For some strange reason I don’t read a lot of female writers. It’s not something that I’ve made a conscious decision about, it just happens to be that the majority of books that I have read are by male writers. However, I do read women writers from time to time and the books that I have read, with the odd exception, have been very good.
I forget where I saw it, but somewhere I was looking through a list of dystopian novels and on that list I saw the name Daphne Du Maurier and the book Rule Britannia – so I thought why not give it a try.
Shortly after I’d seen the book listed as dystopian, I was at a book sale of second hand books and found a 1973 copy of Rule Britannia and it’s been sitting on my to be read shelf ever since. Once started though, it’s a difficult book to put down. I don’t want to insult the writer but, based on this one story, I would sort of put her along side Enid Blyton….not because she’s writing for the under 12’s like Blyton, but because of her go to whoa style of writing. There’s no real sub plot, no intricate back stories, just a linear one plot story that introduces the characters to us and then rips along from start to finish. I liked it. A simple read.
It’s about a young lady called Emma who lives with her grandmother – who is an actress of old, now retired and in her 80th year – and six adopted boys of varying ages. They live in a big old house somewhere in Cornwall in the south west of England. Emma’s mother died and she was taken in by her grandmother. Her father is some sort of merchant banker and adviser of the wealthy, but he lives in London….when he’s not in Switzerland or Brazil.
The story is set in the early to mid 1970’s and was written in 1972. It tells a story of a financially bankrupt United Kingdom who have just pulled out of the European Community and appear to have struck some sort of deal with the USA.
The household awaken one morning to find that there is no mail delivery, the radio and TV are dead and there is a warship in the bay, disembarking American Troops, who soon arrive at their door. Theoretically there is meant to be an equal partnership in the newly named USUK, but to Emma and many others it looks more like a takeover bid.
Du Maurier is concerned not only with what would happen to her country – England – under what is virtually occupation, but also with the effect on human relationships. In Emma we are given a view of the occupation through clear young eyes. She can see both sides of the argument, but comes down squarely on the side of Cornwall and England. Lines are drawn between the American occupying forces and those who will benefit financially as a result of them being on British soil on one side and what Du Maurier describes as true Cornishmen on the other.
It’s an interesting concept and Britain’s bankruptcy comes about because the bigger finance becomes, the more complicated, more risky it also becomes. Britain as part of the European Community have to have a certain amount of trade with the member states and eventually depended too much on foreign trade, so after they withdrew from the EU, they were already under pressure. When the occupying forces took control of the shipping lanes and transport links, food, water and fuel are scarce and rationing begins.
It’s quite interesting to read the book and to see how many of the locals and farmers come together as a united front to supply one another with their basic needs. One of the adopted boys, Joe, has learning difficulties and can neither read, nor write. His forte is manual work such as cutting firewood and tending to the vegetable gardens, but even he can see how ridiculous it is for a country such as England, which had been forced to be virtually self sufficient during world war 2, to now be so dependent on foreign trade to supply its basic needs. He says more than 3/4 of the way through the story, after he had just traded a load of logs with a local farmer for milk and pork – “You see, it does work, community living. Our neighbours support us, we support them. We don’t need any money, we can live without it. If everyone did this, throughout the country, there wouldn’t be any need to trade outside. We wouldn’t get rich but we’d be happy, we’d be free….”
And that’s it in a nutshell really. Humans love to make simple things complicated. Tariffs, quotas, trade wars, economic sanctions….all these go away if we’re self sufficient.
There are a number of interesting characters in the book – Emma of course, her rather eccentric ex star of the stage grandmother – known to all as Madame…..but known to Emma as Mad, the six adopted boys who’s ages range from 3 to 19, display assorted strengths and weaknesses – all play off one another quite well, Emma’s father – who is more like a caricature than a real person, in a world of his own, Doctor Bevil Summers – who comes to the family’s rescue more than once, as does their neighbour a farmer called Trembath and the rather mysterious Mr Willis, aka Taffy – who can turn his hand to anything and has rather more tricks up his sleeve than anyone else around. I was sorry that the story had to end and I shall miss a number of the characters.
It’s the only book I have read of Du Maurier’s so I can’t say if it’s one of her best, or worse, or even typical of her work. I guess I need to read more of her novels. It’s not a brilliant book, it’s not something that you’re going to rave about and it’s uncomplicated, it’s not going to tax your brain – but its a good, easy, entertaining read and makes one wonder how life would be under occupation of the forces of another country – whether they were there at the invitation of your government or not.
Once again, thank you for reading and I welcome any comments, likes, shares. Happy reading folks.
Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pen name George Orwell – was a man very much ahead of his time. The novel 1984 was written in 1948 and published in 1949 – a year before Orwell’s death in 1950 (at the relatively young age of 47), and yet so much of what he wrote about in his novel has been mirrored in todays society. Here we are 70 years after his death and 36 years after the dreaded year – 1984 – and so much that Orwell wrote about is happening today.
For example, in the book, the world has been divided into 3 almost equal super powers. We have Oceania which is comprised of much of the English speaking world – The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Naturally the USA are the leaders. We have EastAsia which is lead by China and we have EurAsia – mainly the European mainland countries lead by Russia. Then there is a mishmash of countries around the equator – many of the African countries, middle eastern countries and Indonesia. These don’t fall into any specific “Super Power region” but are in a constant state of being fought over, won or lost by the 3 super powers. Pretty much like the reality of today with three super powers the USA, Russia and China bossing the rest of the world around, particularly the USA who seem hell bent on extracting “their oil” from underneath the foreign sands of various middle eastern nations, gold and diamonds, precious metals and uranium from under African soil.
The super power countries (in the book) are constantly at war with one another, with little or no territory lost or gained except for the aforementioned equatorial nations. We come to learn from the book, that this constant war footing is what helps to keep the existing gap between the rich and the poor members of society. If spending on war was not necessary, the general standard of living could be lifted giving everyone access to running water, electricity, food, modern appliances, a car and more. And indeed is one of the 3 principles of “Big Brother and The Party” – War is Peace. The other 2 being Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. Add to this a lot of little rules and the fact that everyone is spying on everyone else and of course Big Brother is watching, listening to and monitoring every move that everyone makes. This is made possible in the book by the Tele-screens in every home and every public building that both serve to broadcast news (propaganda) and are a means to watch – to see into every home and public building.
Back when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1948 or even in 1984 itself, the idea that the government was watching and listening to us all the time would appear to be very far fetched, but of course these days we have personal mobile phones (smart phones), laptops, iPads, smart watches, Fitbits, smart TV’s – even smart appliances – that are capable of transmitting pictures and sound to anyone who knows how to write a computer program. Every word, every deed, every text, every email, every photo or video we take on our smart phones can all be accessed by the government or other powers that be. It may not be Big Brother who is watching us, but it is big government or big business or big military…..the Secret Service, CIA, SIS, Five-Eyes….you name it.
Now the thing is, in the book, all this is controlled by a few people in the inner circle of the Party, with other lesser important party business being conducted by the outer circle of Party members. These two sets of people make up only 15% of the overall population. The general laborious jobs are done by the Proles – people like you and me – who make up the other 85% of the population. The Proles are kept in check by the Party faithful who make sure that the Proles are kept in a cycle of breeding, caring for children, working and being kept busy by trivia – such as arguing with their neighbours, drinking beer, watching football, movies and gambling. Throw into the mix the internet and on-line gaming (something that Orwell didn’t specifically name) and we pretty much have todays society. Kids are indoctrinated at an early age with information/misinformation that they devour and regurgitate as fact – never really thinking for themselves (because ignorance is strength) – the Proles ignorance as to how the world really operates is the Party’s strength. “We pledge allegiance to the flag….” – history is written by the victors and is not allowed to be questioned. Anyone who shows any inkling of being capable of intelligent thought is considered dangerous and is removed – they disappear – are vaporized. A few agents of the Thought Police spread false rumours and mark down and eliminate the few individuals considered by the Party inner circle to be a danger to the status quo. Much like the Patriot Act allows the US Government to disappear anyone who is considered a threat. To take people from their homes, places of work or simply off the street and hold them without charge, indefinitely, in a secret location or to execute them and get rid of the bodies without recourse. You don’t even have to have committed a crime – just appear as a potential threat. It may seem that I am singling out the USA as the main perpetrators of these Orwellian excesses, but most countries have a similar law allowing the government of the day to keep the people downtrodden and obedient. This is the job, in the book, of the Thought Police. Like I said in the opening paragraph, Orwell was a man very much ahead of his time.
