Posts Tagged ‘book’

“I’d lifted my right leg slightly….”

THIS IS NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE, PEOPLE!

Where to start with something as epic and all-consuming as How To Lose A Girl In Ten Ways, which I couldn’t take my head out of and finished in a day?

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Mr. Smithson does not beat around the bush with his debut offering. In fact, he actively invites you into the bush…. o god. Pun not intended but it’s staying in as it’s rather apt.

Let’s just have a little look at a few of the methods that Mr. Smithson recommends we employ to lose a girl.

#1 Totally misread the situation
#2 Turn up with a guy who has more money than you
#4 Watch porn
#6 Try to sleep with her best friend
#9 Order the hot wings before your date

And how, you might ask, has he become such an expert on girl-losing?

Now, maybe it’s the fear of an ordinary life or low confidence levels, but Mr. Smithson continues to find himself (read: put himself) in pretty crazy situations when it comes to women. And luckily for him, it makes for a great story!

We silently thank the girl who responds to his advances on the bus because he can then tell us about how he ends up in the hotel lobby, casually urinating on the carpet while booking a room (the receptionist doesn’t realise it’s happening – Sean is the master of stealth).

We love that the posh girl noticed Mr. Smithson and liked him enough to take him home, because then he got to tell us about how he ruined the evening with porn.

And yet, we are shocked when he does tell us about it. We are incredulous about the offhand manner in which he announces, “Within seconds, I’d managed to shit myself” and goes on to describe his barecheeked dash for the sink to clean away the ‘evidence.’ We are outraged, on behalf of women everywhere, about how he drunkenly approaches a girl’s best friend, having already slept with the girl. We are disgusted at the regularity with which this man frequents strip clubs.

But then, you know what? We’re actually not. We love him. We love the ridiculous madness that ensues when he has had a drink*. We love that he spends so long holding a grudge against a stripper, who then turns her attention to him, and within a second, he’s in love with her. We love his self-awareness, his willingness to point out his least desirable qualities to us. And he’s certainly not afraid to tell us about hookers.

* A sober Mr. Smithson, I’m led to believe, is quite a different story. Well-spoken, well-dressed and rather handsome, is the rumour?

Every so often, someone comes along and tells a story so well that they could be telling you anything and you’d read it. You’d read it if it were about the rules of golfing or the intricacies of computer programming.

Sean Smithson is one of those people. Of course, his material is fantastic and you can’t help but gasp when told about the right-leg-raising during the shit-himself escapade. But he is also a fantastic story-teller. He could write anything and people would want to read it.

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Dipping into Chat

The Chat book I mentioned in my last post is still blowing my mind. I don’t know how to start telling you about it because the epicness comes from all directions. I thought I’d do an overall view of things by giving you a few snippets. Sit back and get ready for the amazingness.

“It turned out, Ronnie had seen a ghost once too. He was so perfect for me. I knew Nan had found him for me.” (Her Nan’s dead, by the way.)

“‘You don’t stab someone twice by accident,’ I fumed.” (I don’t know, I think it’s up for debate.)

“‘I couldn’t help myself. You weren’t here and I just had to have sex. I’m so sorry.’ He begged me to forgive him. ‘It was just once, two years ago. I want you, Suzy.’ ‘Marry me, then,’ I said.” (This is totally what I would also say if someone had just cheated on me. Totally.)

“After a year if emailing, I felt I’d learned a lot about Voodoo and convinced Mambo Racine that I was serious about joining the religion…. After I’d learned all those secrets, I had to plunge my hands into three vats of boiling oil.” (Fairly standard religion-joining behaviour, wouldn’t you say?)

“How was I supposed to tell a 7 year old I was sleeping with the housekeeper?! I needed help running our home and the moment I laid eyes on Julie, she gave me the raging horn!” (That’s a phrase we now use, apparently. The Raging Horn. Ah, Chat… a pillar of eloquence and intellect.)

