Tag: books

Shorts and books.

I am still cleaning my house and packing, it is coming along okay.

Shorts, OMG. Trying on shorts when you have not exercised regularly for an entire year and have gained 30 lbs is a very sobering experience, let me tell you. I might have to buy a pair of massive shorts while I am in Spain. At least my swimming costumes still fit me. I will have to try really hard to keep dieting over the next week. I have had 3 meals today but they were small and I am not snacking. I am moderately hungry but I am drinking tea to compensate. I really need to drop a pound or two in the next few days if I can possibly manage it.

Reading: I need at least one book with me in old-fashioned paper format for those times when you can’t use electronic devices or can’t read them in bright sunlight or just don’t want them with you. So after a lot of deliberation and searching my bookshelves, I’m going to attempt a massive novel called The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk. I think it’s helpful to match what you are reading to the local environment, architecture and climate, at least at times, where the environment is in some way unusual or distinctive. I once read Dracula in blistering summer heat, and I will never forget what an odd sensation it was because the novel is so evocative of graveyards at midnight, damp castles and chill winds. So that’s why I looked at my bookshelves rather carefully. I now wish that I’d taken Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam to Amsterdam, and Solzhenitsyn’s Lenin in Zurich to Zurich. Never mind. Anyway, it turned out that I didn’t have any novels here in paper format that are set in Spain or Morocco, and I found that the closest I could get was Turkey. So that’s why we are going with The Museum of Innocence, it is set in Istanbul, which I’ve visited, and it won’t be totally out of place among the 15th century architecture of the old town quarter of Las Palmas, which I hope to see. It’s a huge, chunky book so wish me luck.

Now I need to go and sort out at least two pairs of my sturdiest trainers because there are a lot of opportunities for walking and even hiking. Must remember to take suitable socks as well.

Brownie Points!!! My First Badge.

I had such a huge, busy day yesterday, I can’t even tell you. If I wrote about all of it in detail I would be here forever, so you will have to make do with just the important part.

The day really started in the very early hours of the morning. I was awake because I was reading. I was reading because I was on the final pages of a book, the completion of which signified WINNING MY FIRST BROWNIE BADGE!! YAY!! I finally won the first badge of the Brownie Points themed season, and it only took me a month. I am so excited!! Here is my badge, and here is the Brownie Points page where you will be able to see the badges gradually stack up.

bookworm iconBookworm

Read three books to completion.

I read Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder, Orlando by Virginia Woolf and The Great Mortality by John Kelly.

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This turned out to be an unexpectedly interesting project. I like reading, I read all the time and don’t bother collecting any Achievement points for it, but, in all honesty, another reason why I don’t collect points is because I very often read things and abandon them before I get to the end. I think that’s very common, isn’t it. To read half of something and then lose interest, I’ve done that so many times. Also I’m very guilty of reading things that are lightweight and easy when in fact I would be much more stimulated and satisfied by reading something more challenging. Gradually rectifying that situation turned out to be what this first Brownie badge, the Bookworm badge, was about. First I read Dataclysm by Christian Rudder, which, while far from stupid (it is full of interesting maths, linguistics and social science) is a great example of the sort of thing I would read anyway even if I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything special, and I think I read it nearly in one sitting.

After that, it dawned on me that I should take the opportunity represented by this Brownie Badge, which is an invitation to do something different, by reading something that I’ve had on my list for ages and have been meaning to get around to, which is why I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and reviewed it here. I had to persevere with it a bit, not least because I was recovering from the happy pills, which utterly destroyed my powers of concentration, so it was kind of an effort and I’m not ashamed to admit that I used Sparknotes to help me follow and understand it when my brain was particularly fried. I loved it and it was really worth it, I’m so glad I read it.

