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On the reading front, I’ve been going non-stop, alternating fiction and non-fiction. On the fiction side, I’ve worked my way through a few John Grishams:

A Time to Kill, A Time for Mercy, Sycamore Row and Gray Mountain. The first three of those all feature the character of Jake Brigance, as played by Matthew McConaghy in the movie of A Time to Kill. Gray Mountain tackles the effects of open cast, coal-mining on communities in Virginia. Although a work of fiction some of the detail is based on fact and is disturbing to say the least. Highly recommended and, along with the others, good reads that rip along at a good pace.

Other reads include David Baldacci’s The Simple Truth, The Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill, The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, Charles Bukowski – Hollywood and Tolkien’s, The Hobbit which is essentially a children’s book but after reading Lord of the Rings felt I had to go back and read it too.

I would particularly recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling for the very likeable characters of Cormoran Strike and his secretary Robin. This is the first in a series of four books and I look forward to reading the rest of them in the not too distant future. Bukowski’s Hollywood had some real laugh out loud moments where the main character basically drinks himself through the book and is certainly worth a read.

I also read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. This is one of my favourite films and I also have the sound track on CD but had never read the book. There are a few differences between it and the film and I was lucky enough to get a first edition. The dust jacket has a bit of damage but one to add to the library. With all the war talk at present, it highlights the utter stupidity/futility of humanity and war. History teaches us nothing and it seems as if humanity will only learn the hard way.

On the non-fiction front, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder gives us a frightening look into the world of the poor and marginalised in today’s America. A damning indictment on the ‘allegedly’ richest nation on earth, something I would strongly dispute. The US is being dragged to its knees and is at the forefront of Western decline and nothing captures the utter waste and hopelessness of it all as much as this book does. Again, it highlights the absolute stupidity of those in charge; the military/industrial complex has bled America dry and this is the result. Old age must be terrifying for so many in the US. Is this really the best they can do for their people? Is this the best we can do for humanity?

Breath by James Nestor talks about how breathing through our mouths, coupled with dietary changes, has caused a lot of the dental problems we have today. Our breathing habits and soft diets have led to a loss of bone mass in our jaws and, consequently, the dental issues of ‘crowded mouth’ and sinus problems so many of us suffer from. The evidence is compelling when our modern features are compared to the strong jaws and great teeth of our ancestors, there is a reason the slack-jawed yokel is a slack-jawed yokel!

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel tells the strange, but true, story of Christopher Knight who lived undetected in the woods of Maine for 27 years with no other direct human contact. Although some suspect he did have contact with members of his family, as he wasn’t too far from home and was never reported as missing. He had been stealing to survive and was eventually caught and that is how the story came to light. He never really said why he did it and he remains a bit of a mysterious character. But it’s an interesting story and sort of ties in with Nomadland; those who choose to escape society and those who are forced into it. That is one of the good/bad things about the US, because it is so large, you can just disappear.

I have a love for all things Japanese and following on from Memoirs of Geisha, I read the Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki on whose story Memoirs was based. She wrote her memoir as she was very unhappy about the portrayal of Geisha in Arthur Golden’s book. As always, the real story is more interesting and provides a great look into an aspect of Japanese culture that is sadly, disappearing.

I also ready Peter Carey’s, Wrong about Japan, a look at modern Japanese culture. It details a trip he took with his son, who is a fan of anime, and different aspects of present day Japanese culture and life. It’s not a very long book but it was interesting all the same.

On the theme of escaping society, which is another thing I am very interested in, I bought Mark Boyle’s, The Way Home. Mark gave up modern life in England and moved to somewhere in Galway to live a sustainable life, off grid. He actually wrote the book by hand which has to be commended. One interesting point in the book was in relation to the changes in Irish society over the years and in a conversation with one of his elderly neighbours, the neighbour remarked that years ago when they heard that in the US old people were being put into homes, they found this shocking and now they were doing it in Ireland.

Thinking about this, I realised that this was one of the downsides of the feminist movement. When women stayed at home, they would have performed this duty, the women in the family would have pulled together and cared for the young and old. I’m not advocating a return to women having to stay at home but there is a case for women with young children to be allowed to stay home and for those who care for elderly relatives to be paid a decent allowance – I feel another blog coming on, anyway, happy reading!