“How I could have picked two such dysfunctional men to marry, I do not know.” (I often wonder the same thing… o wait… no, I don’t.)

As you can see, there is plenty more amazingness to come from Chat. You haven’t seen the last of this book yet!

The Chat book

Something amazing happened. A book arrived through the door the other day. A book of Chat! I didn’t even know they had a book!
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Doesn’t it look amazing?! I opened it, super excited, and found the contents page, which hinted at the brilliance to follow – The Hands That Caress, Our Furry Friends Have Some Spooky Senses, Autistic Love, Did Rape Save My Life, Bloater, Fatgirl Slim, Our Ghost Turns The Coke Flat…. And that’s just a brief overview!

So in I went, in to world of Chat and hilarity and found this, in paragraph 3 of the first story.
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Have you found the bit I mean? About the nipples? And there we are. We’re straight into the nonsense. It gets steadily more mental as you get further into it.

For example, one story was called I Feel Like Chicken Tonight. I’d like you to guess first what this was about. I thought it was a foodie story, maybe someone gets food poisoning. Maybe they thought it was chicken but it was disease-ridden mountain goat or something.

Want me to tell you what it actually is? Brace yourselves.

It starts with a couple. The guy is a cross dresser but she doesn’t approve, he’s trying to get help, etc. They get married.
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As soon as you read stuff like this, you suddenly remember Chat’s main audience. The “I’ll-just-get-married-in-my-tracksuit” type of person. You know.

This story is also fabulous because ‘Clive’ is also referred to as ‘Ian’ 30% of the time. Good editing and proofreading skills, Chat. Hats off to you. Here’s a fine example of it.
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So yeh, that’s also what the story’s about. Not really chicken at all. More cross dressing and bestiality. Is it bestiality if the chicken’s frozen?

Anyway, that was a direction I hadn’t seen Chat go in before. I was on a bus so bursting out laughing at the above part of the story was quite awkward.

Another story I read, called Bloater, was about a fat guy who met a girl, had a family, got skinny, loved it, then got fat again, his wife left and now he’s trying to diet. Interesting.

There’s SO much to get stuck into with this book. I will undoubtedly be reporting back again.

It started with Fjaroabyaggo

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet another blogger? One you didn’t already know outside the blogging world. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if that blogger also wrote one of your favourite blogs, a blog that made you laugh out loud or gasp in horror? There are few blogs I love more than Sean Smithson’s. I love seeing that there’s another post there to read. And every time that little email notification comes through telling me “Sean Smithson” has liked one of my posts, I silently high-five myself and think, “Yes, Laura, today’s post was good.”

My blog, edgy as I like to imagine it is, has got nothing on Sean’s, which, by the way, is not his name. I’ll get onto that. Sean’s blog leaves mine in the dust. He gets stuck straight in, in a way that is almost-brave/almost-stupid. A fine example comes from his ‘How to stay single in your 30s’ post: “If you find that ladies are just drawn to you or that your friends absolutely insist on trying to set you up, then try the following – Be a mildly obnoxious asshole on dates. You need to get the balance just right so that she’ll sleep with you but won’t want you to call her ever again.”

Honesty is definitely the best policy in Sean’s world. O yeh, so that’s totally not his name. But it’s close enough and easier to work out how to pronounce. It was certainly a new experience to be quite far into a conversation and have someone say, “O, by the way, wanna know my real name?”

I forget what was written about Fjaroabyaggo to prompt the joke that there was going to be a trip there but that is how it started. It somehow grew from that into a fully breathing, walking, talking person at the tube station. He didn’t look slightly loser-ish or studenty. He wasn’t clutching a crumpled balance sheet or accompanied by a hooker.

He was tall-ish, well-dressed and well-spoken. He was also courteous and eloquent, quite a surprise after the Sean of the blog. It’s not like I was expecting a total knob end but, you know, something a little more rough around the edges. The thing is, he is also the person in the blog, the person who lands himself in these brilliant/stupid situations. It’s not something you’d realise unless you knew the blog. And it’s kinda fun once you have realised it and he mentions calling hookers to come over to his parents’ house while they’re in bed.