The main character in the book is a man called Winston who is part of the outer Party and is employed re-writing newspaper articles, books, records – anything that is contra to the Party line. The problem is that the Party line changes constantly so history is being constantly rewritten. If the Party say that 2 plus 2 equals 5…..then this is fact and anyone who insists that 2 plus 2 equals 4 is a menace to society and has to be dealt with. The problem is that Winston is capable of logical thought and seeks out others who he believes have ideas in opposition to the Party line. One such person, Julia, even suggests that the rocket bombs constantly bombarding the area that the Proles live do not come from outside Oceania and are not fired by the enemy, as stated by the Party officials in the guise of Big Brother, but are in fact a product of the Party’s actions to keep the public feeling under constant threat and to bring out the most very basic patriotic feelings to unite the 85% with the party faithful against the common enemy of EastAsia or EurAsia – who ever the Party says that they are at war with at that particular time. In our society Julia would be called a conspiracy theorist. Again….does this sound familiar? How often, when a distraction is needed for the government to introduce stricter/tighter “security” – meaning removing certain public rights or freedoms – do we suddenly have a Terrorist attack or a threat of war from a Rogue Nation who have broken this or that rule….although exactly what rule is broken and the evidence of such rule breaking is never exposed to the light of day, or the public gaze.
How often have Terrorist plots been thwarted by the CIA and been given major media time? The answer is quite a lot. How many of the Terrorist plots thwarted by the CIA were actually masterminded by, funded by, armed by, or corrupted by the CIA? The answer is every single time. The only plots exposed by the CIA, over the years, have been the plots that the CIA operatives have had a hand in creating. Thus justifying their own jobs.
One also has to wonder how many of the terrorist events that have happened and were not thwarted by the CIA, or other nations equivalent department, were also a product of government or powers behind the government, rather than genuine terrorists. The conspiracy theorists are given that title by the state owned media in order to discredit them. If they were called “truth seekers” rather than “conspiracy theorists” maybe more people would listen to them?
How often have terrorist events happened the very day, or the next day, that the exact event was being trained for by special forces or the armed offender squad? The answer is too often. Take the 7/7 bombings in London – not only was the exact scenario being practiced – the bombing of buses and trains – but the exact same train stations were targeted in the event as in the training scenario. Even by a long stretch of the imagination, this is too coincidental. Similarly the Christchurch mosque shooting – police were two blocks away training for the exact same event. There is no smoke without fire and it seems to be the authorities who are fanning the flames. As a result we have armed police on the streets of Britain with stop and search rights, CCTV cameras on every street corner and in and outside every public building, on trains, on buses, in taxies, cameras on the major roads and motorway bridges monitoring the movement of the public. In New Zealand after the shooting the government moved swiftly to bring in new and very restrictive gun laws. Something that the American people can at least argue against with their constitutions second amendment.
Speaking of the USA – they have been constantly at war either with another country or fighting the war on terrorism or the war on drugs or the war on….whatever, since their independence. The problem in 1984 was how to keep the Proles working, the wheels of industry turning, the profits swelling the accounts of the rich, without increasing the real wealth of the world as a whole. As per the book, War is Peace – meaning – as mentioned earlier – that constant war footing and financing keeps the general population controlled and poor and unable to make the advances needed to improve their lot in life. Life is a struggle and they are kept in a constant cycle of work, eat, sleep, work – breed, to provide the next generation of drones that keep the system operating and the elites at the top of the food chain and getting richer. Orwell knew his stuff alright.
The only way that the Proles see of bettering their lot is by winning the lottery, which the Party rigs so that only small denomination prizes are actually paid out. The top prize rolls over and rolls over and finally jackpots and is “won” by a faceless, nameless person who may not even exist. Thus swelling the coffers of the Party faithful. Again….does this sound familiar?
In the novel 1984 we have a department which deals with “newspeak” – they whittle away at old words and phrases and bring in simpler, more suitable words that are acceptable to the Party – a kind of dumbing down – a reduction of peoples vocabulary. Similar things have happened in reality, but its not only a dumbing down of vocabulary but a general lowering of standards. This is reflected in our education system, where we change the exam system to make it easier to pass – in the media by the dumbing down of TV programs – we have fewer real news programs or documentaries and more “reality tv” or cooking programs or celebrity this or celebrity that. Its entertainment for the lobotomised. It keeps us controllable and suggestible to whatever the powers that be want us to believe – just like Big Brother and the Party control the Proles.
In the book the Proles and the outer party members are all controlled by the inner party and Big Brother (who himself may or may not exist). They are expected to tow the, every more stringent, Party line, and to conform in word, thought and deed. Anyone who does not conform is considered a pariah and suffers the wrath of the Party and also the general population who spy on and report one another to the authorities. Even family members report on one another, with children attending a sort of spy camp and given instructions to spy on and report on their own parents. It’s a constant threat. Does this sound familiar? Do I even dare to mention the PC society and the me too movement? So many things that were acceptable a generation ago are now frowned upon. Even humour is affected. Comedians dare hardly crack a joke for fear of being branded racist, sexist, ageist, anti-sematic, sizeist, homophobic, disrespectful of this or that person or group or religion or region or someone’s gender fluidity…or…or. Jobs can no longer be offered to the most qualified person – we have to get the right balance of gender, sexuality, race, religion….Any business or organization that does not have a 50-50 balance of males Vs females, particular in upper management, is considered sexist. Where does it stop? We’re constantly pointing the finger at non-conformists – just like the children in 1984 are exposing their parents as traitors. With all these divisions and distractions the elites will always be able to pull the wool over the eyes of the Proles. Divide and conquer has always and will always be the rule. Whether it be in 1984 or in real life….the lines are blurring more every day.
As a novel 1984 is an interesting story. Orwell was not just a writer, but a visionary. It’s a book that everyone should read for so many reasons. Just like one of his other books “Animal Farm” was a commentary on the Russian revolution – 1984 is a comment on the direction we are allowing our lives to be manipulated today, as we continue to trade freedom for “security”. It’s a thought provoking book. Definitely worth reading and discussing with family and friends.
I’ll just leave you with a couple of quotes from the book and ask you to think if it applies to how we are being manipulated in reality.
“know that this or that item of war news is untruthful and often the entire war is spurious and either not happening or being waged for purposes other than the declared one…….with Oceania (read USA) the undisputed master of the entire world”.
“The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought…..how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand”.
Regarding the morale of the masses “whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work”.
My next book is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rule Britannia – another dystopian novel. Nowhere near as extreme as 1984, it takes place in the 1970’s and concerns the take over of the UK by United States military. I’m already well into the book and will post a review once finished.
Once again, if you’ve stuck with me this far….thank you for reading….and your comments, likes, shares etc are most appreciated. What are you reading? Can anyone recommend any other dystopian novels?
I’ve just finished reading Zoe Daniel’s book Storyteller. It’s a memoir of her time as Asia based foreign correspondent for ABC tv.
The blurb on the front cover sets the scene for her stories – Only a few weeks ago I was a stay-at-home mum. What am I doing? But there’s no time for second thoughts now. My brain snaps into action and so does my mouth. ‘Flak jackets, helmets, gas masks – everyone, now!’
The book starts 3 years after Zoe gave up her position as African correspondent, to start a family. Now with very young children to consider, she begins to think about a return to the front lines of journalism by applying for the position of south east Asia correspondent for ABC. She is both excited and anxious when her application and interview are successful. She is eager to resume her career but now she’s going to be a working mother with 2 children under 3 who depend on her.
The book gives an important insight into how much work and effort goes into producing those short bulletins from the field, and often the danger involved just to get, sometimes something as short as, a 30 second report on air. It also makes clear the personal sacrifices that foreign correspondents (and their partners) make in order to bring the news into our homes. I have never really understood or appreciated this before. It was a real eye opener.
Zoe tries to balance her career with motherhood and this means moving the entire family to different parts of Asia with her….at one point using Cambodia as her base….Thailand another. Her life is spent on edge, waiting for the next phone call that will send her either into disaster zones or political turmoil, while bringing up 2 young children.
She covers political unrest and riots in Bangkok, a medical story in India, a tragic plane crash in Laos, the widespread destruction and loss of life in the Philippines due to Typhoon Haiyan, and political changes and challenges in Burma/Myanmar – to name but a few of her assignments.
I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read – learned a lot about how news teams put their stories together – the blood, sweat and very often the tears – and how they engage and often build relationships with the people they are reporting on.
Just as a post script. After this book was published, she then took up the position as bureau chief for ABC in Washington DC, during which time she covered the 2016 election and saw first hand the rise of Donald Trump from being a political joke to become president of the most powerful country on earth. She has been quoted as saying that she wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a second term in office.
Her 4 year stint which began in 2015 has just come to an end and she has returned, with her family, to Australia to set up a new home. One has to wonder however, based on past experience, how long it will be before she takes up another overseas post for ABC.
Already we’re almost 2 weeks into 2020 and I’ve been very tardy about writing my first post of the year. I guess I am still in holiday mode as far as my blog is concerned….something I need to remedy rather smartly. First off though may I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – albeit a belated one.
When ever I commit myself to a rigid reading list for the year ahead, I always fail. So I decided to tackle my reading list month by month instead.