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Summer Reading

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Thursday, 1 Sep 2022, 12:42

So in between art attacks I was reading a lot over the summer. I finished the Tom Rob Smith Trilogy which includes Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6.  I would definitely recommend them. Child 44 was made into a film, I haven’t seen it but my sons didn’t think it was up to much.

One of the local charity shops has a whole room of second hand books so I pick up most of my fiction there quite cheaply. They always get them back when I’ve finished with them, so it’s a win, win all round. I read some ‘womens’ fiction, if you’re allowed to call it that now. Anita Shreve’s, A Change in Altitude and one called Home but I cannot remember who wrote it, Trophy Child by Paula Daly, and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. You could rattle through them in a day or two and they won’t tax your brain too much. One of the reasons why I don’t particularly like ‘women’s’ fiction is that the central characters are always so bloody weak and drippy. And it’s all a bit ‘Oh no! Gerald is shagging the au pair again, and that’s the third time this week, whatever am I going to do? But I still love him so much!’ It hard to feel much sympathy for the characters when it usually turns out she started shagging Gerald at the Christmas party when his wife was 6 months pregnant. But they’re a cheap read and it’s probably the only way I would ever read them, I wouldn’t spend good money on them. One exception was Sail Away by Celia Imrie. I got this as part of my prize for winning the Haiku competition and really enjoyed it, so this is one I would recommend and will definitely read more of hers.

I’m not a great reader of fiction and prefer autobiography over other genres. But as I worked my way through The Gulag Archipelago, I needed a break now and again, as the brutality was quite harrowing at times and, more so, at present, as we seem to be sleep walking back into totalitarianism. Everyone should read this book, it should be on the Secondary School curriculum. It is an appalling indictment of man’s inhumanity to man and, as I’ve said before, Stalin killed no one, it was the ordinary Russians who ‘followed’ the orders of the tyrant. They estimate 14 million Russians died in World War 2 and 17 million Chinese. They estimate 65 million died under Stalin and Mao, killed by their own, murdered and starved. An appalling lesson from history that everyone should know about, but seems to have been forgotten by our glorious leaders and their minions. Ignore the lessons of history at your peril!

Other good reads were Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. The Geisha who the book was based on was not impressed with Arthur’s interpretation and wrote her own story afterwards.  I have it on the Kindle but haven’t read it yet, but I would still recommend Memoirs.

Other fictions were John Grisham’s The Appeal. I enjoyed this up to a point and it felt very relevant considering it’s themes of political and corporate corruption. There is no happy ending to this one so don’t read it if you’re feeling depressed, it just might tip you over the edge especially with ‘life’, if you could call it that, at present.

On the rest of the reading list was Wilbur Smith’s Blue Horizon, this is book 11 in a whole series about the Courtney family but I haven’t read any of the others. It was a bit of an epic and set in Africa in the early days of colonialism. I did enjoy it and will look out for the others.

John Case’s The Genesis Code was ok. I could see where it was going quite early on, part of the ending didn’t quite gel, but it was ok and worth a read, if you’re not looking for anything too taxing on the brain cells.

Since it was a bit of a Russian summer, I also read Shallow Graves in Siberia by Michael Krupe. This took me back to autobiography. He was a Polish national and this is the story of how he ended up in the gulags and managed to escape both them, and the Jesuits, eventually ending up in Britain. A happy ending for once! I would strongly recommend it. A great read and a reminder of just how amazing the human spirit can be and what we can endure and overcome.

And after all that, and to continue on the Russian theme, I was trawling through some music on Youtube and came across this stunning piece by Tchaikovsky. I’m a big fan of Tchaikovsky but I had never heard of this one, it is called Hymn of the Cherubim. It has to be the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard and it gives me great pleasure to share it with you all today. It shows that even though we can be absolutely appalling to one another, we can also be beautiful and wonderful, and this is a demonstration of what humanity can produce when we are at our absolute best. Food for the soul that speaks to God. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume and let your soul soar to the heavens. Amen!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Hymn of the Cherubim - YouTube


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More Good Reads

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022, 11:31

I've been on a bit of a reading binge again. First up, Alan Cummings autobiography, Not My Father's Son. This was an interesting read and for anyone who doesn't know him, he played the role of Eli, in The Good Wife which is how I came to know him.  Alan's father was a bit of a psycho and he suffered badly from his bullying and abuse.  But in spite of all that, he got out and did very well for himself.  I won't say anything more about it, I don't like to give too much away but a good read and I would definitely recommend it.

