Category Archives: Reading

100 Words. 100 Days: Day 94. On Classic Novels.

There was a time when I wouldn’t touch a classic novel with a lighted pitchfork. They were too dense, I thought, written in a language no longer relevant for today’s modern needs. Too many thees, thous and words I need to look up in a dictionary.

But then I picked up Les Miserables, by  Victor Hugo. Yes, it’s dense, with passages that seem to go on forever, and for no particular reason. It has more tangents than a geometry manual; but it’s a joy to read. I feel that I’ve given classics a bad rep. Now I’ve changed my tune.

 

 

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 93. On Good Reads.

I pity those who say they’ve never read a book and don’t feel the need to. Sure isn’t it a waste of time? they say. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and work to be done. Who needs sparkly vampires anyway? We have cinemas and DVDs for that. To them I say, you’re missing the point. Movies and television shows provide the images for you. With reading you have to do the work yourself.

And yes, my non-reading friends (who are more than likely not reading this), reading is work, and it rewards better than most cash-paying jobs.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 64. On Spy Stories.

With the release of the movie version of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the return of Spooks to the BBC (its 10th and final season), there is, for me, a renaissance of the spy thriller. The Bourne trilogy of movies resulted in a more pared-down, gadget-free James Bond, focusing more on the people involved in the business of spying than outrageous plotting.

You see, spying is a sleazy industry: keeping secrets from some, extracting them from others, without letting your emotions get in the way. It can come at a price, though.

You may lose your humanity.

 

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 40. On Fantasy Sagas.

After almost 2000 pages of brilliant writing, tense set-pieces and searing betrayal, I’m taking a break from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, stopping at A Storm of Swords. I have the next two in the sequence, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Given the length of time it took Martin to write the most recent in the series, I can wait a bit longer before tackling the next one.

I have masses of books screaming to be read. The only problem I have is where to start. Maybe some Sherlock Holmes is in order.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 30. On Education.

The Leaving Certificate results came out yesterday and once again, facts have to be faced. Today’s students are failing at basic maths. The levels of success at Pass Level Maths and Sciences have dropped considerably over the last few years. This leads me to ask two questions.

1. Are students unwilling to be educated, preferring instead the instant gratification of social network sites, XBox and Wii?

2. Does our education system and those in its employ need urgent reform?

I suspect it’s a combination of the two. Of course there are those who excel in education, but they seem to be the exception today.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 22. On Reading.

If you really want to know me, ask me what I’m reading. If you want to know me better than most, ask why I’m reading what I’m reading. Better still, ask me why I read. You might be surprised by the answer. I have to read. If I don’t, my brain goes into atrophy, my well of creativity runs dry, and I’m no use to anyone including myself.

A friend popped in today with a late birthday present: Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. In order to allow my creativity to flourish, reading the same genres time and again is not an option. More on this later.

 

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 9. On Concentration.

My reading challenge for this summer is George R.R. Martin‘s A Song Of Ice And Fire. You might remember this fantasy saga from such spectacular television series as A Game of Thrones. It’s a sprawling seven book sequence (five already published, two to come) that demands concentration. And I’m fine with that.

Last year’s reading challenge, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, gave me all the preparation I needed. So far, so brilliant. With enough characters to fill up a dozen telephone directories, Martin’s epic fantasy saga is a treasure to hold and a pleasure to read.

Just keep concentrating.

Steampunk’d

The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann

I’ve just finished reading my first Steampunk novel. It’s called The Affinity Bridge, and it’s written by an English writer called George Mann. It’s the first in a series of books featuring Sir Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes, and it’s a thumping good read.

The setting is Victorian London, at the turn on the 20th century – but it’s not the London historians would be familiar with. It’s the age of Steampunk: a sub-genre of science, speculative and fantasy fiction that combines alternate realities with modern-day technology. Whereas “proper” Victorian London was all gas-light and horse-drawn carriages, Steampunk London adds automatons, airships, a daring sense of fashion and a hint of the Dark Arts to the mix.

The forerunner of Steampunk is believed to be Jules Verne with his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The term itself was coined, it seems, by writer K.W. Jeter, who was looking for a way to describe his own writing. Steampunk became mainstream with the release of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, created by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. You may remember the disappointing movie adaptation rather than the novel, but the elements are the same: technology at a time that historically wasn’t ready for it. (The less said about the Will Smith movie, The Wild Wild West, the better.)

image c/o brassgoggles.co.uk

It’s a unique genre; well, unique to me, at any rate. So much so that when I was reading Mann’s book, I couldn’t help but envisage Dublin from a similar angle. I began asking myself questions. What would Steampunk Dublin look like? What would its citizens wear? And what kind of adventures would they have? By the look and sound of what Mann and other Steampunk writers have done, absolutely anything could happen.