This month I’ll be dipping into Shaun Bythell’s second book about owning a bookshop – Confessions of a Bookseller. Just like his first book Diary of a Bookseller, it’s written in the form of a daily diary and includes some of the funny, or sometimes frustrating, events that occur each day while running his shop. The good thing about a book like this is that you can pick it up for a few minutes and read a day or two’s happenings and then get back to whatever task needs to be done. It’s an easy, humorous read and gives an insight into the life of a somewhat sarcastic book shop owner – the ups and the downs. I’m already a good way through the book…..maybe three quarters through. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for several weeks but don’t want it to end.
My second book is one I bought myself for Christmas with the money left over on my Wardini Book Shop voucher I got for my birthday. By Monisha Rajesh, Around the World in 80 Trains is a book I am looking forward to getting started on. As regular readers of my blog will already know, I love to travel and my favourite way to travel is by train. So this 45,000 mile adventure by rail should be a good fit. Michael Palin (one of my favourite travel writers) writes on the cover of the book – “Never too fast, never too slow, Monisha Rajesh’s journey does what trains do best. Getting to the heart of things. Prepare for a very fine ride.” I can hardly wait to get started.
The next book is one that my sister-in-law leant to my daughter-in law, who then decided that there was no room in her suitcase to take it back to the States with her. A quick look at the blurb on the cover had me interested immediately and I am now about a third of the way through Chris Hammer’s Scrublands. The blurb reads…“In an isolated country town brought to its knees by drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself. A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.” It’s a wonderful yarn set in a very parched Australia and so many twists and turns are happening already. It’s going to be a great read.
Of course I am never content with having bookshelves full of book awaiting reading here at home, Oh no not I. We have several wonderful libraries where I live in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. In town (Hastings) is the main library and just up the road at Havelock North we have another, smaller but very well set up, library. A recent visit saw me pick up two books to bring home. The first on yet another of my passions, photography. By Boris Friedewald it is simply called Women Photographers – from Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman – and explores the lives, careers and works of the finest women photographers in the world. Eve Arnold, the first woman photographer to be admitted into the prestigious Magnum Agency once said “I didn’t want to be a woman photographer. That would limit me. I wanted to be a photographer who was a woman, with all the world open to my camera.” And as Gisele Freund said “It is the eye that takes the picture, not the camera.” And every picture the eye sees is directly linked to the person who made it.
The second of my library books is the memoir of Foreign Correspondent Zoe Daniel – Storyteller tells the story of how Daniel found herself thrust into the dangerous world of reporting news from some of the most inhospitable places in the world. She is one of the few women to combine the most demanding job – motherhood, with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Storyteller is a timely reminder of the bravery and audacity of the men and women who bring us the news – the journalists, the local ‘fixers’, the cameramen (and women) – but above all it pays tribute to ordinary people who find them selves eyewitness to the extraordinary. I meant to read just the first page to give me an idea as to whether I’d enjoy reading this one or not. Suddenly I am 28 pages in and find my mouth is dry as I’ve been reading with my mouth open, completely agog!
So that’s my reading for January. I hope you’re reading something that has you spellbound. Back soon with another post. As always many thanks for reading and any comments, likes, follows and shares are greatly appreciated.
As I may have mentioned once or twice on past posts on this blog, I enjoy reading travel books and one of my favourite authors (along with Bill Bryson) is Michael Palin. His travel books usually accompany a TV series of the same name as his books. Since 1989, starting with his first ever travel book and accompanying TV show, Around the World In 80 Days, he was connected, almost at the hip it would seem, to the BBC. Usually, his travel series have multiple episodes. This latest book however, is presented alongside a TV show in only 2 parts, which has already been shown on British TV Chanel Five / ITV productions.
The last time Palin was anywhere near North Korea was back in 1997 for yet another travel book and show Full Circle, but he only got a glimpse of North Korea from the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. This time he gets a tour of the demilitarized zone from the other side and a frank discussion with the officer in charge. North Korea or we should call it the DPRK – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – lays out the welcome mat and Palin, now in his 75th year, gets to see one of the most secret and mysterious countries on the planet.
Of course he doesn’t get free reign to go where he wants. He has two official guides who go everywhere with him plus other “ministry officials” who make sure that his guides don’t allow Palin to wander too far off the official track.
He gets to see pristine cities where the streets are almost empty of traffic, giant statues of past “Great Leaders”, and symbols and buildings commemorating the “Great Leaders”. He also visits a state of the art airport – with no planes and no flights, a street of tower blocks built within a year, that seem to house very few people and a massive, symbolic hotel with no guests what so ever. The DPRK seems to be as a country, much like a show home is to a yet to be built housing estate. Everything is there, it appears, as a front, but there is little substance and in some cases no actual function for the building/hotel/airport. As my grandmother used to say – “All fur coat and no knickers”. This was evident in the state of the roads. Within the capital city, the streets were first class, pristine if somewhat devoid of traffic. Once outside city limits though the highways were cracked and uneven – so that every journey felt like a ride inside a tumble dryer.
The first three days – which according to Palin felt like three weeks as it was such hard work to be able to achieve what they wanted and every step had to be negotiated – Palin, his director and film crew are under strict observation and are quickly shut down and moved to another location if anything occurs that may show the DPRK in a bad light. The people he gets to meet are, to begin with, all prearranged, preapproved and very much pro the ruling regime. After a while though, once Palin and company have proved themselves as willing to follow their minders guidelines, they are given a little more rope and get to interact with the general public – some of them rather the worse for drink – at a party in a park and also to enjoy the scenery of the hills and valleys on a hike in the countryside alone when their minders, not dressed suitably for the hike, leave them to it.
At one point they visit a farm – where the workers are in military uniform – and Palin “helps” a female farm worker with some weeding. The shoot couldn’t begin however until a tractor had been moved into the background – to prove that farms are not all manual labour in North Korea and that machinery is available (even if the tractor in question was around fifty years old). When Palin asked the female farm worker how he faired as a farmhand, she quite straight forwardly told him that he was “unnecessary”.
Even with the loosening of some of the rules, Palin only had to hint at a question critical of the regime or of the history of North Korea and he was pulled up short and sharp. He told one of his guides that in the UK “we are able to be quite rude about our political leaders”. But, not wanting to get drawn in to this sort of discussion she countered with “That’s what makes us so different. Our leaders are very great. They are not individuals, but represent the masses, so we cannot criticise ourselves, can we?” One wonders at what he and his guides discussed off camera that didn’t get put into the book – for the safety of the guides themselves.
There are a few extra pages at the end of the book, written by director Neil Fergusson, which covers his own earlier visit to North Korea to meet with officials and to discuss their filming schedule, rules and regulations. He had sent the North Koreans a wish list of places and people he would like to film, but on his arrival the “official schedule” looked absolutely nothing like what he’s asked for. Several days of negotiations followed before a schedule that was acceptable to both sides was reached. Despite promises and signed contracts it wasn’t until Palin and the film crew actually stepped on to North Korean soil that they realised that the shooting or the North Korea Journal was good to go.
In summarising the 15 day whirlwind trip, Palin says that although there are certainly some differences between how North Korea and for example Britain function as far as regulations and freedoms are concerned, there were far more similarities than he expected.
North Korea feels that it can’t let its guard down even slightly due to the ever present American military threat – no wonder it has the 4th largest army in the world. Almost a quarter of the entire North Korean population are members of the armed forces. These military personnel however also man the farms, the factories and the building sites, so you don’t see them all wandering around the towns and cities carrying weapons.
To directly quote a section of the final paragraph of the book, Palin says “…the trip has been an eye-opener, a chance to look behind the headlines and see this secretive country as few other westerners ever will. As Pyongyang recedes into the distance, we turn and exchange smiles. Of relief, but also of regret. One thing we all agreed on at our farewell meal last night is that none of us would mind coming back.”
All of the travel books by Michael Palin are of good quality and this one is no exception, except for being of smaller format than usual, as you can see from the photo below. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, witty and informative – filling in some of the unknowns about North Korea without being in any way controversial or overly critical. Palin is too nice a guy to stir things up just for viewing figures, or book sales. He was Knighted earlier this year (2019) for services to travel, culture and geography following his career as a writer and presenter of documentaries that have taken him all over the world. I do fear, having reached the age of 75, that this could be Palin’s last travel adventure. I hope not, but time will tell.
As usual thank you for reading this blog…comments, questions, likes and follows are all very much appreciated.
The answer is at the foot of the page…..but meantime the quotes.
Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.
To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect.
What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties.
Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.
Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.
The taipan is the one to watch out for. It is the most poisonous snake on Earth, with a lunge so swift and a venom so potent that your last mortal utterance is likely to be: “I say, is that a sn—“
But don’t worry,” she continued. “Most snakes don’t want to hurt you. If you’re out in the bush and a snake comes along, just stop dead and let it slide over your shoes.” This, I decided, was the least-likely-to-be-followed advice I have ever been given.
Here’s a bit of a clue….or a couple of clues….All the above quotes are by the same person and he is very well travelled.