On a similar theme, I was in the library 2 weeks ago and saw Operation Lighthouse by Luke and Ryan Hart.  I had heard them on the radio, the day before, talking about their lives and the book they had written.  Coincidentally, it was on the recommended display in the library when I went in to return the Alan Cummings autobiography so, I thought, I would give it a go.  

Luke and Ryan's father was also an abusive bully, controlling and manipulative.  He was never physically violent until he was completely murderous, and he shot and killed their mother and sister and then shot himself.  Their reason for writing the book was to show that while a relationship may not always be violent, it can still be abusive through the use of coercive control. Their father wanted to control every aspect of the lives of his family and did so through his bullying and demanding behaviour. They were also appalled at the sympathy shown to their father by the media after he murdered their mother and sister and how little sympathy was directed towards his victims.  I would highly recommend this, if for no other reason, than to open our eyes and minds to the quiet acceptance of abuse in society and the tendency towards victim blaming in the media.

Another, in the real lives genre, was Gavin Edward's biography of River Phoenix, Last Night at the Viper Room.  This tells the story of River Phoenix's life, from birth until his death, at aged 23.  Best known, in my house at least, for his role in Stand by Me, the Rob Reiner directed film, from the short story by Stephen King, The Body.  A favourite of my son's when they were growing up and one I still watch fairly regularly. 

River's parents were a couple of hippies who became part of the Children of God cult in the US and who travelled around and lived for several years in South America, preaching and recruiting on their behalf.  The leader of the Children of God cult, David Berg, advocated sexual relationships between children, and between children and adults.  River's parents parted company with them when they started prostituting women to attract more recruits but there is evidence in the book of River being introduced to sex at a very young age.

There is no doubt his death was a tragic loss. He was quite heavily into drugs and although, he had been clean for a couple of months while shooting what turned out to be his last film, the moment he got back to LA, he was straight back to the drugs.  How much of his drug use was a result of his upbringing, we can only guess at but the lack of education and involvement with the Children of God, I'm sure, played a part. 

I never knew that he was interested in music but it turned out that he was more interested in making music than movies, and there are some videos of him with his band, Aleka's Attic, on Youtube, if anyone is interested. Sadly, the talent he had, never got to play out into maturity, like so many before him. That's the thing about drugs, it only end one of two ways, you either stop or die.  But an excellent read and highly recommended as it also contains snippets about many of the other actors who came to prominence in the 1990's, like Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Leonardo Di Caprio.


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Courses, books & movies

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022, 11:35

My brain has been itching for something to do recently so I tried out one of the OU's free online courses, Living Without Oil.  I had started it when I was off after my op (which I had forgotten) but I finished it this week.  It was interesting, at some point in the future humanity may have to live without oil and as we have lived without it for many more years than we have had it, I don't really think it will be a problem. Humans have shown themselves to be incredibly creative when needed and are great problem solvers.  The thing is, we could easily cut back our consumption if the will or necessity was there.  All houses could be insulated to a much higher standard than they are at present and there is always the option of ground source heat.  Public transport could easily be improved too with trams and trains.  I'm not losing any sleep over it, we'll adapt when the time comes, I'm sure.

I've now moved on to a Philosophy course, Faking Nature.  I have too much on this year to commit to formal study but I think I may have to do something after the summer, my brain needs it.

I've still been reading a lot too.  2 outstanding reads are; The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Educated by Tara Westover.  They are both on similar themes, growing up in highly unstable environments, I would recommend reading The Glass Castle first.  You can also watch the movie of it on Netflix, I haven't checked it out yet so I can't comment on what it's like.  