What’s not to love?

The reason for this post is taking me forever to get to. I guess because I’m trying to make you realise how brilliant this man is so that by the time I get to my point, you’ll already like him.

Well, he’s writing a book. Could there be anything better than a good writer with no inhibitions telling you about all the most ridiculous situations he’s been in? A quick peek inside the book is going to look something like this email conversation we recently had:

Sean: “It’s going to be a book of short stories. That way, they can read about the time I was with a hooker on my mum’s living room floor while she slept upstairs on Tuesday’s tube journey. And perhaps on Thursday, they could read about the time I shit my pants before a date…”

Laura: “I would love to read about the time you shit your pants before a date. What’s the general gist of that story?”

Sean : “Just that I was on my way to a date and shit myself whilst trying to fart. Obviously things got a lot worse during the course of that day.”

Need I say anything more?

This book of utter fabulousness (that’s a word) will be out in January. Good job there’s Christmas inbetween to keep me entertained during the wait. And don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering for you and keep reminding you about it 🙂

Genetics and education

Morning all. I’m handing over to my guest blogger today as it’s Wednesday. Enjoy!

 

This week’s subject is quite challenging so get your thinking caps on.

The results of a study (in the UK) and a recent book (G For Genes) about the academic achievements of 10,000 sets of identical twins have caused something of an uproar. Why? Firstly because the report was leaked to a newspaper when it was meant for internal use only and secondly because of its potential implications. The senior policy advisor to the UK Government’s Education Secretary reckons that genetics are the largest factor in educational achievement.

Let me explain. The identical twins were born 1994-96 and the results of their GCSE exams (at 16 yrs old) have been analysed. A recent radio programme (The Moral Maze, Radio 4) tackled the subject and one of the authors of the book quoted a figure saying that 52% of the variance in the results was down to genetics. Their suggestion was that we should consider the idea of “genetically sensitive schools”. Wow! Does that make you think (like me): “I wonder where this is going?”

If you fancy a listen to the discussion programme here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03fdjsp

Now it’s this radio programme I’d like to refer back to for this brief survey of some of the issues involved. For those who don’t know the format there is a panel who question the speakers (called witnesses in the prog) about the view they are putting forward either in favour of the subject or against it. The idea is to focus on any moral issues that do (or could) arise from the subject under investigation.

The first speaker was one of the authors of the book. Their view was that, as scientists, they simply put the facts out and it’s up to others to interpret or from the government side formulate policy based on the results of that research. In other words they did not see any moral dilemma in deciding whether to publish or not. They’re basically saying they do not see they have any responsibility for the possible outcomes. Do you agree with that? Should science incorporate a moral responsibility to the society round about it and possibly further afield? Despite the authors of the book claiming that it was not the scientist’s job to formulate policy one of the panel (who had read the book) said that they did actually suggest policy matters towards the end of their book.

The genetic information would enable schools to be able to personalise learning through understanding a child’s genetic as well as social background. I’m wondering at this point how on earth they could possibly keep data like this safe. I don’t what security is like in whatever country you live in but over the past few years, here in the UK, there have been a number of whole databases lost, stolen or compromised: laptops have been stolen (one from the seat of a car of a Ministry of Defence employee), memory sticks have been left where they shouldn’t have been and sometimes corrupt employees have changed information on a person (and more recently even patients in a hospital have had their “information” changed). Just think of the implications of say your whole genetic make up being stolen. Supposing you play in a group and someone finds out that you don’t have a “musical” profile in your genetic make-up. Do you get fired or asked to leave?

When a panel member suggested that it seemed that the research was leading us to a situation where when a child is born their genetic “profile” established & stored so that when they were of school age their learning could be tailored to suit that child; the author said that the research did not support such a view. They re-iterated the view that their role was simply to put the facts out and let others make decisions based on it.

The second speaker was a teacher from the south of England who works in a school (Years 1-6, ages 5-11) where they have a different view about how children should learn.