Another clue? He’s just brought out a new book called “The Body – A guide for Occupants”.
He’s my favourite travel writer and has me in fits of laughter when he sticks to the topic that made him a household name – TRAVEL…..although some of his later books such as “At Home”, and “A short History of Nearly Everything” were a task to read. They were informative, witty in places….but not in enough places. Given the choice of one or the other, I prefer to have him entertain me rather than educate me. His travel books thankfully entertain and educate…a win/win.
Yes all quotes above were by Bill Bryson.
If you’ve not read any of his travel books, please give them a try, he is a funny guy when he wants to be.
There’s a couple of things I’d like to discuss today about rebellion….what it is, what it isn’t and what it probably should be.
First off though let me just say that I’ve just finished reading Mark Boyle’s“Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi” and would definitely recommend it to everyone as essential reading. It will push and pull at your sense of what’s right and wrong in the world and how we should react to rectify matters. Boyle pulls no punches in standing up for nature, suffering from the onslaught of human greed in the form of the industrial/political machine. He says that if we really want to effect change, by rebelling against the status quo, we need to be prepared to use every tool in our tool box. He has to choose his words carefully so as not to be placed on some form of government watch list…..he’s probably on one anyway….and so stops just short of inciting violent protest, but clearly indicates that violent protest is the only effective protest.
Conversely, we have Extinction Rebellion (a catchy name and a trendy logo), led by Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook in the UK, which has quickly spread around the world as the “alternative” environmental movement. XR, as they are known, say that they are an environmental movement who use nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss and risk of social and ecological collapse. By stipulating that they use only nonviolent civil disobedience, they limit what tools they can draw from their toolbox to fight against injustice.
I have been a protester/activist/political commentator from my mid teens to present day. In my 60 years on this earth I have been a founding member of a peace group, joined this peaceful campaign and that, taken part in peaceful marches, sit ins, rallies, gone door to door with petitions for everything from saving the forests, banning the bomb, assorted attempts for world peace, marched against Monsanto’s GMO’s, marched against fluoride in the drinking water etc etc. So I do understand where XR are coming from in declaring themselves a nonviolent movement. I’ve seen it all, been there done that and for the most part sadly, these tactics (petitions and peaceful protest) have been totally ineffective in changing the way that government or industry do things. There’s a famous quote that says Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet still we pull out the same tools from our toolbox that have failed us before and expect, or at least hope, that this time they will actually work.
If you look up the word Rebellion in the dictionary it will say: noun – an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader……the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention. Rebellion, uprising, or insurrection is a refusal of obedience or order. Rebellion generally seeks to evade and/or gain concessions from an oppressive power, a revolt seeks to overthrow and destroy that power as well as its accompanying laws. Elsewhere I find Rebellion = Resistance, Revolt = Revolution. And Rebellion: is a violent uprising of the masses against their leadership.
So, a couple of these definitions specify violence or armed resistance. Something that XR rule out. One has to ask how rebellious the civil disobedience of Extinction Rebellion actually is, when they report to the police and councils to give prior notice of actions being taken, in order to get permission to protest. Not very rebellious I’d say. In footballing terms it’s a bit like Manchester United giving Liverpool notes on their tactics for their upcoming game. The authorities then give them permission to protest – march, block bridges, picket buildings etc., under police supervision and on condition it doesn’t lead to excessive public unrest. The fact is that they are only ever going to be as rebellious as their masters (the government, councils or police) allow them to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that XR’s heart is in the right place. They are well intentioned and have had a few minor results go their way, but are playing within the rules enforced by the oppressors that they profess to be fighting against. This is neither a rebellion, nor are they likely to win the war using these tactics, even though they will win the occasional battle or gain the odd concession here and there. Civil disobedience, according to Mr Boyle’s book, is about NOT reporting to the authorities about forthcoming rebellious action, causing as much disruption to the status quo as possible, and is about keeping ALL options open.
In Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, Boyle tells us the only thing that both the government and big business fear is damage to their profit margins. Peaceful demonstrations, blocking some roads or bridges while leaving alternative routes open, orderly marches and endless petitioning are not going to stop the progress of big business or prevent their wanton destruction of the natural world. We need to change the entire corporate/government/military/consumer driven economic system. We need to escape the shackles of the debt riddled society in which we live and simplify our lives, return to living within the boundaries of nature and to stop dominating and plundering nature or as big business and government refer to it “natural resources”. Can’t nature just be left as nature, and valued for it’s beauty and wildness, without being given a monetary value and classed as a resource?
Some years ago a small group of activists by the name of ELF (Earth Liberation Front) used violent action (arson) against corporate property with the intention of damaging financially the businesses that are wreaking havoc on nature and the environment, without violence to people – so no injury or death to anyone. They burned down several properties of companies that they saw as threats to the environment or as being directly destructive to nature. This included a timber mill that was illegally logging trees, and a slaughter plant that was killing so many wild horses that the blood released into the waterways was such that the water department could not cope and nearby towns water supply was polluted. In many cases, as a result of ELF’s “Ecotage”, the business either folded completely, or moved elsewhere. It was generally acknowledged therefore that ELF were successful in their actions. Just a note for the authorities here…I am not condoning Arson, nor am I inciting it. I am merely stating that it was affective in achieving ELF’s goals. Although many of their actions took place in the 1990’s it wasn’t until post 9/11 that arrests were made under new terrorism laws. Although ELF never threatened the lives of anyone, nor injured, or took a life by any of their actions, they were deemed to be bigger “Terrorist threats” than, for example, white supremacy groups who had killed and were continuing to kill/threatening to kill. Why is this you ask? Boyle says it’s because although white supremacists threaten lives, usually of people who are not white, they do not threaten businesses profit margins. When a multi million dollar or multi billion dollar company tells their government officials that they demand action against what they term “Eco-Terrorists” otherwise they will withdraw their financial support…they get listened to. Money makes the rules. Big business tells government what to do. The tail wags the dog. For the people, by the people….don’t make me laugh! To view an excellent 2011 video documentary “If a tree falls” – about ELF’s actions and their eventual capture by the authorities, link to YouTube doco is below. It is an insight into the methods of direct action and the thinking behind movements such as ELF.
Meantime the public keep on signing petitions, or take their plastic to recycling stations and think that they are doing their bit in saving the planet.
Boyle, in the closing pages of his book says that “The landscape of activism today is, like the forests of England and Ireland, dominated by the deer who quickly nibble at any shoots of resistance….however our monocultural political terrain is in need of a ferocious predator. We need the wolf to bring balance to the wild forests. We need the Wild Revolutionary to stand up to the threat in the wild, but the authorities would prefer the political landscape to be inhabited only by reformists, pacifists and the like….like domesticated animals to browse within the fence line“.
He also says that violent direct action should certainly not be the first route to take. It should be the very last tool taken out of the tool box, but it should not be ruled out from the very start. “If the day comes when we accept that both fierceness and gentleness have their appropriate time and place within our struggles in defence of Life, we may again earn the chance to experience the only real peace there has ever been: the peace of The Wild“.
So what Boyle is saying is don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, but when a wall needs knocking down a nutcracker won’t do the job. Also in the book he says that sometimes the very idea of having to use that sledgehammer paralyses us and we opt for reformist half measures even though we know they are doomed to fail against the military/industrial/political machine.
Money from industry, buys political support, dictates political policy and indirectly funds the armed wings of government – its police, its army, along with its guns, drones, nuclear weapons, courtrooms and prisons, all ready and willing to serve their master. These are co-funded by us, the citizens, by our paying of taxes. We fund our own oppressors. How crazy is that? It’s scary to stand up for nature and for ourselves against such a “machine”. They have CCTV cameras on every street corner and, as Edward Snowden made perfectly clear, they can use our own smart phones, smart TV’s and computers to listen our private conversations within the sanctity of our own homes, even turn on smart appliance cameras remotely, along with systems that monitor our emails, check our internet use and phone conversations. To stand up against this phenomenal opponent would appear to be suicidal. They are everywhere, have infiltrated every nook and cranny of our lives. Big Brother, as Orwell wrote in the book 1984, IS watching you.
This is one of the reasons that Boyle first spent 3 years living without money and then widened this by also living without modern technology. He is off grid completely. The more people that follow Boyles example and escape the digital ties that bind us to the machine, the harder it is for “them” to influence and dominate our lives.
The system of government works against the very people that it is meant to represent. The industrial/military/political machine gets to make all the rules and enact laws, that they claim are for our protection, but actually serve only to restrict our movement and make us easier to control. The laws also make it easier for them to justify pillaging nature….or as they call it “making use of natural resources”. In his book, Boyle states – If you consider that the natural world, nature equals Life, then the “machine” is the enemy of Life, and for us to play by the rules that the enemy of Life enacts is laughable.