Based on this small success, I went on to read The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, by John Kelly. It is a long, detailed and scholarly account of the Great Plague of the mid 1300s, beginning with its origins in the Eurasian Steppe and following its vicious journey around Europe, where it wiped out the population on the scale of a thermonuclear disaster over a period of about eight horrifying years. I began to read this book months ago and gave up on it the moment it became too much like hard work. Then, so much time elapsed that I found I had forgotten every word and had to start again from the beginning. This time, I stuck with it, concentrated, finally finished it as the sun came up. It was amazing and I will do a full review here as soon as I have time.

I want to say, without the new Brownie Badges project, I would never have made it to the end of The Great Mortality. I’d already abandoned it once and certainly would have done so a second time, had I even attempted it a second time, which is not usually how things go. But on this occasion, because I wanted the Bookworm badge, I stuck with it. I made time for it even though I was busy at work and even though there were many other things I wanted to do with my little bit of free time just as much. Now I have finally made it to the end, I feel pleased and well-informed. That’s why I’m so excited about the Bookworm badge that I’ve just earned. I saw it change my habits. I was already reading, but wanting to earn the badge made me read in a very focused way, making a priority out of reading, and sticking with worthwhile works of literature all the way to the end.

So that is great. I am collecting 1 Books point for The Great Mortality, and I am claiming the Bookworm Badge because I checked off all my objectives for that.

Next steps and further ideas, in light of this Brownie Badges project, which is turning out to be so much more interesting than I expected.

  • The way these gamification schemes always go is that no sooner have you collected an achievement, than there’s a bigger one or a more specialised one waiting. Therefore, I might go for another Badge that’s called something like Big Bookworm where the idea is to read six books instead of three. If I could do that, then I could follow with Super Bookworm, which involves reading nine books, and so on. I’m sort of envisaging five levels of Badge. So if the levels went up in increments such that there was an objective of  3 books, followed by 6 books, then a further 9 books, and so on. then I would have read a total of 45 books by the time I claimed the Ultimate Bookworm Badge, which would be quite something, wouldn’t it. The criterion for these general Bookworm Badges is that I can read anything I want as long as it has some merit. It can’t be crap. But they don’t all have to be related, by subject matter or anything like that.
  • I really enjoyed reading about the 1300s and it occurred to me that perhaps I could go for an Historian Badge. I was thinking that what I could do for that, or at least the first level of it, is pick a period of history that interests me, like the Middle Ages or the Tudors or whatever, read 2 books about it, visit 2 historical sites (plenty of those around London) and perhaps make or draw something that is relevant to the period. Could be good fun, couldn’t it. I became quite interested in Edward III while I was reading about the Plague.
  • Because I enjoyed reading Orlando, it also occurred to me that maybe I could do some sort of specialised Classic Novels badge. Just to keep me pursuing all those books that I haven’t read but think I should read before I die, like Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo and so on. War and Peace. Or maybe this is too ambitious or not focused enough, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. I would have to decide ahead of time what counts as a Classic Novel.

Look at the time, I need to go to bed. More news tomorrow. One final thing: I went to the gym and swam today. It was very scary returning to the gym after so many months away and I hate my bulky, overweight body but there is only one way to solve that problem and the gym is it. So I swam. 30 lengths. 1 Health point.

I am totally going to start working towards a Swimming Badge.

Orlando. The book, not the place.

I am working on my Brownie badges, I can see I am not going to win them overnight and that is fine. We will just keep the Brownie Points themed season going until I’ve collected all the badges that I realistically can, or until it’s not fun any more.

I am mainly working on what is going to be my first badge, the Bookworm badge. I arbitrarily decided that I have to read 3 books from start to finish to earn it. I’ve just finished the second one. It was Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, published in 1928. If you would like to read it, there is a free online copy here.

Orlando is a fantasy, a biography of a fictional character who lives for 400 years and who changes sex, from male to female, about half way through. In this biography, Woolf explores a number of interesting themes. It is partly a novel about biography. It explores the nature of biography. It asks how much we should trust narrators. It disputes the idea that “factual truth, recounted objectively”, as the usual aim or conceit of a biography, is even possible.