Talking about movies, I ventured out to see the new Mary Poppins this week.  It started off well enough and was in keeping with the original but then it just went on and on, about 25 minutes too long and there was a bit at the end which didn't make sense.  Spoiler Alert!  They were racing to turn back the hands on Big Ben and then Mary Poppins flew up with her umbrella and did it.  I thought, 'well, why didn't you just do that to start with?'  And it's not that I don't enjoy a long movie, I'm actually sitting here at the moment watching one of my all-time favourites, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (today on Channel 5).  I actually have a limited edition Directors cut of this on video so when it's good, the longer the better!  

I've also just finished Jordan B Peterson's 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos.  I only recently got to know about Jordan Peterson (again when I was off after the op) by watching videos on Youtube.  I am most definitely a fan and he has transformed my thinking and consequently, my life.  He is every man I wish I'd ever known, I wish there were more like him.  The book was a much more intelligent and spiritual read than I expected and I think listening to him has rekindled the desire in me to get back to study.  I'm now re-reading CJ Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections since Jung gets quite a few mentions in it.

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Reading for Pleasure

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022, 11:32

Since finishing the degree, I have re-discovered the joy of reading for pleasure again.  It took a few months after finishing to settle down as I kept getting the anxiety 'I should be studying' attacks, then realising that no, I didn't actually have to study anything and could indulge in reading for reading's sake.

I've got through several tomes and a few stand out in the memory, Jon Krakauer's, Into Thin Air, for one.  You may have seen the film that was based on the book, Everest, starring among others, Jake Gyllenhaal.  I had read Jon Krakauer's, Into the Wild, a few years ago, which was also made into a film and I really enjoyed it.  I could also certainly identify with Christopher McCandless's wish to escape from the drudgery of life and go live in the wild, but climbing Everest is something that in a million years, I would never have a desire to do.  Even if I had ever entertained the notion, this book would have killed it off forever.  The pain, the suffering, why would anyone want to put themselves through it?  Cerebral oedema's, pulmonary oedema's, it's beyond me, or maybe I've just suffered enough!  

Another stand out, is Waris Dirie's, Desert Flower.  Waris was a desert nomad from Somalia who went through female-genital mutilation at 5 years of age.  She ran away as a teenager to escape an arranged marriage to an old man and ended up becoming a model in London, and hung out with people like Naomi Campbell and Iman, David Bowie's wife.  It's amazing how she came through it all and how it all happened. Definitely, worth a read.

Other notables in the biographical genre are Tom Michell's The Penguin Lessons, a heart-warming tale of a man and a penguin; Carol Drinkwater's The Olive Farm, and that other famous tale of life in France, Peter Mayle's, A Year in Provence, both of which had me dreaming of upping sticks and moving!

On the fiction front, I enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and The Savage Garden by Mark Mills.  I got the Mark Mills book in a local charity shop, and it still had its original receipt in it.  It was bought in Borders Books, Music and Cafe, Briggate, in Leeds in August 2007.  It's interesting to see how it has travelled since it was first purchased.  I wonder who the original buyer was!

Another gem I've had sitting on the shelf for a while, and finally got around to reading, was Irving Wallace's The Seven Minutes.  It was given to me a few years ago by a friend.  It was originally published in 1969 and it does show its age in parts, but on the whole a good read and quite a long one too, at over 500 pages.

I read mostly biography and one of the most heart-breaking, and frustrating, was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  Paul was a brilliant, highly-driven doctor and this is what made it quite a frustrating read.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer and I just wished he had stayed off work longer and given himself time to recover but he didn't.  Maybe the outcome would have been the same but then again, maybe not.  

So, there’s a few recommendations, I'm now on Philippa Gregory's, The White Queen.  I'm not a fan of the historical novel, it was lent to me by a friend but I’ll give it a go and it isn’t too bad so far.  I still have many more to get through but with the telly being so bad at present, at least books offer a respite from 3rd rate reality shows and endless cooking.

 


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The Alternative Feminist / Madness

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Friday, 2 Sep 2022, 15:49

I read this book the other day, The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. It's about madness or what is, or is not, madness and it raises as many questions as it answers. 

Going insane might be one of our worst fears along with serious illness, or something terrible happening to our children but after reading this I am now feeling highly reassured. I am never going to worry about going mad at all again because after reading this, I figure we're all a little bit crazy anyway, and some of us may even be a whole lot crazy but if we're not really harming anyone and managing to function in our lives, well, where's the problem?? Because what is normal anyway?? Does anybody even know?? 