Our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including in many cases human life. Look at the displaced tribes of the Amazon who’s land is systematically levelled to enable yet another beef ranch, soya or palm oil plantation. Look at communities who have no drinking water because it has been sold to water bottling plants for export, or has been so badly polluted by industry that it is no longer safe to drink. Look at small family run businesses who are driven out of business because of international or multinational corporations. Globalization rather than benefiting everyone, as promised, with it’s so called trickle down economy, has only increased the wealth of those at the top of the food chain while driving millions into poverty, and destroying national identities, centuries old customs, and borders.
There is a hell of a lot of information and misinformation out there in the media, in books and on line about climate change or climate crisis. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to sort out fact from fiction, particularly when often fact is so much stranger than fiction. As things currently stand, I see activist groups like XR and other “peaceful” protesters as being patsies for the establishment and “one world/one government” political policies. In their blocking of streets and bridges, while still obeying the rules of engagement, XR are getting TV news time because it serves the political policy makers. It proves to the world that the government allows its citizens the right to protest (albeit under strict rules and conditions), proves they are a democratic and “free” society. Try not paying your taxes and find out how free you really are! The general public are being made aware of “the threat of climate change” but are also getting pissed off at being constantly delayed in going about their business. When XR blocked London’s bridges, they even blocked the cycle lanes. Surely those cyclists were already walking the walk, as it were, while XR are still at the stage of talking the talk. The cyclists are not contributing to the global warming problem as they are not using transportation powered by fossil fuels. The very thing that XR are pushing. It was a stupid mistake in their policy to block cycle lanes as well as general road traffic. In the end XR will not affect business as usual in London or elsewhere. The consumerist driven growth economy is not going to shut down because of their actions, and shareholders profit margins are not going to be affected in any long term way.
On a personal note…It’s my prediction, and I realise that many people will think of me as a conspiracy theorist (and I probably am to a certain extent, but as I stated earlier, a lot of so called conspiracy theory is actual fact – as strange as some of it may seem), that eventually the government(s) will turn to the public and say “OK we have seen how serious the public are about the climate problem, because of the protests on the street” (which they have been happy to allow because it suits their agenda). “We know that we only have a short time frame to turn things around so we have to make radical changes…bring in some new rules and regulations… to save the world….are you with us?” The public agree, desperate to survive, get sucked in, and the UN’s agenda 21, or the updated agenda 2030, gets quickly rolled out giving governments extra emergency powers under the guise of rapidly reducing our carbon footprint, controlled by a unified One World Governing Body – the UN. And we – the public – who have been fed a steady diet of misinformation, will vote for it and give our blessing, so that THEY will be able to control not only the movement of people, but what we eat, the jobs we do, where we live, how we live, the redistribution of wealth, total control of our bank accounts by getting rid of physical cash money (something that the Reserve Bank is already talking about), confiscation of land, birth control/population control (including “voluntary” sterilization). Back in the 1960’s the UN were brainstorming to think of ways to get the general public to fall in behind support for a one world government – controlled by them, the UN, to push their own policies. They have stated that 375 million is the ideal population for the earth and they have been looking for ways to achieve this, but needed a banner to unite the world behind. Climate change/Global warming is that banner. We are up near 8 billion, so that will mean a reduction of about 95% of the current population…..how are they going to achieve that figure? War? A pandemic perhaps? (I see that there has been a reported outbreak of Pneumonic Plague – a more dangerous cousin of Bubonic Plague – in China – link to article – https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/world/plague-is-diagnosed-in-china-prompting-fears-of-an-outbreak/ar-BBWHMaz?ocid=spartandhp). Biological weapons released by “Terrorists” maybe? Do they just shut down the power grids (hacked by foreign powers?) and watch us rip one another limb from limb once the food supply runs out? How do you qualify to be in that surviving 5%? And will that 5% then continue with business as usual?
I realize that for many people this idea of a one world government deliberately looking to control citizens and force a reduction in population sounds fanciful, the thing of Science Fiction. So I will share with you with a few quotes below, and ask that you please read Boyle’s book, do your own research into climate change, the UN and population control, oh yes…and the Club of Rome (see the quotes later on). And examine what is happening in the world with eyes wide open….don’t just accept the version presented by the state run media. We certainly need to embrace the natural world again and not pillage it. I can’t see a world government actually doing that despite the spin they attempt to put on things.
Quotes follow from some of the most powerful political figures, or influencers of political policy in the world. I find it quite terrifying that these corrupt people have been allowed to dictate policy by which we are expected to live.
Henry Kissinger, American politician, diplomat, and geopolitical consultant who served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor (and winner of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize under controversial circumstances, with two members of the committee resigning in protest) said – Today, America would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order. Tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told that there were an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well-being granted to them by the World Government.
Thomas Ferguson an American political scientist who wrote about the Logic of Money-driven Political Systems – There is a single theme behind all our work – we must reduce population levels. Either governments do it our way, through nice clean methods, or they will get the kinds of mess that we have in El Salvador, or in Iran or in Beirut. Population is a political problem. Once population is out of control, it requires authoritarian government, even fascism, to reduce it.
David R Brower, environmentalist and the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club is also on board saying – Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.
Timothy Endicott Wirth, a former United States Senator from Colorado. He served both as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education for part of the Nixon Administration and later for the Clinton Administration as the first Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs for the U.S. State Department. – We’ve got to ride the global-warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.
Aurelio Peccei, industrialist and philanthropist, best known as co-founder with Alexander King and first president of the Club of Rome, an organisation which attracted considerable public attention in 1972 with its report, The Limits to Growth. – The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. …The real enemy then is humanity itself.
And finally a couple of quotes from David Rockefeller. Rockefeller from one of the wealthiest families around, was assistant regional director of the United States Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Services before teaming up with the rest of the family at the Chase National Bank where he became President. The bank was closely associated with and has financed the oil industry, having longstanding connections with its board of directors to the successor companies of Standard Oil, especially Exxon Mobil. It’s now known as JPMorgan Chase bank. – We are grateful to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost 40 years……It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subjected to the lights of publicity during those years. But, the world is more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supernational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national autodetermination practiced in past centuries. – Which goes to confirm that the media are under the control of big business and government and complicit in the plot to take away the public’s right of self determination.
and finally, Rockefeller again – We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis. Of course the crisis selected was Global Warming.
So folks, as you can see from these quotes….we are not paranoid….they ARE out to get us and have been plotting against the citizens of the world for decades! It’s not simply crackpot conspiracy theory. AND I do realize that it’s so hard to know what to believe after that quote from Aurelio Peccei. As you will see from earlier posts, I was initially ready to believe the UN IPCC panel and was blown away by the emotional Greta Thunberg…until her last speech at the UN, which was a rehash, virtually word for word, of an earlier UN speech but delivered with the venom of a consummate actor….”How dare you…” It just didn’t seem authentic anymore. And why would an organisation as powerful as the UN allow a teenage girl the opportunity to berate them time and time again – with full TV and press coverage – for their inaction on Climate Change, if it did not serve their purpose? Do we blindly follow the UN? We hear UN climate scientists presenting dooming facts about climate change – although incidentally they do not allow for the phases of the sun, solar maximum and solar minimum in their calculations. Long-term secular change in sunspot number is thought, by many scientists, to be correlated with long-term change in solar irradiance, which, in turn, might influence Earth’s long-term climate. The sun being the main regulator of temperature here on earth I find its exclusion from climate change calculations quite worrying – and ex Presidential hopeful Al Gore (a member of the establishment who, incidentally, is making bucket loads of money from the whole climate change situation) is leading the charge. Having now seen the quotes above, by the political movers and shakers, about ways of gaining control of the citizens by causing widespread panic using Climate Change as a unifying factor, via the formation of a One World Government under the control of, to quote Rockefeller, “an intellectual elite and world bankers”….what do we do? Indeed, what can we do?
Boyle says that although the “Machine” appears to be powerful and omnipotent, it is its omnipotence that makes it so weak. It is so thinly stretched that, if the citizens were to rise up against it simultaneously, it would be overthrown simply by weight of numbers. An interesting theory.
In the meantime the rich and their Globalist Corporations continue to get away with tax avoidance while the working classes are squeezed for every taxable penny – with threat of imprisonment should they refuse. Whether climate change is totally due to the actions of man, or just a phase of the suns warming, or a combination of both – has still to be proven 100%. Yes a panel of UN Climate Scientists have declared their findings to be accurate, but the UN is the same organization vying for total domination of us, under their one world government, so their “undeniable” findings should be considered dubious or, at the very least, warrant further investigation. There is no denying however that the forests are being cleared, the waterways and the oceans are being polluted, as is the air that we breathe, and a genuine extinction of species is happening, as their habitat (nature) is destroyed by globalist corporates and needs immediate action to reverse this insane destruction. Should we protest? If we want to live, if we truly want to protect nature – what’s left of it to protect – surely we must take some sort of action. Do we take peacefully to the streets with our placards and/or sign petitions yet again, hoping insanely for a different result, or this time do we use ALL the tools in our toolbox and say “Enough!”? This, I think, is the conclusion that Mr Boyle in his book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi is hoping that the citizens of the world will come to.
