Date Archives June 2010

Monday morning inspiration

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. Neil Gaiman The Guardian, Feb 2010

“Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande

This is a wonderfully lucid book. I would not hesitate to take writing advice from Dorothea Brande, for the simple reason that her own writing is so elegant and clear. As I was reading, I was reminded of George Orwell’s dictum that good writing should be like a window pane. Brande’s book, written in 1934, is a perfect exemplar. It does not draw attention to itself, but simply communicates the author’s ideas in a clear, pleasing manner. Brande states from the outset that she will not deal with issues of… Read More

Monday morning inspiration

Writing fiction is not “self-­expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace. Sarah Waters The Guardian, Feb 2010

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz

I quite liked this book. I think that, perhaps, if I had come upon it by chance in a neglected corner of a bookshop and read it without any preconceptions, I would have really liked it. But I did have preconceptions. A couple of years ago this was a hot book, recommended in all the end-of-year newspaper reviews, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, winner of the American National Book Critics Circle Award. I was expecting something “Astoundingly great” (Time), “Technical breathtaking” (Time Out), “A triumph of style and wit” (San… Read More

“Bon Voyage, Mr President” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A short book of four short stories. I liked the main one, Bon Voyage Mr President. It’s quite a straightforward story, with none of the magical realism for which Marquez is known. The dying ex-president of a Caribbean nation is in Geneva, seeing doctors about a mysterious ailment. A man from his home nation recognises him and invites him to his house, with the initial intention of making money out of him by selling him funeral services (the man is an ambulance driver and makes extra money working for funeral… Read More

Forecasting the future

The Society of Young Publishers hit on an interesting idea in a recent issue of its magazine inPrint. They dug up an old article from 1998, in which Waterstones Managing Director Alan Giles was giving his thoughts about the future of the bookselling industry. For those of you who don’t know, Waterstones is the major bookshop chain in the UK, the equivalent of Barnes  Noble in the US, only even more dominant. So this guy should know what he’s talking about, right? Wrong. He got more or less everything wrong…. Read More

Seeds

I am not much of a gardener. I like the idea of gardening, but the reality of it just doesn’t grab me. Nevertheless, I was quite disturbed to see that, according to United Nations estimates, around 75% of plant biodiversity has vanished entirely in the last century. It may be good in the short term to focus on the most profitable, high-yielding varieties of crops and vegetables, but it doesn’t seem a very sensible long-term strategy. It may also be why a lot of things you buy in the supermarket… Read More

“Race and Racism in Britain” by John Solomos

I’m sure that for sociology students, this book is a very valuable text. It’s very methodical and thorough – it looks at its subject from every angle, and almost every paragraph contains at least one reference to a book in the large bibliography at the end. For me, though, the book was a bit of a struggle. Although I have often thought I would have liked a life in academia, to tell the truth I am not suited for it. I don’t like the dry, passive, non-committal tone, the judgements… Read More