The book also takes up the idea of being on a quest for fulfilment, which I think is partly what TLYW is about. Where will fulfilment come from? From being alive for a long time? From the small details of everyday life? From big adventures, such as travel? From a succession of lovers? From writing? This is a difficult question. We pursue fulfilment in all of these ways through and here at TLYW and I haven’t found any final answers yet.

In my opinion, the most interesting parts of the book are chapters five and six, the final chapters. At this point, Orlando is a woman and so much time has passed that the nineteenth century has begun. These things are significantly connected. Compared to previous centuries, the nineteenth century is a very dull and moralistic age and a very restrictive era in which to be a woman. Orlando looks around and sees that there is little licentiousness, little wildness. Everybody is married. Everybody is paired off, chained to each other by the plain, undecorated gold rings on their fingers, there are not even any sparkling jewels, just plain, dour little wedding bands. People are not joined to each other by passion but by convention and respectability. Orlando finds it distasteful and stifling. But at the same time, it makes her wonder whether she should be married. Is she doing something wrong? Everyone is married except for her. She goes to the park and lies down in the grass and tries to feel as though she is married to Nature, without much success. Then a man, Marmaduke Bonthrop, rocks up on his horse, strikes up a conversation and after a few minutes they are engaged. I think that says quite a lot about the struggle of women to be independent in ages and cultures that do not want women to be single and live alone.

Because Orlando has been a man, she is sharply aware of how specific an experience it is, being a woman. The expectations that are placed upon women. The ways that women are reduced and confined. They are supposed to be married. They don’t get into sword fights. Flashing an ankle makes sailors fall off the rigging. It’s all very stupid. It also results in male authors of biographies of, and novels about, women, struggling to say anything interesting about them. Women don’t do anything, in these books. All they do is take their clothes off.

But Orlando was a woman — Lord Palmerston had just proved it. And when we are writing the life of a woman, we may, it is agreed, waive our demand for action, and substitute love instead. Love, the poet has said, is woman’s whole existence. And if we look for a moment at Orlando writing at her table, we must admit that never was there a woman more fitted for that calling. Surely, since she is a woman, and a beautiful woman, and a woman in the prime of life, she will soon give over this pretence of writing and thinking and begin at least to think of a gamekeeper (and as long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking). And then she will write him a little note (and as long as she writes little notes nobody objects to a woman writing either) and make an assignation for Sunday dusk and Sunday dusk will come; and the gamekeeper will whistle under the window — all of which is, of course, the very stuff of life and the only possible subject for fiction. Surely Orlando must have done one of these things? Alas — a thousand times, alas, Orlando did none of them. Must it then be admitted that Orlando was one of those monsters of iniquity who do not love? She was kind to dogs, faithful to friends, generosity itself to a dozen starving poets, had a passion for poetry. But love — as the male novelists define it — and who, after all, speak with greater authority? — has nothing whatever to do with kindness, fidelity, generosity, or poetry. Love is slipping off one’s petticoat and — But we all know what love is. Did Orlando do that? Truth compels us to say no, she did not. If then, the subject of one’s biography will neither love nor kill, but will only think and imagine, we may conclude that he or she is no better than a corpse and so leave her.

So there you go. I think that says it all, really. The text message is the modern-day ‘little note’, isn’t it. And now I question myself, because TLYW is not only about the quest for fulfilment, it is also substantially about love, making one’s life revolve around love and its pursuit, thinking of men, writing them little text messages and taking one’s clothes off, because that is what men like and they don’t require women to love them, or love anything, in any other way. And that is why I am a feminist failure and a sell-out.

1 Books point. In other news, I had another weekend of very energetic Home Improvements and so I am claiming 1 Home point as well.

orlando

Brownie Points.

Right, it’s the first of October and I said we would have a themed season for this month, so here it is.

I was originally thinking of having an Oktoberfest but that is mainly about beer, which is not really what we are aiming for. So I have picked something slightly more apt.