There is a video of some of the kids and the teaching in class on their site (http://www.thewroxham.org.uk/).

Now before giving you their idea he claimed that their results in exams provide proof that the system they use works. So what is the system? I can base what I write only on what the speaker said as I have no experience in the field (and don’t know anyone with it). The school ethos is “Learning Without Limits”. The difference is that they do not use the term “able” or “ability” (either high or low or any variation of it). He explained that the school allows the children to “choose their level of differentiation (or challenge)” in each lesson. If you watch the video you can see children explaining a bit about how this “challenge” idea works. The children make the decisions that affect the pace of their learning and ultimately I suppose their future. “Able” he feels has negative connotations so they speak of a child working at a particular “level”. The child makes the choice on the next level of challenge. They are the learner in the process; they are part of a “learning journey”. Now obviously I don’t know how that works in practise but I think most of us probably came through the old system of “streaming”: the clever ones in a subject went into “Set 1” (the top set) or whatever your school called it with the rest going downwards in 2,3,4 etc so it is very hard for us to imagine how we could choose what our next learning level would be. All I can say is that, if the school results which he says are very good are anything to go by, it seems to work where he teaches. When asked about whether genetic information would (or could?) help him in his job he was rather non-committal. I wonder what you think of the idea. I also wonder how the children will fare when they have to go into a senior school where this particular idea is not used; how well will they be able to adapt? Well, it’s food for thought for anyone who has left school behind even just a few years ago. Would this system have suited you?

The programme couldn’t go into many different areas because of its remit but think about some of these scenarios. Can you imagine a staff room conversation in which teachers would be talking about whether pupil X or pupil Y should be taught music or art because they did not have the “musical gene” or the “artistic gene” in their profile? Suppose a child just loves music and wants to do it. Why shouldn’t they? They might not be the next classical composer or pop sensation but they could enjoy doing music for its own sake and be willing to practise. Under this new idea they would probably be excluded because they didn’t have the right genetic profile for musical ability. Don’t know about you but it sounds scary to me! More importantly where does it go next? Do interviewees, for example, take their genetic profile to a potential employer to demonstrate why they should be given the job rather than someone else? What about relationships between people? Would dating agencies request genetic profiles so they could “match” the same sort of people? You might be offered potential dates only with those who are “most suited” genetically. Suppose the country is short of scientists would you be happy if the government decided to look for any of the population who had the scientific ability gene? They might then be given special “treatment” in certain areas: educational, financial & even social. I’m sure you can think of a number of other areas in which research like this would have a major impact. If you thought 1984 (Orwell) was scary the potential of this research takes things to a whole new level. If you weren’t scared before I hope you can see why now you could have reason to be. I’ve only been able to look superficially at some of the implications but where do you see this sort of thing going?

(There were two more speakers in the programme but I’ll leave them till next week as they cover a number of different areas to the two people I’ve covered here.)  

Do you judge a book by its cover?

Hello all. My regular guest blogger is having the Thursday slot this week as I managed to have a memory lapse yesterday and forget what day it was. So here he is, a day later than usual. Enjoy!

 

I suppose we’d all like to think we don’t judge books by their covers but I wonder if you ever stop and think about that. Without actually reading it how can you judge or make a judgement about a book. We like to think we are fair and reach a reasonable (and reasoned) opinion about books we are going to buy. What do you base that decision on? Is it a recommendation from a friend or a review on radio/TV or in a newspaper? (In which case probably the cover doesn’t even come into it; for example, if you’re buying a dictionary, it’s a dictionary. It doesn’t matter what’s on the cover. You want the words inside.)Why do buy a particular book? Is it for information/reference or maybe just leisure time reading? When you browse in a bookshop are there certain sections or subjects you head for because that’s your interest: history, local history, historical fiction, travel & geography, art, biography, science etc? Once you’ve got to your section there’ll usually be loads of books on that subject so how do you decide? Don’t tell me an appealing cover doesn’t sway you. Even if you don’t buy the book I’m sure there are times when you’ve taken it out to have a look at just because of its cover. Of course you’ll have a “quick flick” through and read a few paragraphs. But why? Because the cover looked “interesting”. How often do you stop and think I wonder if the cover is really telling me what this book is going to be like?

