Jah Jah Dub

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Eat the Rich - P.J. O'Rourke

I learned an important lesson over the last few years: people with whom I had political disagreement may not actually be evil. In fact, their ideal choice of ends may be identical to mine, they could just disagree with the means. I was once too po-faced for P.J., I'd splutter indignently at his jokes - if he's serious, he's the devil, if he's joking... well, he really shouldn't be joking about these things. But you know, they're just jokes, and his belief is in individual freedom, not using poor people as chairs. It's fine.

Famously, I only ended up doing economics because there were too many Christians on my French and Spanish course. I don't really know how people perceive the subject, but if their prejudices are similar to those I clung to until well after graduation, then I'm guessing it's seen as a bit crap. Most people think that economics is like Management Studies, or Accountancy - some way to make a big pile. Actually, it's about resources, and how best to use them. It's as much about relieving poverty as it is about creating wealth. Hah! False dichotomy, those two are, of course, the same thing.

So anyway, this book is better than it has any right to be. Economists are so worried scientists and mathematicians might think that they're a bit girly, they concentrate on making their work as impeneterable and tedious as possible. By contrast, O'Rourke decides to,

"...wander around, gape at things, and simply ask people, 'Why are you so broke?' Or 'How come you're shitting in high cotton?'"

It works. He gets things wrong, but it's fun. There's some good stuff about Sweden in there too, social democracy fans.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Love, Sex and Tragedy – Simon Goldhill

There’s little sexy about economics; as a student I was not surrounded by mooning girls gasping for the skinny on the J-curve. I had humanities-envy. A couple of my friends were classicists – I enjoyed hearing them talk about their subjects. In comparison I felt like a gawky kid stuck to the wall of a school disco. The coolest kids did classics, and the spoddiest.

Simon Goldhill was the Lay Dean, whatever that means, of King’s when I was there. He was a forbidding figure to non-classicists, but his students loved him, his get-togethers were bacchanalian orgies compared to the sober affairs of the economists – glass and a half of white wine, some stilted chat, see you later. I suspected what he said was worth listening to, but assumed I would be out of my depth with it. When I saw that this terribly-titled book was aimed at the general reader I immediately bought it. And it did that startling and rare thing, it changed the way I looked at the world. Right from the first chapter I was noticing legacies of the Greeks everywhere - a trivial example, the names of the ugly neo-classical buildings around my office. I immediately bought from Amazon the book that made his name, Reading Greek Tragedy – it’s decorating my shelf nicely.

I sent him an email, thanking him. He replied graciously. I can only assume that he’d forgotten the other time we’d communicated: in the summer term of my first year I babbled in front of his impassive face after he’d dragged me into his office to explain a misdemeanour I will certainly not be recounting here.


Monday, November 21, 2005

The Flashman – George MacDonald Fraser

I decided this year to mop up those long term residents in my bookcases, the ones I’d had for years but never got round to reading, those epic poems and big novels that vanity had made me buy. I’d give them a try or get rid of them. Also, I’m painfully aware of my ignorance of literature, of all those “classics” of which I know nothing. So I made it a resolution to at least make an effort – I wouldn’t be overly-familiar with them, but it’d be nice to be on nodding terms. I became po-faced is what I’m saying. Until this. Until Flashman. The covers had always put me off – they seemed a little… Sharpe’s rifles. I needed a prod (recommendations by various people I respect) and a nudge (a Waterstones sale) to tip me over, but over I went.

People always talk about the historical accuracy of the Flashman books, that they’re well researched. But go too far down that route and you get twenty pages on sail formations – hello Patrick O’Brien*. Besides, this highlighting of accuracy is just a veil used to hide the naked enjoyment that people are too guilty to admit to feeling. Because this book is really good fun. It took me back to how reading used to be before my protestant work ethic kicked in: staying up too late because you can’t put it down, delighting in the actions of the characters. If I used phrases like “rip-roaring” I’d use it here. There are other reasons to read novels, of course, the insights into the human condition, the blah blah blah. But although it may contain many things, Rabbit, Run does not have a caddish soldier being tortured by a dusky Afghan beauty, and it is the poorer for it.

* Although Post Captain is pretty good, if only because one of the characters walks the entire length of France disguised as a bear. A bear!

The Iliad of Homer – Translated by Richmond Lattimore

Impossible for me to review: what can I possibly add? It’s like reviewing “r” or flint. It just is. What ever I think of it is beside the point. But I can say I enjoyed it. And I did, sort of. This translation seems to be well regarded – a quick look around Amazon seems to bear that out. It’s certainly better than the prose translations I’ve tried in the past. It’s a poem, and was created to be sung, so there’s little point going for a just-the-facts-ma’am version. I had to force myself though, and sometimes I’d catch the rhythm’s wave: then, boy, those dactylic hexameters really flew by! Whoo-whee!

Is identification with the characters important? I wasn’t too keen on Achilleus, bit of a blowhard, but Odysseus is engagingly “crafty”, and the domestic scenes between Hector and his wife Andromache provide a bit of human interest.

Is it worth reading? Yes, though not for the story - a précis would leave you lukewarm - for the cumulative effect of the poetry.

But it was a bit “eat your greens then you can have some Flashman.”

Inferno - Dante

Fuck me this is boring.

Since the fourteenth century the only pleasure that anyone has ever had from Inferno is a self-congratulating, “hey! I’m reading Dante!”

If you haven't fallen for the trap already, if you've occaisonally thought, "you know, maybe I should give it a whirl some day..." then let me disabuse you of any hope that it will be interesting or worthwhile. It's not. It's bollocks.