This month’s theme is Brownie Points.

brownie points large

I considered setting myself a challenge for the month by attempting to score brownie points in the form of an Achievement point every day but that’s not really new. So here is the new thing for this month. I thought it would be super fun to see if I can earn some pretend Brownie badges. Brownies as in Girl Guides, as in Girl Scouts. I was a Girl Guide briefly, when I was about 10. The Guide leader was a lady called Mrs Horseman, to whom my dad constantly referred as Mrs Horsemuck. I wasn’t a particularly outstanding Guide. I only earned one badge (for reading) and we went on a day trip to London on which I forgot my hat, to Mrs H’s annoyance, and then wet myself at a major London railway station, and then pretended it hadn’t happened.

Hopefully we can do a bit better this time around.

So. Here is a link to Brownie Badges and here is a link to Guide Badges. Obviously, some of these I am just not going to do, like nothing will induce me to go camping, and I am not going to be Discovering Faith (even though I am curious about what’s happened to her). But there are some other ones that I could do. For example, Number Fun is about organising your money, which I really need to do, as I am about as responsible with money as the average 7 year old, and then there’s swimming and crafts and languages and things like that, which are all well within TLYW’s remit. Also there are some activities that I don’t normally do but would consider, like science and cooking (eek!).

I’m going to make up the criteria for winning these pretend badges as we go along, because that’s how I roll. It probably says nothing good about me that I looked at the ‘Hobbies’ badge and immediately thought ‘casual sex’. Then I read the description of how to win the badge, and it said “tell your Patrol about your hobby and demonstrate what your hobby involves”. So, er, yeah. I don’t think we can have Casual Sex as a hobby, even though it blatantly is one, and we are going to have to be a bit creative with inventing the criteria for success where winning these badges is concerned.

Sound like a plan?

Let’s see how many badges I can win by the end of October. I would encourage you to play along at home!

The first one that I’m going for, to mark the first day of Brownie Points Month, is the Book Lover badge, and I’ve arbitrarily decided that I win it if I read 3 books from cover to cover. I actually finished the first one in one (long) sitting today, getting the month off to a good start. It was Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder, one of the founders of massively popular online dating site OKCupid. It is fascinating. OKC has 10m members. Rudder is a mathematician. He combines this huge, immense data set, consisting of everyone’s profiles, messages sent and received, demographic information (of course), and even details like how long it takes people to write a message, with how many revisions, and produces these utterly beautiful graphs and maps that display what online daters are doing. It is a real eye opener. And that’s before he starts addressing data gathered from places like Twitter and Google. I highly recommend it. It’s a lovely, clear, well-written book and will reveal to you who is the whitest band in existence, why copy-and-paste messages actually work and the difference between women that men find attractive versus women that they realistically think they can date.

1 Books point, and if I read two more books in the immediate future then I will have a Brownie point as well.

🙂

Book Review: Learning to Swim

Sigh. I am working on my house again this evening. I am decluttering the bathroom and ridding it of 10 years’ worth of old cosmetics and toiletries. There’s so much stuff. So many tubes of lipgloss and body lotion and boxes of tampons and packs of aspirin and spare toothbrushes and god knows what else. Multiples of everything. Deodorant. Hair bands. Nail files. Billions of those little bottles of shampoos and conditioners that you get from hotels.

While I am scrubbing and dusting and throwing away old tubes of mascara, I’ve finished listening to an audio book, Learning to Swim, by Sara Henry, in which an annoying woman, who goes by the annoying name of Troy Chance (shut up already) rescues a child who’s been thrown into a lake in Canada and spends the rest of the book alternating between trying to find out who threw him off a boat and sort of slightly falling in love with this child’s dad, a handsome and rich but also passive and only ambivalently interested French guy, a situation I think we can all relate to.