Think about this – if people didn’t, at least some of the time, judge books by their covers why is there a whole industry connected with the design of book covers. I heard one author, on the radio, recently lamenting the fact that her new book had a cover she was not impressed with because it had stuff on which suggested the type of writing inside; it was not she felt her type of writing but she had to go with it as the publishers decide. (Behind decisions like that is the whole commercial side of writing and making a product that looks appealing even with well-established authors.) Once you’ve given them your manuscript and you’ve got your payment how they package it is up to them. She described it as letting someone else wrap a present she’d brought. A similar feeling occurs when writers’ books are made into films. The producers can take liberties with the written word in order to introduce a bit more drama. Again one author I heard said that he didn’t like what was done with his book but accepted that once he’d agreed to let it be made into a film he had to just let go of it. It was like his child leaving home and finding its way in another medium. It became a different “animal” once someone else got hold of it. He was sad he couldn’t help it through the process but that’s just the way it is. That’s quite a contrast to another author who had been asked by the film producers to be a sort of “on-set advisor” on character portrayals; even so the film makers still had the final word.

Just as an example check out the following link and look at these seven covers for the novel 1984 (the other one is for Animal Farm).

https://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=592&q=1984&oq=1984&gs_l=img.3..0l10.1538.2453.0.2856.4.4.0.0.0.0.140.459.0j4.4.0….0…1ac.1.30.img..1.3.318.00t653bR3xY#hl=en&q=1984+george+orwell&tbm=isch&facrc=0%3B1984%20george%20orwell%20book%20cover&imgrc=_

Given what you know the book is about do any strike you as being particularly attractive. If you knew nothing about the book would any of those covers help you? (Don’t know about you but I didn’t find any particularly appealing.)

The other thing to think about with this question is how much of a write-up or reviews are there on the cover or inside covers. They may help you, so you could say you are judging the book by its cover simply because the cover is giving you a lot of information about its content.

There is a Bo Diddley (real name: Ellas Otha Bates) song called You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. (It was written by Stevie Wonder/Sylvia Moy/Henry Cosby and came out in 1962 on Checker Records.) It contains a number of “You can’t judge…” sentences about things like an apple & the tree, honey and the bee, daughter and the mother etc. It’s really a reminder of how easily we get into the way of judging something by reference to something else which it’s related to in some way.

If you fancy a watch/listen check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lch0o4wwGyw

Don’t worry if you notice the words are out of sync on the old black & white live bit. Also check out those synchronised dancers (nearly!). No surprise it never made the charts over here.

It was though covered by a number of artists: The Strypes, Willie Dixon, Bob Newscaster, The Shadows of Night. British band The Yardbirds also covered the song. Their line up over the years has included some VERY famous names on lead guitar: Eric Clapton (1962-65), Jeff Beck (1965-66) and Jimmy Page (1966-68); Page, after the group broke up, as you’ll know, went on to form Led Zeppelin.

Now what about if we take the “book by the cover” to be a metaphor for relationships between people? Do you judge people by how they dress? Don’t tell me you’ve never looked at someone either younger or older and thought there’s no way you’d dress like that – perhaps it was the pink hair or skinhead or long hair or too scruffy look or too well-manicured look or too tall or too short and so on. I’m sure you’ve all done it. You’ve categorised people by that first impression. You don’t want to bother getting to know them because they’re not likely to be “your sort of person”. You’re definitely judging the “book” by its cover. Alternatively perhaps one of those qualities mentioned would cause you to be attracted to that person because they’re likely to be “your sort of person”. It’s the same thing though isn’t it except this time it’s attraction rather than avoidance.