Please note – I am not inciting the masses to commit violent acts. I am, for the most part, reporting on or reviewing a book. BUT, it would be wonderful if you would read the book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, watch the video If a Tree Falls – do your own research into the problems that we are facing today and come to your own conclusions. Is nature worth saving? I hope you’ll agree that it is. As usual thank you for reading. Any shares, likes or comments are most appreciated.
That phrase “Variety is the spice of life“, is something that I’ve heard many times during my lifetime, but I’ve never really thought about what it means. Recently I came across Mark Boyle’s book – Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi and he pretty much explained it in a simple paragraph….but since I don’t want to get stung for copyright infringement I’ll try to paraphrase him.
He was talking about how the industrial age, or as he calls it The Machine, has taken us over, making specialists of us, pigeon-holing us into strictly limited roles, making us no more than a cog in the machine. There’s no diversity. Meantime we play our part, as a part of the system, by consuming products and services. He reminds us that it didn’t used to be that way. We used to fully participate in life, in community – rather than distancing ourselves from it. We foraged, grew, produced and cooked our own food. Made our own entertainment, played music, made up songs, poems and stories to share around a communal fire. We made the things we needed, be it a wooden spoon or a woven fabric. Made our own wines, beers, mead, cheeses, butter, jam and preserves to share with our family and neighbours, as part of a living, breathing village. Our lives were rich with diversity with the freedom to express ourselves in a variety of ways. We could be a hunter one day, a farmer the next, a furniture maker, artist, poet. Life was interesting and fluid. Variety was the spice of life. These days for the sake of “maximum efficiency” we are reduced to rigid conformity, a cog in the wheel of industry, doing the same repetitive thing over and over again.
Don’t you think it’s time to take back our lives? To make them varied and interesting again?
We have come to rely too much on the system, on the Machine and what it delivers. Sooner or later, (I fear it will be sooner rather than later, the way that the world is heading) the system will break down and our specialist pigeon-holed existence will be our downfall. We won’t have the individual skills to survive, because we’ve lost that variety in our lives. We tend to know how to do one thing, a narrow field of view. We’ve become an expert, skilled in one thing and lost the ability to perform a hundred other tasks. We will not be prepared….thanks in the most part to what we have viewed as “progress”.
For anyone interested in Mark’s book, I’ve pasted the link to the goodread’s page for the book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi below. I will probably be making further posts about the contents of this and others of Boyles books later on. I’m less than half way through the book and have learned so much already. As usual many thanks for reading and your comments etc are most appreciated.
This is the second part of my (former) post of reviews of what was to be 5 books of essays….3 by writers now dead (already covered in an earlier post) and this is a review of the remaining 2 books by writers still very much alive – plus another live writer thrown in for good measure.
OK, so now I have managed to confuse you….the books being covered are TEJU COLE – Known and Strange Things, PAUL KINGSNORTH – Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and other essays, and REBECCA SOLNIT – The Faraway Nearby. I’ll work my way from left to right on the photo.
Teju Cole’s book Known and Strange Things….To be perfectly honest with you, despite the endorsement on the cover of this book, by fellow essayist Rebecca Solnit, I struggled initially to connect with Teju Cole’s writing. That was until I found the essay titled Shadows in Sao Paulo, which is about the writers attempt to locate the exact spot that Magnum photographer Rene Burri took his famous photo of “Men on a Rooftop”.
It’s a black and white photo of 4 men on a rooftop of one of the many skyscrapers in Sao Paulo, casting long shadows as they walk toward the camera. To the left of them and far down below the street scene unfolds….the cars and trams also throwing long shadows down the street. The tram lines adding to the series of straight lines provided by the street, the walls of the buildings, the lines created by the many windows, and the edges of the rooftop. The photo taken in 1960 is from a higher vantage point and it’s this building that Teju Cole tries to locate. Being as I am, a huge fan of most, if not all, of the photographers who have worked for the Magnum Photo Agency – this essay is the one in which Cole and I hit on common ground, a common interest. From here on in I was able to enjoy his writing more (strange as it may seem).
The essays in this book were originally published mainly in the New Yorker, and elsewhere and, once I got connected with Cole via the Rene Burri essay I quite enjoyed the majority of his essays. However the “white saviour industrial complex” essay left a kind of nasty taste in my mouth….if that’s possible from reading something? It just seemed to be much of a rant rather than a serious piece of writing. I guess reading essays, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder…..what suits me may not suit you, your reaction may not be the same as mine.
Petina Gappah of the Guardian newspaper – obviously a fan of Cole’s – writes… He ranges over his interests with voracious keenness, laser-sharp prose, an open heart and a clear eye. His subjects are diverse and disparate. Readers are certain to find a personal favourite: I loved Always Returning, an affecting meditation on the death of WG Sebald in which Cole wanders through the cemetery of St Andrew’s in Framingham Earl, Norfolk, looking for Sebald’s grave and trying, at the same time, to have a coherent conversation about his pilgrimage with Jason, the taxi driver who got him there. The interplay between the externals of conversations with Jason and the deep interiority of Cole’s response to seeing Sebald’s grave is masterfully written, with Cole straining to act as a mediator between the worlds inhabited by these two very different men.
By contrast I found Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist to be a very easy, entertaining and interesting read. Kingsnorth was one of those crazy environmentalists (and I use crazy by way of admiration rather than criticism), who used to chain himself to bulldozers and other machinery to try to stop developers from levelling another of natures hilly places – to put a motorway through….or wiping out old growth forest, so that Ikea and similar businesses can make more kitset furniture. I say WAS because now he’s taken a step back physically, if not spiritually from the “war against environmental destruction”. He sees the entire environmental movement as having been hijacked and watered down by factions of the Green movement, who in a bid to communicate natures value to society have now put a dollar value on it. Of course the problem with that, as Kingsnorth points out, is that once nature is given a dollar value, a businessman will justify buying and destroying it based on that valuation.
The essays in this book first appeared in various newspapers and on the website co-founded by Kingsnorth, called The Dark Mountain Project. Each one will provide an insight to the problems the world faces daily as our natural world shrinks past crisis point and consumerist growth economies grow and grow to unsustainable size, until their inevitable collapse and chaos that are surely just around the corner.
Although Kingsnorth has pulled back from being a placard waving demonstrator, his passion for nature and his attempts to convince us, the readers, that nature is worth fighting for…..even if we may be already too late to save it….is as strong as ever. He and his family have retreated to a smallholding in the west of Ireland where they practice what they preach and are as gentle with nature as possible in an attempt to become part of nature again…as mankind used to be….and to help the natural world regenerate. It’s a book that I believe should be mandatory reading in all schools AND for all politicians.
In the book Kingsnorth rejoices in the small wins that the family achieve in their bid to help nature fight back….and in helping his children to understand the magical natural world….how everything is inter-dependent, so that he knows that the next generation will be there on natures side.
In the essay A Short History of Loss, Kingsnorth looks at the problem that beekeepers are having with colony collapse and how a Harvard study linked the death of bees to certain insecticides used on farms – then continues to say that another Harvard group of scientists are working on designing robotic bees. A typical science response – rather than stop using insecticide and saving the lives of real bees, we’ll just make artificial bees and try to program them to act like real bees. It’s like the idea of colonising Mars because we’re destroying the environment here on Earth. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to stop the destruction here?
Kingsnorth then goes on to say that mankind…(or is it more PC these days to call it Humankind?) has experienced a Fall – just like the Bible story of Adam and Eve’s experience of a fall in their eviction from the Garden of Eden. He then tries to identify where the Fall happened….where and when… giving several possible examples. It makes interesting and thought provoking reading.
Another very down to earth and slightly stinky essay about composting human manure in Learning What to Make of It – is a more hands on approach to conserving the environment. It’s a fact that we, as humans, produce waste….so what’s the best way of dealing with it? We can’t continue to pour raw sewage into the rivers, lakes and oceans. So what’s the answer? Read this essay to find out.
Another essay The Barcode Moment – touches on conspiracy theory and the possible future of the monetary system. That at some point we may end up wearing a barcode on the skin, (or possibly a chip under the skin…in my own opinion), to use when making purchases, rather than a bank card or actual money. Thought provoking again.
In other essays he tells us about writers who’s works have formed him as a writer, revolutionaries and the ethics involved in fighting for what we believe in.
I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from the back cover of the book, and to urge you all to please read this book and try to understand where we are in the race against time.
Paul Kingsnorth reads carefully from the book of nature, and also from the great literature of the natural world; they give him, and the reader, one path out of the despair that comes from knowing a bit too much about our condition. – Bill McKibben
…as the environmental movement began to focus on “sustainability” rather than the defence of wild places for their own sake, and as global conditions worsened, he grew disenchanted with the movement that he once embraced. He gave up what he saw as false hope that the residents of the first world would ever make the kind of sacrifices that might avert the severe consequences of climate change…..Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist gathers the wave-making essays that have charted the change in Kingsnorth’s thinking. In them he articulates a new vision, one that stands firmly in opposition to the belief that technology can save us, and he argues for a renewed balance between the human and the non-human worlds.