Troy has some kind of day job, but once she’s bravely rescued this kid and got involved with his dad, only later notifying the police, she thinks nothing of throwing herself into full-time amateur detective work and strangely enough the police don’t tell her to stop interfering in their investigations, even though she is contaminating evidence and endangering herself and witnesses left, right and centre. Probably if I’d realised I’d picked up a suspense novel, I would have expected this, but I don’t think I would be any more tolerant of it. Her actions are not that credible and the attitude of the police doesn’t line up with anything I know about the police. I don’t get the impression that they are really big fans of amateur sleuths. The rest of the time, when she’s not sleuthing, she hangs around the house of the French guy, Philippe, because he seems to want her there even though, bewilderingly, he never tries to have sex with her. Sigh. And then the rest of the time when she’s not doing that, she’s engaging in internal monologues about how great she is at fixing bicycles or why she’s a fucking genius at IT security, even though she doesn’t know the first thing about how to cover her tracks when doing her sleuthing online, meaning she is easily found by anyone who wants to find her, such as the killer.

Meh. I read – or listened to – this book as a result of a couple of good reviews on Audible, but honestly I would give it a miss if I were you. By the time you get to the surprise ending you are wondering why everyone is such a dumbass. The killer is smarter than everyone else, but in the memorable words of Graham Norton, referring to a Big Brother contestant in days gone by, this is only like saying that a sheep is cleverer than some worms. I’m giving it 2/10 because it has quite a catchy beginning, even though Troy gives you fair warning of her self-obsessed personality as she manages to twice shoe-horn in mentions of her ‘mini-triathlons’ even as she is flailing around in a dark, icy lake, trying to save a seven-year-old boy from certain death. The more I think about it, the more I can see why the French guy is ambivalent.

1 Books point for persevering with it until all the characters had dry clothes on and had been returned to their proper addresses, and 1 Home point for persevering with the bloody bathroom.

Three books about diet and exercise.

My daily schedule is all messed up. There’s no escape from the heat. In the morning, my flat starts out being very hot and clammy, then it just gets hotter and clammier all day and stays that way all night. The bedroom is particularly uncomfortable. I have started going to bed at 9.30 in the evening and getting up at 5am because the oppressive, wet heat doesn’t cool down indoors even after dark. I cannot wait to start travelling again just for the sake of being able to stay in a hotel with air conditioning. If I were working in a hot country and I was this uncomfortable, I would insist on moving to a different hotel right away. Not sure what to do when it’s the country where you live. I am transporting all of my work stuff to the office today because I can no longer work from home.

I for some reason went on a massive food binge yesterday and ate everything I could see. I don’t know why. Maybe I was missing some vital nutrient. I’ve barely had any appetite since this heatwave started so yesterday was quite a surprise. Things I ate included: large burger (did not eat the bun, did eat some fries), dessert (I don’t know why, just wanted sugar I suppose), about a pound of cherries, some crusty bread with Brie and olives, about 5 or 6 ice lollies, a bunch of other things that I’ve forgotten already. I ate so much that my stomach hurt. Won’t be doing that again in a hurry. Am drinking coffee and getting ready to go outside and do my big walk and go to the gym while it is still early morning and the sun isn’t yet making its most serious attempt of the day to kill everyone.

This is Waterloo station the day before yesterday. Waterloo is one of London’s biggest stations, transporting several million people in and out of London all day, every day. It is so important a transport hub that if one train goes down, there is disorder. Below, you see what happens when the heat causes the train tracks to buckle, putting several trains out of action. See those people? They are trying to get home from work. Waterloo station has a glass roof and no air conditioning. They are standing there cooking in their own sweat.

waterloo

Right, now for a couple of speedy book reviews. I’m still working through Scott Jurek’s book and will review when I’ve finished it. In the meantime, I’ve greedily consumed these, which I’ll review in order of preference.

Run, Fat Bitch, Run. Ruth Field, 2012.

This is a horrible book and I don’t recommend it to anyone. Ruth will tell you that it’s all supposed to be tongue in cheek, don’t read it if you don’t have a sense of humour, it’s just a light-hearted antidote to all the other diet and exercise books out there. Well that’s as may be, but it’s not actually a funny book. There aren’t any jokes or anything. It’s just plain aggressive. Ruth Field is a London barrister and you can really tell. She sounds just like one. She is bullying and nasty about everyone and she assumes that you are just the same. She has no health or exercise credentials. Her book solely consists of her aggressively bullying you, the reader, interspersed with stories about how she has aggressively bullied her family and friends. Let me share with you this story, which opens the book and sets the tone for the entire book. It is the story of what prompted Ruth to become a runner.