The only real way to find out is to actually speak to the person and get to know them just like with the book the only answer is to read it and then pass an opinion.

The key is are you a “book” that someone would want to read? Would someone want to read the cover and find out more? Maybe that’s why we spend quite a lot of time making our “covers” attractive; and just maybe in doing that we’re admitting what we don’t want to – that we do judge people by their appearance. Otherwise why spend that time making ourselves more appealing if we’re not going to use that as a standard by which we judge others. Bit of a contradiction isn’t it? – spending time to make our covers more attractive (knowing that others probably do judge us that way) and then saying we don’t judge others that way. Hmmm……Human Nature perhaps??

Why I will never read Fifty Shades

I might as well apologise in advance to those people who loved Fifty Shades Of Grey, who said it was a revelation in erotic literature for women, who’s sex lives were revolutionised by it, for there are bound to be some of those people reading this, given that 95% of the world read it, it seems.

Before we start, I would like to state for the record that I’m not dismissing it because it’s erotic literature and I’m some kind of straight-laced prude. I can read anything if it’s written well. That’s the secret of a good writer, I think. To make the writing invisible and let the story shine. If you’re having to pay attention to the writing, in a bad way, the story is lost.

The names are probably a good place to start. Has she really called them Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele?! It’s as silly as if I decided to write a novel about cake baking and named the main characters Mr. Butter and Miss Sugar. Grey and Steele. It might even be ok if she left it at that but she just goes on and on about things that are grey and steel, as if she’s trying to send secret messages to my subconscious and create atmosphere except that she’s been so obvious about her subconscious messaging that I’m now paying more attention to the stupidly obvious references than the story.

How many people, when they are walking along and see a building with lots of metal things and some writing in silver by a door, how many people do you know that would describe it as being written in ‘steel’? O yes, I often see things written in steel… It’s so stupidly obviously a reference to her name and is trying to build a theme.

Please grant me with more intelligence than needing nonsensical references to names and words to create ‘atmosphere’.

It goes on and on. Lots of things are described as ‘gray’ too, the building, his suit, his eyes, his stare… Blah blah blah. It was either written in a really contrived way or an editor came along after and used the ‘find and replace’ tool on Word to replace every possible other word with ‘grey’ or ‘steel’. It bothers me, this type of thing. Bad writing. Poorly disguised efforts at ‘themes’. Bad editing. It bothers me.
The book also lost me when the Steele girl first goes into the Grey man’s office and is all intimidated and nervous then suddenly sees some paintings and just goes, “They’re lovely. Raising the ordinary to the extraordinary.” Like a deranged elderly person might. Just go off into their own little world and start saying odd poetic things in a singsong voice. How many people do you know that would come out with a line like that in normal conversation?

Next up, the language used in the first ten or twenty pages to build the theme of ‘sex’. Right after she’s turned into a deranged elderly person and started saying odd thing, he ‘cocks’ his head at her. Now I might not think anything of it if he didn’t ‘cock’ his head about six times over the next few pages. What an extremely poorly disguised way to get the word ‘cock’ in early on, to build the ‘atmosphere’ (I guess). I could hardly stop myself from screaming when he kept ‘cock’ing.

There is lots of finger talk too. I’m guessing fingers play a part later in the story? He gives her a ‘long-fingered’ handshake, she’s all ‘fingers and thumbs’, etc etc. Check this sentence out.

“He’s watching me, one hand relaxed in his lap and the other cupping his chin and trailing his long index finger across his lips.”

I mean, come on! It’s straight from a badly written porn film. As is this one…

“I squirm uncomfortably under his penetrating gaze.”

The ‘penetrating’, like the head cocking, is repeated to a fault. I’m still only about ten pages in and already I’m bombarded with bad writing and more references to sex than I can handle without rebelling.

I feel like saying, “Calm down, author lady! I get it! It’s going to be sexy. Don’t force the point.”

And that, my friends, is why I will not be reading Fifty Shades of Sex.

If I want badly written porn, I will go and find some actual badly written porn.