Well you could say that it’s normal to get up and go to work every day. Ok then, think about this -  is it really normal to get up and go to work every day, the way we do? 

To slog your way through crowds and traffic, to sit in a building doing stuff for a company or corporation, to make money for them so they can pay you money to buy stuff, most of which you don’t really need, for a house, you didn’t really want, to begin with. 

Then you take on a mortgage to pay for the said house which will ensure you have to keep your nose to the grindstone for the next thirty years when you can finally look forward to retirement (which by this time you will be too worn out and too tired to do anything) to find that the company CEO has raided the pension fund and disappeared into the ether and you are destined to spend your old age in fear and poverty after spending most of your life working your bollocks off for someone else!!! 

AND, along the way, you missed out on most of your children’s growing up, your partner is now a complete stranger with a life of their own, that doesn’t include you, and all because you had to be at work, in order to pay your taxes to a government that basically doesn’t give a crap about you anyway!!! Yes, THAT'S normal!!

If that's normal, then I embrace my insanity with glee!!  Hee, hee!! Because inside all of us, there is a little streak of insanity. It may not manifest itself as a medically recognised psychosis (although if the American Psychiatric Association has it's way, it may very well soon be) but it might just be a little obsession about collecting stuff, or how we dress, or cleaning; something along those lines, because let's be honest, we all have our little obsessions, don't we?

And what harm are we doing?  Ok if your shoe buying habit is the reason you haven't paid your rent in six months well, maybe there’s a little bit of a problem there that you need to think about but still, you're not crazy are you??  And what about the girl up the street who goes out to work every day dressed up like Mary Poppins, or the old lady who walks around like the queen on LSD, are they really harming anyone?  Because the truth is, isn't it our little insanities that mark us out as individuals? Aren't these the hallmarks of our uniqueness in the world?? 

Because what I now realize is that THERE IS NO NORMAL. We’re all crazy in some way and some of the so-called most normal things are the craziest of them all!!!

What I see happening within the world of psychiatry is similar to what happened back in the 19th century, when the Victorian's did a study on sexual habits and labelled everything that wasn’t the Missionary position as sexually deviant. 

Basically the same thing is happening now with all human behaviour.  Anything that deviates from the norm (because we all know what normal is??!!) is now being diagnosed and labelled as mental illness and comes with its own line in pharmaceuticals. 

Roll up! Roll up!  Get you behaviour modifiers here, an emotionally-deadening pill for every little ill!!

‘WHAT YOU HAVE AN OVER-ACTIVE CHILD???’ (Fake shock and horror)

Here, don’t you know that a little Ritalin a day, will keep the pharmaceuticals in pay!!!’

If you think that’s a bit exaggerated, then I urge you to read this book, (if you haven’t already) because the really scary part of all this, is what is happening with children in America and, here too, so let’s not get complacent. Children are being diagnosed with all sorts of mental health problems. We’ve all heard of ADD and ADHD, ( I always had huge reservations about those two, even more so now!) but what about childhood bipolar disorder?? Now, there’s a happy little threesome, to label a child with!  Add to that, the huge rise in autism diagnoses and soon you will find that children everywhere are being medicated out of childhood. 

So, if you have an active child, don't take them to a doctor and definitely don't take them to a psychiatrist, take them to the park and let them run around, stop feeding them crap and let them dig that hole in the back garden and get mucky!! Who cares what the neighbours think!! Let them swing from trees, even better, join in and swing from the trees with them and, basically, go have some fun!!!! 

Because that’s what’s wrong here, we take ourselves far too seriously and have forgotten what it is to HAVE SOME FUN!!!! So let rip and let a child be a child and remember that you were once one too!!! Life’s too short to let it drift by on prozac and Ritalin. ENJOY IT!!!! .LIVE IT TO ITS FULLEST!!!! Because in the words of Noddy Holder -  ‘MA MA, WE’RE ALL CRAZEE NOW!’

So stop worrying and embrace the insanity because we are all in this one together!!!!! YEAHHH!!!

 

 

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