You see, one day, Ruth and her work colleagues were talking and one of the colleagues, not one who is particularly svelte or sporty, announces “I’m going to run the London Marathon!” Now, this is a big fucking deal, right? It requires months if not years of training. It is a large physical challenge and a large commitment. It is almost always done for charity – nearly all the London Marathon runners are raising money for some charity or other. I strongly contend that what this woman deserved at that point in the conversation was congratulations and for people to show an interest. It must have been a big moment for her, telling all her friends from work. ‘I’m running the London Marathon!’ You’d like people to take notice of that, wouldn’t you?

Do you know what actually happened? What happened is this. Ruth Field could not bear to be outdone by somebody else, fuck charity, fuck the fact that she didn’t own a pair of running shoes and had never run a step in her life, fuck her friend’s feelings, fuck all of that. Nobody is allowed to say ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘well done’ or ‘do tell us more about it’.  Instead, before anyone else can speak, Ruth jumps in and goes ‘Oh, I’M DOING THAT AS WELL’. Even though she blatantly wasn’t doing that at all until the moment it looked like someone else might get a bit of attention.

So that’s why she went out and bought running shoes and learned to run. Because her friend from work was doing it, and it was either learn to run marathons or let her friend have one second of attention and appreciation that Ruth wasn’t getting. And the whole book continues like that. She bullies her husband, she bullies her sister, she encourages readers to agree that they look at other people and think nasty things about their body shape (Ruth, we don’t all do that, it’s just you). She must have been a nightmare to work with and I bet her publishing team hated her.

0/10

Running Like A Girl, Alexandra Heminsley. 2013

Another British author. Alexandra seems like a thoroughly nice girl whose dad used to run marathons and think nothing of it. The ‘story’ of the book is a bit repetitive. Alexandra starts running, a bit incompetently at first, then slightly better. Then she starts running marathons like her dad. From here on, the story goes as follows. ‘I didn’t know if I could make it to the end. I felt sick and dizzy and my legs were screaming. But then another kind runner shouted encouragement as they passed me and this little bit of hope carried me across the finishing line, against all my expectations. I swore I would not do this again. Two days later I realised I had signed up for another marathon so I started training. On the day of the big race, I didn’t know if I could make it to the end. Then I made it. Then I realised I had signed up for another marathon’. And so on. In the end, we don’t share Alexandra’s doubts about whether she can make it, because girlfriend, you’ve run half a dozen marathons already and you run up and down hills for fun so yeah I think you are probably going to be okay.

What Alex’s book is good for is practical advice, delivered in the soothing and practical British tones of Mary Poppins. It is full of British links and resources for things like running clubs. Alex says useful things about how to buy shoes, what kinds of shoes you need, why you need running socks and Vaseline, why you don’t need sachets of glucose gel, what kinds of things to take with you in your bag on race days and just for added value she explodes some popular myths about running such as ‘it will make your knees sound like crisp packets’ and ‘it will give you a saggy face’. Very nice, sensible, British advice. I should think Alex is probably a jolly nice friend and a good running companion. I think her advice is best suited not so much for someone whose very first day of running is today, but someone who’s been at it a little while and is starting to wonder if signing up for a marathon is a thing they could do.

6/10

The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl, Shauna Reid, 2008

Shauna Reid is Australian and is absolutely charming and I wish I could hug her.

This quite long book begins in Australia where Shauna weighs 25 stone and is hiding from people she knew from school because she’s fat and her career is going nowhere. She becomes desperate when even the plus-size knickers don’t fit her any more and they don’t make any larger sizes. She starts a secret blog that omg absolutely no-one is allowed to know about. It’s this blog on which the book is based and it is a ruthlessly honest blog where she writes about chocolate and ice cream and how she cries at Weight Watchers when she’s too gigantic for the industrial-strength scale.

