Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Keeping Tabs

Okay, to be expanded, but books in the last while:

A Mercy - Toni Morrison
Just couldn't get into it. I dislike fiction that tries to replicate a person's dialect (put me off Robert Louis Stevenson for quite a while after I read 'Thrawn Janet'), and the parts of the novel told by Florens aggravated me. Morrison tries to tell her (very simple) story through the stories of her characters and as an insight into 17th Century America, it has its interesting aspects. However, drawing similarities between slavery and indenture is hardly ground-breaking. For a more subtle analysis of the dynamics of slavery read Octavia Butler.

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula Le Guin
Or Ursula Le Guin. The world is changed by put-upon George Orr's dreams, and things get tough when self-righteous psychiatrist, Dr Haber, gets his claws into him. Sounds like Philip K. Dick, but Le Guin has a discipline to her narrative that Dick rarely showed. Not that there ain't problems (I hate 'real world' prophecies, aliens and clich├ęd 'battle against the wind' endings), but there's far too much that's brilliant here not to be won over. Fine stuff.

Trouble Is My Business - Raymond Chandler
Just a novella, but Marlowe all the same. A routine muck-raking case escalates into a massacre in Chandler's inimitable way. Always passes the time.

Just reading Flannery O'Connor's 'Wise Blood' now. A novel of grotesques that spawned everything from 'Taxi Driver' to 'A Confederacy of Dunces', as far as I can see. I link O'Connor to Shirley Jackson in the way I might link Morrison to Butler, but I'm liking O'Connor a lot more than I did Morrison. I'll keep you posted.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coincidence No.32

Two references to Napoleon's tomb in two consecutive books (different authors, different genres) in the space of seven hours.

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A Wee Bit of Culture

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cherchez le Chat

As I entered my apartment block I noticed someone had posted a notice seeking their lost cat, with a picture of the black feline attached. I noted it and walked into the car park to be confronted by a black cat. To my mind she was a little bigger than the photo, but it was raining and her fur was shaggy so it could have been the missing cat, very probably was. I tried to get her to come to me, but it wasn't happening. I went back to get the phone number of the owner. There were two numbers but in both cases I got no answer. I left a garbled message. Naturally the cat was gone when I got back, but she could well have been hiding under a car. Just in case I got a small dish of milk and came back down to entice her to what? Stay still long enough to catch her and keep her for her owners? Just make sure she was fed? I left the milk down and fled embarrassed as more people came into the car park.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Taster

Oh, and 'Troll Hunter' opens this weekend. Well worth watching. The comment has been made that there is probably a few too many shots of the Norwegian landscape, but it's lots of fun. Again to be reviewed later.

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An Uncomfortable Cosiness

I just finished John Wyndham's 'The Chrysalids'. Famed as the author of 'cosy catastrophes', he finally tries to deal with the aftermath of one of those catastrophes. Interestingly the cosiness is suffused with discomfort. Not entirely his usual type of work. I'll review this later.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Memories and Lessons

The last two nights television has reminded me of my travels and taught me something about my encounters. Last night "Inside Nature's Giants" dissected the rare Cassowary of Northern Australia, a bird I had the good fortune to see in the feather. We were given some hazy notion at the time that the Cassowary was some sort of throw back to the dinosaur, but last night they went through the similarities and the reasons for those likenesses in detail. It really is a fascinating bird. Then tonight a quick browse through the channels brought me face to face with a Chinese Bamboo Rat. I ate one of those while in Yangshuo, but had always thought it was just a rat caught in the bamboo fields (and probably the one I had was!). But according to this programme, the Bamboo Rat is a distinct species looking a lot plumper than your standard rodent. Eating one did not give me this impression (too many bones).

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Things Fall Apart

One of the first African novels to hit the Western mainstream, Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' details a large Nigerian community at the point when Western colonialism starts to erode its traditional ways. Centering on Okonkwo, a respected warrior and fiercely ambitious patriarch, it unflinchingly shows the good and bad aspects of indigenous life. For the most part, it navigates a fine line of objectivity expertly allowing us to see a culture that is not necessarily better or worse, just different. Okonkwo in particular is a masterful creation, all male bluster and insecurity. Priding himself on his fearlessness, he is ironically riddled with fears; of losing face, failing in his career, showing emotion, etc.. Of course, the 'objectivity' is shed a little towards the end in the service of righteous anger, but Achebe's cause is just. Presented as a collection of linked anecdotes, 'Things Fall Apart', presents a lucid pen picture of a world that has not so much died as been replaced by a more wily version of itself.

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The Tipping Point

Often mentioned in the same breath as 'Freakonomics', Malcolm Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' tries to get to the heart of cultural epidemics, whether they be a new fad for hushpuppies, the huge success of 'Sesame Street', or the wave of street crime that dominated New York in the 80's. They do say that you can use statistics to prove anything and I believe that's a healthy point to bear in mind while reading this. Gladwell is free with his allusions to popular psychology experiments (eg. work by Milgram) and so it all has the veneer of unassailable truth. However, he also seems to have learned a great deal of his writing style from Goebbels, repeating previous points and cases again and again, filling up pages and forcing our consent through sheer weight of repetition. I get a little worried when I see that. There is a lot to be gleaned from his persuasive arguments, but this is pop sociology after all. You really should take Gladwell's arguments on board only if you intend to look a little deeper into the established literature. Interesting though.

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