You could blame the translation, sure, but I’m not falling for that. I’m pointing the figure squarely at Alighieri. And you know what? Apparently it’s the most enjoyable part of the Divine Comedy.



Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rabbbit, Run – John Updike

That I’ve read this, and not Pnin or Herzog, may be because it is the first in a sequence - I like the big canvas. Don’t get me wrong, I like stand-alone books too, certainly much more than I like films. Films are all too bloody long. The optimum length of any story you have to sit through and watch is fifty minutes. Films should all be cut, or split into mini-series, even if total running time is increased. Who can be bothered to watch Goodfellas now we have the Sopranos?

Anyway, Rabbit, Run: it’s brilliant and beautiful, of course. At parties you could say, “Updike instructs us that every life is worth celebrating, or at least chronicling. He writes of a quotidian heroism; the little guy does not do something special, the little guy is special. It is a democratic work, quintessentially American.” Someone may try and usurp alpha-status with that bluntest of instruments, a less well-known work by the same writer – Roger’s Version, for instance. Such a strategy leaves you with only one response: you invest even more on your side. You don’t move, but you fix this hellhound in your gaze. “The Rabbit Tetralogy,” you say, “is not only Updike’s finest achievement, it is the high water mark of twentieth century American literature.” “But what about…” “It is the high water mark of twentieth century American literature.”

You’ll get away with it.


Friday, November 18, 2005

The King’s English – Kingsley Amis

Who doesn’t enjoy robust and witty attacks on solecisms?

This is useful as a reference, sure, but there are more comprehensive and sober manuals around for that. It is as entertainment that The King’s English really excels. There is, of course, the oft-quoted distinction between berks and wankers – essentially, a berk is less fastidious than you are, a wanker more so. But this is full of elegant elucidation, much of it very funny. You read it, your eye snags on something, something you’ve never been quite sure about. You feel the fresh air of enlightenment as the covers are thrown back: you smile, braced. Then you put down the book, go about your business, forget the subtle distinction and snuggle back into the pleasant torpor of ignorance, primed for re-education.

The Correct Opinion on Kingsley Amis:

Lucky Jim is disappointing. The Old Devils is magnificent, and his finest novel. However, his best book may be The King’s English.

As with all opinions, neither the veracity of the statement nor your belief in it is important. That it is plausible and unusual is all.

The Israelis: Founders and Sons – Amos Elon

Nine years ago I was watching early Seinfeld episodes and eating cheese and biscuits; Amos Elon’s Founders and Sons was on my shelf. Last night I was watching early Seinfeld episodes and eating cheese and biscuits; Amos Elon’s Founders and Sons was on my shelf. Then it was Krackawheat, now it is Ryvita. Then I was reliant on a capricious BBC 2 scheduler, now I watch them on DVD. Then I hadn’t read Founders and Sons, now I have. All other differences are trivial.

I took the book with me when I went to live in Israel. I got to page 87, shrugged, and slung it to one side – another addition to the I Must Get Around to Reading Sometime pile. But you know, politics, international relations, arguments, posturing, people always bloody banging on about Israel, my suspicion that people who did this banging didn’t know what they were talking about... I picked it up again a few months ago. Glad I did.

What follows is a series of reviews of books I’ve read this year. The series will end with some kind of league table.

An arbitrary framework on which to hang some badly thought-out posts? But of course.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

So I’m rolling out something new tomorrow: I need some structure.

It could take us up to Christmas; I might give it up within a couple of days. We’ll see.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sewell's back.

Tonight, Channel 5; they don't seem to be making much of it though, the idiots.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

So I'm back at work.



Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Yesterday was nice, don't get me wrong, but I should have gone out. The highpoint of my afternoon was putting on a head band and rocking the Bjorg.

So I think I'll head to London's best museum. If my heart will take it I might wear a headband too, I am on holiday after all.


Rocking the Bjorg.


You may have noticed I've been keeping my big braggart mouth closed about the mice. They got wise to us very quickly and the traps became useless. I was willing to look the other way, but then we found evidence they'd been behind the microwave and all along the "work surfaces". Still, I would have persisted with the old techniques, refined perhaps, but essentially the same old thing. But Jane upped the ante last night: she brought home Glue Traps. They fold into tunnels, they trap anything crawling through and then they scream at you, "Hey! Hello? We've done our job, one fresh live mouse right here for you. Do with it what you will. What is it, exactly, that you plan to do with it?"

My courage faltered.

Me: If we should fail?
Jane: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail.

I'm thinking about a complete withdrawal from the cellar leading to an eventual two state solution.


Monday, November 07, 2005

I've been remiss in sending out updates for Book Club. We're meeting this Thursday. I don't have a location as yet, but it'll be somewhere near St James's for easy access to the Feathers.

NB to come along, you don't need to have actually read the book.

I'm not dead or anything.

We've been moving offices, and it's been a disaster. We still don't have internet so rather than sit at my desk playing with pencils I've taken today and tomorrow off.

So... It's been a while. There's quite a lot of stuff I could tell you about, but if it's not done in the immediate shade of the event it can seem like hardwork.

I would have posted (and still might) about the following things:

Actually spending 50 pounds in HMV, and thus being put in a consumer category I really don't want to be in.
The dinner at the Dorchester.
The horror of Knightsbridge after hours bars.
Going to watch Crewe play Milwall at the New Den.
That terrible article in the Guardian with that woman getting all worried that she drinks wine in front of her child.


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