is a straightforward web based research task complete with step by step instructions printed out on this piece of paper I am holding.
ME: Have you read the step by step instructions?
ME: Perhaps you could read the step by step instructions?
PUNTER: I am not able to read the step by step instructions at this time because the piece of paper containing the straightforward web based research task has been in my bag since before Christmas and now the straightforward web based research task is due in on Monday and also I have been in the library for many hours already and I am very tired.
ME: I see. [reads step by step instructions]. It says to log into the website the step by step instructions advise you to log into in the first step by step instruction.
PUNTER: This is all terribly difficult. I have not read the step by step instructions. I do not know what this website is.
ME: [opens website, passes mouse and keyboard to punter] Here is the website. Now all you have to do is search for the thing it tells you to search for in the second step by step instruction.
PUNTER: I literally have no idea how to search for a word or phrase using a search box.
ME: You type the word or phrase into the search box which is there. [points to search box]
PUNTER: I see. [clicks various random links] Where is the information I need? How am I meant to complete this straightforward web based research task?
ME: You type the word or phrase into the search box which is there. [points to search box]
PUNTER: [types vague keyword into search box, clicks on first result] This result here is exactly the result I am looking for.
ME: I am afraid the step by step instructions say the result needs to be about X, but that result is about Y.
PUNTER: You are correct. [clicks on second result] What about this result?
ME: I am afraid that result again is about Y. Perhaps you could alter the search term, for example as per the step by step instructions printed on the piece of paper that is in front of you, to include X. Maybe then you will be able to find the information you need to complete this straightforward web based research task.
PUNTER: [repeats earlier steps five or ten or fifteen or eleventy thousand times]
ME: [contemplates murder]
PUNTER: [resumes clicking on random links]
ME: The step by step instructions there by your hand, right next to it actually, the hand that is at the end of your arm that is, tell you exactly what you need to do to find the information you need to complete this straightforward web based research task.
[Punter reads instructions. Time stretches into infinity, possibly stops]
PUNTER: It is impossible. [shakes head sadly] I cannot find what I need to complete this straightforward web based research task.
ME: Would you like me to have a go?
ME: [finds required information instantly]
PUNTER: YOU ARE AN AMAZING LIBRARIAN!
* paraphrased slightly
Friday, 2 January 2015
At the start of 2014, I decided I would try to read 100 books over the course of the year.
Unfortunately, real life got in the way (how rude) so I only managed to read 60.
Here they are:
1. The Grass Is Singing - Doris Lessing
2. Worthless Men - Andrew Cowan
3. The Examined Life - Stephen Grosz
4. Diana: The Making of a Media Saint - Jeffrey Richards/Scott Wilson/Linda Woodhead (eds)
5. The BFG - Roald Dahl
6. Matilda - Roald Dahl
7. I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
8. Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust - Carol Ann Lee
9. The Guardian Columns 1998-2000 - Julie Burchill
10. A Street Cat Named Bob - James Bowen
11. Child Abuse and Neglect: Attachment, Development and Intervention - David Howe
12. A Place Of My Own - Michael Pollan
13. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
14. The Reason I Jump - Naoki Higashida
15. The Laws of Simplicity - John Maeda
16. A Brief History of Britain 1485-1660 - Ronald Hutton
17. The Missing - Andrew O'Hagan
18. Journalism: Right and Wrong - Ian Mayes
19. The Disappearance of Childhood - Neil Postman
20. There Is Nothing Wrong With You - Cheri Huber
21. Zealot - Reza Aslan
22. Georgian London: Into The Streets - Lucy Inglis
23. 3096 Days - Natascha Kampusch
24. The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
25. Do No Harm - Henry Marsh
26. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work - Alain de Botton
27. The Witches - Roald Dahl
28. Here Is New York - E. B. White
29. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
30. Frank - Jon Ronson
31. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
32. Touching From A Distance - Deborah Curtis
33. Motherless Daughters - Hope Edelman
34. Romany and Tom - Ben Watt
35. Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
36. Gut Feelings - Gerd Gigerenzer
37. The Kenneth Williams Diaries - Russell Davies (ed)
38. Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh
39. Of Mice And Men - John Steinbeck
40. Shit My Dad Says - Justin Halpern
41. Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl
42. To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
43. In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile - Dan Davies
44. Rock Stars Stole My Life - Mark Ellen
45. Travels In The Scriptorium - Paul Auster
46. Elizabeth Is Missing - Emma Healey
47. Towards Another Summer - Janet Frame
48. Animal Farm - George Orwell
49. Open Secrets - Alice Munro
50. A Childhood - Jona Oberski
51. Chavs - Owen Jones
52. Switch - Chip and Dan Heath
53. The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds - John Higgs
54. Rupert Brooke: His Life and Legend - John Lehmann
55. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
56. The Society of Timid Souls - Polly Marland
57. Skating to Antarctica - Jenny Diski
58. Harry's Last Stand - Harry Leslie Smith
59. We Learn Nothing - Tim Kreider
60. The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky - Bryan Appleyard
Some were attempts to catch up on actual proper literature and childhood classics I never read; one or two of the slimmer volumes were pure filler. Almost all were quality books, well worth reading, and lovely, lovely Twitter drew my attention to a significant number of these.
(Lovely, lovely Twitter also ate up a thousand billion what-could-have-been-reading hours, but that's another story.)
There were others, too, that I either gave up on or didn't have time for. Iain Sinclair fell by the wayside, as did The Secret Garden. I never got round to Lost At Sea or My Ear At His Heart or The Thirty Nine Steps or A Million Miles in a Thousand Years or even Philip Larkin's Collected Poems. Maybe this year. I will just add them to my 2015 'To Read' list, which in two short days has already accrued six items. Can we have more hours in the day, more days in the week please?
If it's recommendations you're after, glancing at the notebook I jotted the titles down in I see that A Place of My Own (Michael Pollan), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris), Romany and Tom (Ben Watt), and The Kenneth Williams Diaries all had little hearts drawn after their entries.
Skating to Antarctica (Jenny Diski) had a little heart WITH LINES EMANATING FROM IT. With hindsight, Romany and Tom should have had this too. It melted me.
We Learn Nothing (Tim Kreider) had a little heart with a smiley face inside. (Here is some Kreider for the uninitiated: A Man and His Cat. Delicious stuff.)
The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan) just had a smiley face, but on the basis of that and the heart A Place of My Own earned I feel I must now read everything this man has ever written.
Janet Frame's Towards Another Summer was so devastatingly good a heart or a smiley face couldn't begin to cover it: it got a small circle of radiating lines, a speechless gasp of starstruck admiration.
I read The Examined Life (Stephen Grosz) twice before I handed it back to the library, which is also a recommendation I suppose. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was a re-read too, because David Sedaris is the eighth wonder of the world. 2015 is the year I devour his back catalogue: bring it on.
Unbelievably, John Higg's wonderful, mischievious book on The KLF didn't get a heart, a smiley face or a gasp: I regret this oversight.
My copy of Frank was, of course, signed by the author. ♡ ☺ ☼ ✿ ✩
PS All but a handful of the 60 titles came from the public library. If you haven't already, please consider signing your local 'Save Our Library' petition - there's bound to be one. Libraries are precious things.