Imagine the relationship between Ireland and England in a Steampunk setting. I already have an idea about what I might do. I already have a working title for it, too.

It’s going to be called Minus Ten. You read it here first.

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

image courtesy of denofgeeks.com

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

There is danger in reading reviews of your favourite TV shows before you’ve gotten around to seeing them. The Internet is packed to the gills with websites that will give you their opinions on what you’re planning to see. And it’s not just the online community; newspapers, too, throw in their tuppence worth. It’s the job of the critic to evaluate all forms of media, especially entertainment. It’s the job of the viewer to work out whether or not he or she agrees with the critic.

All week I’ve been looking forward the second episode of the BBC’s re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the first installment so much, I posted a brief blog about it. (I’m not one for spoiling people’s enjoyment, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding tonight’s storyline.) But my anticipation was marred by reading the TV section in today’s Mail on Sunday. I quote:

“When you think about it, Sherlock Homes’ brilliant deductive powers are perfectly compatible with modern technology, so putting him slap-bang in present-day London was inspired – and anyway, deerstalkers are so last century. However, after last week’s cracking opener, this second episode fails to live up to expectations. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are still terrific as Holmes and Watson, of course, but the far-fetched plot (involving the City and a Chinese circus) is stretched rather too thinly over the 90 minutes – a surprise when you consider that this is the second of only three episodes.”

Already, a sense of doom came over me. It would be the difficult “second episode,” I thought. No way will it be as good as the first. I was waiting to have my hopes dashed. Last week would just be a flash-in-the-pan. So I settled down and quietly expected the worst.

But you what? I don’t give a damn what critics think. Within seconds my doubts flew away. The opening scenes – Holmes fending off an attack on his life; Watson remonstrating uselessly with an automated supermarket check-out – reminded me of why I love this programme. It’s the characters, stupid! Plots come and go. But as long as the characters remain true, you’ll follow them through thick and thin.

Writer Stephen Thompson had a touch job. With the characters introduced from last week,  he had to cover the hour and a half with an engaging  story. Basically he had to hit the ground running. There was a lot to like in this episode: the mystery was complex; the interplay was very much on a par with last week, especially when Holmes gatecrashed Watson’s date with a colleague; the supporting characters weren’t just cogs in a machine, but fleshed out individuals in their own right; and the villain was unmasked in a way that made sense.

For me, there was a lot going on in The Blind Banker. There wasn’t a dull moment. The pace was frenetic but there were some quiet scenes that Thomson provided, scenes that made me sit back and wonder about…well…just wonder. The viewer should wonder about what they’re watching, shouldn’t they? It’s like when you’ve read a particular scene in a book, and then you stop for a moment and think. I don’t like to be spoon fed when I watch TV and read books. I ask writers to give me something to chew on, something to sleep on maybe. And in this episode, I got plenty of that.

Reviewers can only offer their own opinion. It’s up to us, as viewers and readers, to make sure those opinions don’t become our own. They don’t always get it right.

Note: even though the Mail‘s critic was hesitant about tonight’s Sherlock, he still gave it four stars. It was, by far, the best thing on TV tonight.

The Waste Lands

The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

And so it is written: He that has not been converted will forever be cast out. Scratch that! I’m now halfway through The Dark Tower Volume III: The Waste Lands. Consider me converted. After the drama of Volume II: The Drawing of the Three, I feel I know these people: Roland of Gilead, Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker, she who was to become Susannah Dean.

I jumped for joy when Jake popped by for a cameo, then became depressed when he went his own way again. I knew he would appear later in the series, but I wanted more of him: the boy who had died not once, but twice.

Roland’s health issues caused me some concern, and I hated the lobstrocities (shiver) for maiming him. But he’s a flexible gunslinger, our Roland is. He can shoot better than Clint Eastwood, even if he’s minus a finger or two.

Eddie Dean confused me. Here was a heroine addict, a drug mule. How could he become part of a quest. He’s no hero, I thought.

And Odetta, sweet, adorable, leg-less Odetta. Her alter-ego, Detta, frightened the bejaysus out of me. I’ve never read a more foul-mouthed, hateful creature in many a long day. Her process, her drawing, in becoming the wonderful Susannah Dean at Vol. II’s climax was/is like nothing I’ve read in many…you get the picture.

Now I’m here, at Vol. III of a seven book sequence and already beginning to think about what I’ll do when the series comes to an end. I may cry.

But I’ve a while to go yet.