Eventually, with the help of her sister who makes her keep on going to Weight Watchers, Shauna begins to lose weight. Then she puts some back on. Then she loses some again. After about two years of this, Shauna has lost enough weight that she’s no longer frightened of not being able to fit into the seat on a plane, so she and her sister go to Scotland for two years on a working holiday. In Scotland, she loses some more weight. Starts going to the gym. Loses some more weight. Suddenly eats piles of chips and cake, gains some back again. Back in the gym, loses some more.

At last, life brings Shauna some rewards in the form of True Love. She meets Gareth the Scotsman and marries him. More anxiety ensues because at this point she’s lost more than half of her original weight and that’s a funny thing to have to tell someone who’s only known you at a relatively ordinary size. Oh yes, and then she writes a book chapter for someone’s book about dieting. And then a national newspaper wants to run a story about her, so it all comes out. Everyone finds out. People at work. Everyone. Big colour photos of Shauna looking immense. Pictures of her now wedged into one leg of her old jeans. Now everyone knows she’s a world-beating ex-fatty. You can feel her embarrassment. Then she gets a book deal and at last her once-secret blog is a secret no more and in fact turns out to be the defining moment of her career, transforming her from an unhappy office drone into a proper Author.

Bless! I love her. Things I especially love about Shauna. (1) This isn’t a story of overnight miracles, it is the story of losing more than half your body weight over about 5 years, with plenty of chips- and cake-related setbacks. (2) Shauna learns to love exercise but in a way that doesn’t end up separating her from the rest of the population. She says things like ‘I learned to love the Body Pump class at the gym’ and not ‘then I ran 5 more marathons but felt slightly uncertain whether I could manage a sixth, at least on the same day’. (3) She can actually write and would be interesting on any subject. (4) She has a self-deprecating charm that is the exact opposite of Ruth Field’s aggression. (5) She doesn’t stop viewing the world as a landscape of food. Places, countries, neighbourhoods are marked out according to the foods on offer. At one point there’s an entertaining debate about the relative merits of mint Viscount biscuits (British) and the clearly superior Australian Tim-Tam. Ruth and Alexandra wouldn’t care about a thing like that.

10/10. Sweet, endearing, makes you believe that anything is possible if you take it slowly enough.

And that’s all for today.

Lionel Asbo: State of England

So I finally scored a large Home point by doing about 8 loads of laundry, picking up in the bedroom and cleaning my bathroom.

I finished Lionel Asbo, so one Books point. I have mixed feelings about it. I like Amis a lot but I can only take him in small doses. The book is about an underprivileged family in London, where the lead characters are the gentle and law-abiding Desmond Pepperdine (15) and his criminal, violent, tyrannical and deliberately stupid uncle, Lionel Asbo (21), who has named himself after Britain’s controversial Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Life carries on in a fairly desperate way in this desperate borough, which has a life expectancy of 60 with old age beginning at 40. People are poor and depraved and everything hates everything. Then Lionel wins £140 million on the lottery. It does not really improve his personality but it does allow him to express it more flamboyantly.

Amis’s many strengths include characterisation. Lionel is a recognisable figure, and he’s more than a caricature, he’s much more intelligent than he appears and yet is determined to keep striking the pose of an offensive, uncontainable anti-hero. There’s also quite a lot of enjoyable comic satire about what happens in Britain when unpopular and undeserving people acquire large sums of money.  Lionel is said to resemble Wayne Rooney. Glamour model Jordan makes an appearance. I hear that other readers feel that Amis has done better satire elsewhere but I liked it well enough and the comedy was very welcome in the generally dark and grim surroundings of the novel. It is a well-told story, fluidly written, as you’d expect from Amis. I think I want to give it 8/10. I’m just not hungry to read any more Martin Amis right now.

I think that’s all for now. See you later.

 

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