And so to the final of the three books – Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby – published in 2013.
I’ll jump straight to the back cover blurb to begin with….Gifts come in many guises. One summer Rebecca Solnit was given a box of ripening apricots, fruit from a neglected tree that her mother, gradually succumbing to memory loss, could no longer tend to. From this unexpected inheritance Solnit weaves together memoir, fairytales and the lives of others into a meditation of the art of storytelling. Encompassing explorers and monsters, the Marquis de Sade and Mary Shelley, a library of water in Iceland and the depths of the Grand Canyon, the result is a literary treasure trove from a writer of limitless talent and imagination.
Wow….some build up. Lets hope the book lives up to it. Back soon….
I may end up writing this piecemeal – as I find essays that I connect with, that resonate with me. The first of which is the first essay in the book…essay 1 titled Apricots. In this essay Solnit becomes the owner of a huge box of apricots….from her mothers tree, after her mother who is suffering from dementia, can’t cope with them. She writes about the trials and tribulations, sadness and confusion of having a parent who is losing their faculties. It’s a heartfelt piece and something that I am more than familiar with having lost my own mother to Alzheimer’s over 4 years ago and my dad 6 months earlier who had another dementia related illness. She writes very well about the various stages of confusion and frustration that her mother went through as she slowly but surely lost her mind and her identity. In reading Apricots, it opened up some old wounds that I thought were forgotten. Which I guess shows what a good writer Solnit is. I’m now wondering if writing my own essay as another blog post about my experience with my own parents would help to heal those freshly opened wounds? I’ll think on it. If I do, I’ll call it “An evil Bastard called Al” (as in AL-zheimers), as it is an evil and vicious illness. Meantime, back to the next essay from the book.
In my younger years I used to love watching the old black and white “Hammer House of Horror” movies on TV. The classic stories were the best….the ones about the Wolf-man, or Dracula…or Frankenstein. So Solnit’s 3rd essay in the book, entitled simplyIceis my next port of call. This essay is for the most part about Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, the writing of the book, and her life and marriage to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley….Solnit also touches on the life of Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to her daughter. As one would expect of Solnit’s writing, it’s a well researched and well crafted piece. Quite fascinating to read. I don’t want to say anymore…please read it yourself.
The 5th Essay titled Breath begins briefly about the Marquis de Sade, but is about life and death, degeneration and regeneration and how everything is in a constant state of change. It brings together The Marquis de Sade, Zen Buddhism, the god Apollo and even the joys of cooking. Art as life, life as art, artists and philosophers, travel and cancer detection…and of course life as a journey from birth to death and everything in between.. are all woven into an intricate, almost spellbinding essay.
I could summarise every essay, as they are all well worth reading, but we’d be here all day so I’ll slide along to the end of the book instead. The final, and 13th essay of the book is titled Apricots (as was essay number 1) and we come full circle as Solnit compares the apricots and the things she made from them, thus preserving them, to life and a number of incidents either in her life or the lives of others. She includes many stories – one particular story about a young girl who fell into and became trapped down a well, deep underground, and had to be rescued by drilling a parallel tunnel and lowering a man, face down, down the tunnel to free the girl. It was a long and dangerous mission. Happily she lived and the publicity her rescue generated brought in donations of over a million dollars to give her and her parents an easier life than they would have otherwise had. Her rescuer became famous. BUT there are two sides to every coin and where a story brings good news, it can also bring bad. The man who rescued her, was so traumatised by the experience that he later took his own life. In effect trading his life for hers. The Grim Reaper’s way of balancing the books perhaps? Thus emphasizing how both fame and life are transitory. Life is an adventure and an unpredictable adventure at that. It tosses you a ball to hit out of the park one day and throws you a curve ball, that hit’s you right on the bridge of the nose, the next. One of Solnit’s mantras is “Never turn down an adventure without a really good reason”. If you have to have a mantra I reckon that’s a pretty good one to have.
I have said in an earlier post that I am an admirer of Solnit’s work, having bought one of her books on a visit to San Francisco earlier this year. This book of essays goes a long way in confirming my earlier opinion.
And that brings to an end my round up of books by three living essayists to counter balance my earlier post about the three dead ones. Again, thank you for reading and I am always grateful for any likes, shares, comments, or recommendations of other essayists worth reading.
I guess the main question to be asked is why choose to read 5 books of essays? The answer…my answer at any rate is….to learn. The way I write my blog, and how many other bloggers write, is in essay form. So, what is an essay?
Literary Devices.Net defines it as – Essay is derived from the French word essayer, which means “to attempt,” or “to try.” An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.” The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a short piece of writing on a particular subject.”
The all knowing Wikipedia says – An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by “serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length,” whereas the informal essay is characterized by “the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,” etc. Essays are commonly used as literarycriticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.
So there we have it. Looking at the writers of these 5 books, they are hailed as some of the best essayists around so hopefully I can learn from them, as well as enjoy reading them.
Just updating this post. Rather than make this one lengthy or over lengthy post I may possibly split it into two parts. The First part….this part….covering the 3 Essayists who are now deceased (the top line in the photo – of 3 books) and a second post about the two remaining live essayists will follow at a later date. OK, on with the post…..
First book out of the starting blocks, just because I liked the title, is Consider the Lobster…and other essays – by David Foster Wallace. He is obviously well respected as a writer if the blurb on the back of the book is to be believed. Comments such as the following praise him to the sky.
– Long renowned as one of the smartest writers on the loose, in Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace also reveals himself to be one of the funniest……Wallace delights and confirms that he is a ‘writer of virtuosic talents’ (New York Times)
– ‘…a superb comedian of culture….his exuberance and intellectual impishness are a delight’ James Woods, Guardian
– ‘He induces the kind of laughter which, when read in bed with a sleeping partner, wakes said sleeping partner up……He’s damn good’ Nicholas Lezard, Guardian
There are a collection of 10 rather lengthy essays in this book, and I know from the comments about the book that I should be swept away by Mr Wallace’s brilliance, but….(pause while I attempt to think of something tactful to say)….to paraphrase Obi wan Kenobi – ‘This is not the essayist you are looking for’. I have struggled to maintain consciousness through the first four essays and haven’t yet arrived at the start of the actual Consider the Lobster essay. The first essay titled Big Red Son – about the porn industry awards night – appeared to have been written by an adolescent schoolboy with a fetish for large breasts, who is obsessed by the size of the male porn stars er…package and makes constant comments about the amount and regularity of their ejaculations. I have to ask myself, do I want to invest more of my time in trying to understand why so many people rate Mr Wallace so highly? I find myself agreeing with the host of TV’s The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi when offered instant coffee to drink instead of her usual espresso, her response of…’I’d rather drink my own urine’….mirrors my reluctance to read any more of Wallace’s drivel. Needless to say that I, for one, was not swept away by his impish delight…..more a case of being dragged away kicking and screaming!
In a bid to not judge Mr Wallace too harshly (oops…too late for that), as I hate to speak ill of the dead, I decided to sleep on it, give the Lobster due consideration and give it another try. I don’t suppose David Foster Wallace would lose any sleep over my less than flattering review anyway, and since he is dead, that is of course, neither here nor there. So, 24 hours or so later, I have read the feature article about the Maine Lobster Festival and it was actually quite good. It informed and educated me about lobsters in general and about the MLF. He didn’t however entertain me with his writing. I have yet to discover the humour in his writing that some critics bang on about, and the article tended to be repetitive in parts….he could have cut it by a couple of pages or more and actually improved it (IMHO). As you may or may not be aware Wallace took his own life at the age of 46 and had been consumed by depression for over 20 years. Having now read 5 of his essays I can see why. You may think that my last sentence was uncalled for. All I can say is please read some of Mr Wallace’s work and draw your own conclusions…but first hide all the kitchen knives. Best to keep temptation at arms length.
Of the remaining 4 books of essays two more are also by writers who have passed on to that great typewriter in the sky and thankfully the final two are still very much alive and kicking. I’ll carry on now with two times Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer’s book Mind of an Outlaw, and pray that it’s an improvement on Consider the Lobster.
Even before I open Mailer’s book I am hopeful. He was married 6 times, which would indicate that he had a sense of humour. However he stabbed one wife with a penknife almost killing her…so maybe a sick sense of humour should be expected. Woody Allen once quipped that when Mailer dies, his ego would be donated to Harvard Medical School for research.
Mailer died in 2007, aged 84, (I have no idea what happened to his Ego…) and this collection of essays was published posthumously in 2013, said to contain many of his best works, (scoring 5 out of 5 on Amazon and 4 out of 5 on Goodreads) I remain hopeful as I scan the list of essays.
Unlike Wallace’s essays that run on almost endlessly, page after page, mile after ponderous mile… and bored me silly, Mailer’s run for just a few pages each and so we have around 50 to cherry pick from six decades of writing. Having read the first seven essays, so far, I believe without a doubt that he is, as mentioned by Woody Allen, egotistical. He is one of those writers who is very good at his craft – and knows it – and likes to tell everyone exactly how good he is…..or rather how lucky the reader is that he’s allowing us into his world. This being said, he is (or I should say was) a gifted writer and I am enjoying his somewhat self indulgent essays.
In one essay written in the 1950’s and titled The Homosexual Villain, he writes about what it is to be a writer, how important it is to nurture and grow that inner writer, and why we must not let our uninformed prejudices stunt our growth. I think he absolutely nails it….A writer has his talent, and for all one knows, he is born with it, but whether his talent develops is to some degree responsive to his use of it. He can grow as a person or he can shrink, and by this I don’t intend any facile parallels between moral and artistic growth. The writer can become a bigger hoodlum if need be, but his alertness, his curiosity, his reaction to life must not diminish. The fatal thing is to shrink, to be interested in less, sympathetic to less, desiccating to the point where life itself loses its flavor, and one’s passion for human understanding changes to weariness and distaste.
My plan was to select a couple of essays from each decade to read, but I am enjoying them so much that I’m probably going to read the entire 50. This review could therefore take somewhat longer than I had anticipated.
His essay in 1956 endorsing Ernest Hemingway for political office, although written slightly tongue in cheek, makes a good argument for why the American public would choose Hemingway over Eisenhower. Of course since Hemingway had no political aspirations it becomes a moot point. An interesting piece all the same. Just as a matter of interest, Mailer wrote that in his opinion, the two writers to have had the most influence on the American public were Hemingway and Faulkner – which is quite an interesting choice when Mailer himself admits that he is not overall a fan of Hemingway’s writing. In fact in a later essay in the book he actually says that he got to the point early on in his writing career that he was sick and tired of hearing about both Hemingway and Faulkner.
Modern writers fare no better. Jonathan Franzen’s book – The Corrections was lauded by his contemporaries as an outstanding piece of literature and attracted high praise all around. Mailer’s opinion was thatThe Corrections is “the book of a generation that wants to wipe the slate clean and offer a new literary movement”, and that “todays writers are sick of Roth, Bellow, Updike and myself.” He then goes on to say that the book is “very good indeed, and yet most unpleasant now that it sits in memory, as if one has been wearing the same clothes for too many days.” He then goes on talking about Franzen’s intelligence. “He may have the highest IQ of any American novelist writing today, but unhappily, he rewards us with more work than exhilaration, since rare is any page in The Corrections that could not be five to ten lines shorter.” Mailer obviously hates to give any other writer any credit at all.
As far as his contemporaries are concerned, Mailer tells us in no uncertain terms that there are barely any of his fellow writers who he feels are as good as, if not better than himself. The one exception being James Jones, who won the 1952 National Book Award for his first published novel, FromHere to Eternity. This of course was made into a movie and later into a TV series. Mailer says in his essay Quick Evaluations on the Talent in the Room that James Jones had more talent than he did, and waxes lyrical about him for the best part of a paragraph, before pulling him apart and accusing him of selling out over the years since the publication of his first book. He then goes on to run his sword through a number of other distinguished writers including William Styron, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac and Saul Bellow, dismissing them all as inferior to him.
I suspected that it was too good to be true that Mailer actually felt inferior to another writer. He has such a huge ego that he needed two houses to live in – one of standard size for his physical being and a hundred room mansion for his ego. I’m not sure if Mailer owned a car or not, but if he did, I have no doubt that his number plate/licence plate would be FIGJAM – as in Fuck I‘m Great Just Ask Me.
Although he was undoubtedly a huge narcissist, an egotistic megalomaniac, there is no escaping the fact that he was a brilliant writer and I can’t help but admire his work. He could look at both sides of an argument and make compelling points in support of one side, only to then give equal merit to the opposing side. I must admit to being totally flummoxed in trying to follow his take on existentialism though.
I’ll finish with a quote from the Amazon books website about the book…. Incendiary, erudite, and unrepentantly outrageous, Norman Mailer was a dominating force on the battlefield of ideas. Featuring an incisive Introduction by Jonathan Lethem, Mind of an Outlaw forms a fascinating portrait of Mailer’s intellectual development across the span of his career as well as the preoccupations of a nation in the last half of the American century.
And we move on to our 3rd deceased Essayist – Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Eric Hitchens was an English-American author, columnist, essayist, orator, journalist, and social critic. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays on culture, politics, and literature. Hitchens, who died of cancer aged 62, in 2011, was a huge critic of organized religion and I have seen videos of him, on many occasions, having a good old rant against the many religions including, and in particular, Christianity. He enjoyed a smoke and a fine malt whisky, and fully admits that this contributed to his cancer diagnosis. He could be caustic and sarcastic but also witty and humorous and always put forward a good, intelligent argument. A public intellectual and a controversial public figure – and I looked forward to reading his collection of essays titled …And Yet.
And yet….before I start his book I must, just quickly, bring to your attention one of Hitchens’ typical quotes that I wish I had said myself.
“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.”
OK…that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the review.
And Yet….and other essays was published in 2015 – 4 years after Hitchens death, but is like a breath of fresh air – a last blast from this devout non-conformist – and lifelong atheist. Indeed he takes a swipe at the very idea of Christmas in his essay Bah Humbug which features an account of being physically barred from a ‘Bible Belt’ talk show, even though he’d been invited on it, for observing that “Christmas trees, Yule logs, and the rest were symbols of the winter solstice holidays before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area.” Therefore pagan rather than Christian iconic items. His host took exception to this.
Born and raised in Britain and later becoming an American citizen gave Hitchens two political systems to pull apart with equal ferocity. It’s a pity that he died before Donald Trump entered the political arena – I would have loved to have heard his opinion of The Don. In this series of essays he takes several swipes at Hillary Clinton. In one essay he characterises her as being “indifferent to truth, willing to use police state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on healthcare and flippant and fast and loose with national security.”
Her ex president husband Bill fares no better. In his essay titled The Case Against Hillary Clinton, Hitchens not only accuses both Hillary and him of being self serving liars…several times over, but also makes strong suggestions that Bill was also a rapist. Many women accused Bill of improper sexual behaviour including Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick…..and who can forget the infamous incident with Monica Lewinsky – I did not have sexual relations with that woman – yeah right! Indeed in an earlier book, No One Left To Lie To, Hitchens penned an essay by the title of Is there a Rapist in the Oval Office?
But it’s not only American politicians who come under fire. No politician anywhere in the world who lies or goes back on promises were safe from Hitchens’ barbed tongue. He even had a go, and quite rightly so, at the Dutch government – who have long enjoyed the reputation for peaceful and democratic consensus – on two counts. The first being in July 1995 when Dutch forces in Bosnia abandoned the population of the UN-protected “safe haven” at Srebrenica enabling the worst massacre of civilians on European soil since WW2. He says Dutch officers were photographed hoisting champagne glasses with the sadistic goons of Ratko Mladic’s militia before leaving the helpless Muslim population to a fate that anyone could have predicted.
The second issue was when the Dutch withdrew their protection of former member of the Dutch Parliament – Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a refugee from genital mutilation, forced marriage, and civil war in her native Somalia, who collaborated with Theo van Gogh on the film Submission that highlighted the maltreatment of Muslim immigrant women living in Holland. Van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street in 2004 with a note pinned to his body promising that the next victim would be Hirsi Ali. Initially the Dutch vowed to give security protection to her, but after a while decided it was costing them too much so they announced in the press that after a certain date had been reached, Hirsi Ali would be unprotected, in effect tipping off the Islamist death squads responsible for the death of van Gogh earlier.
Hitchens was without doubt an exceptional writer with a strong sense of justice. Highly opinionated maybe, highly critical of those in positions of power (be it religious power or political power) – absolutely, but a damn good writer and generally well respected. His book AND YET… with its collection of almost 50 essays is an entertaining and interesting read. If you’ve never read anything by Hitchens, and you are not offended by his stance on religion, his writing offers some real gems.
On the back of the book – “Few writers can match his cerebral pyrotechnics. Fewer still can emulate his punch as an intellectual character assassin. It is hard not to admire the sheer virtuosity of his prose” – Edward Luce, Financial Times. AND “If Hitchens didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to invent him” – Ian McEwan.
I’ll leave you with a couple more quotes from Hitchens about himself, in closing.
I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information. AND I don’t have any terrific self-esteem issues but I do sometimes realise I’ve been too lucky and that I’m over-praised. It makes me nervous. I have this sense of being overrated.
This brings a close to the first, of my two part, review of the five books of essays. Three deceased writers down, two live ones yet to come. Thank you as usual for reading. Your comments etc., are much appreciated.