Category Archives: Books

Geeks & Nerds

So XKCD’s current strip is on the difference between Geeks and Nerds. According to XKCD you’re a geek if you’re specifically into something – so you can be a music geek, a baseball geek, a maths geek, etc.; nerds are ‘(often awkward) science, math or computer geeks’.

I don’t agree. I think you’re a nerd if your interest in one specific thing (preferably something nerdy, but then everything at an obsessive level is nerdy, perhaps?) is verging on the all-consuming; you’re a geek if, well, it’s hard to explain, but I think it’s about being intelligent and interested in a number of things to a level which surpasses decent small-talk with your grandmother – you know, she’d never understand whatever you told her about your degree or your new computer or the films you like watching. Your degree subject only counts if you talk about it a lot when you’re not talking about actual work you’re doing or have to get done. So A is a geek because he’s always telling me to read this or read that or about some philosophical thing he’s studying and he’s obviously mainly interested in those things; my housemates, two of whom study politics, never talk about that when they’re not ‘on the job’ and only talk about drunken gossip and so on.

Perhaps it’s about being comfortable with your intelligence and intellectual curiosity and thinking that getting engaged with something interesting and out of the ordinary and not just about what’s for tea or who’s sleeping with whom* is an acceptable way of having a conversation. I think it is. But then, I’m a geek.

What do you think? Also, are you automatically a geek if you keep a blog?

*Not that these things aren’t fascinating. I love gossip, clothes, scandal, stupid humour and what’s-in-the-fridge as much as the next person. But then, you knew that.

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I'm Going To Be Away All Weekend Again So…

…have some of the Notes I found on my phone.

Nine:

Rob says: “PESSAMIST: DIFFICULT IN EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

OPTOMIST: OPPORTUNITY IN EVERY DIFFICULTY”

(I love him but he can’t spell).

Six:

I wonder what of the music being made now will stand the test of time:? I have a theory that by and large the music that hits the charts now from less popular genres has broken through that particular barrier so maybe they will last?

(As you might have guessed the time stamp on this one is definitively the wee hours).

Eight:

I have actually developed a minor crush on that last guy becuase he takes photos of his pets and flowers :S !

Renegade Brass Band.

(talking to H at photosoc one night. Well, writing her a note, anyway).

Four:

Some kind of emotional dive bar I crank out the same feelings like cheap spirits or piss-weak beer in seedy profligacy. Discounts and doubling up so you get twice as much cliche for your cash and could drown your wretched face in the brine spilling from my eyes.

I imagine my heart skittering across a tiled marble floor – black and white, Italian, leaving a trail of shining scarlet blood, gappy, clotted, lumps and gouts and thin translucent trails between, and the toe of your shoe as you walk away, red on brown leather, pointed, shining.

(Jenny goes all emo ‘n’ ting).

Three:

‘Course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything. Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of box, man eats fish custard!’

(The first episode of the latest series of Doctor Who. As if you didn’t know).

Ten:

“…and every time we did it, it was destroying me inside…”. X’s testimony. Sex. Guilt. Oh, help.

Five:

Stressed is Desserts spelled backwards.

Seven:

Random Man At Bus Stop: What he’s looking at is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, yet he can’t quite believe it and however much he loves it it hurts his eyes as it – she? – and now (if I ever wasn’t) I am extrapolating wildly, from my mute seat here in this bus in the slowly waking springtime heart of the city – walks towards him. The end. The beginning. Chapter One.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one that makes up stories about the people I see waiting for buses/on trains/on other journeys?)

Two:

You are the person that I love most that I’ve ever met. Shofolk sandals, £125.

(No, I don’t know either. I think one’s a quote from what is quite unreasonably one of my favourite books, and one is, well, shoes).

The rest of my notes are excruciatingly dull, the end.

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Cultural Osmosis

Look at it one way, and I am interested in everything. Look at it another way, and I am a sponge. Look at it again, and perhaps I’m just a coward.

Because here is the thing: I don’t have confidence in my discernment between what, as culture, entertainment, pastime, beauty, oh-heck-I-can’t-find-the-word-I-mean, is worthwhile, and good, and interesting, and what is not. The thing is, it’s just likes and dislikes. I was talking about this on Fi’s blog, on this post here, just the other day. It’s only recently that I’ve started to be able to volunteer that I like this band or that artist, or knitting or poi or climbing or walking or poetry or whatever, without first testing the water, seeing if that’s ‘OK’ because of something the person or people I’m talking to has already said. And even now I’m scared of being judged, of saying to people whose opinions I care for, I Like Going To Life Drawing Classes or You Should Read Ted Hughes (it’s true, you should). So that’s one issue: I’m terrified of being ‘wrong’ about the things I like.

And the other problem is this, and I think it’s the more entrenched issue, and I don’t know whether or not it is a problem or what: if I like or respect a person, they’re a good friend or I fancy the pants off them or I just hold them in high esteem, I am then hugely influenced in what I am interested in by what they are interested in too. As I said in the comment I wrote which made me think about all of this, ‘Oh, you’re an intelligent, morally upstanding and attractive young man, perhaps I even fancy you, this must mean you have better taste in music/books/films than me’. I mean, what. It doesn’t have to mean that at all. So I pick up and get hugely enthused about other peoples’ interests and hobbies but due to a combination of paragraphs one and two there is very little cultural exchange in any of my friendships. I won’t have the balls to swap your Byrd for my Woolf, your skydiving for my parcours, your gritty realist inner-city drama for my Lark Rise to Candleford, or even suggest those things. You, dear new person, might never see me do fire poi or strip the willow or nervously eye a scree slope, consider it gravely, and decide to walk sedately down the mountain in case I cripple my knees, after all. Basically I walk into your life and I am interested in you and all the things you do so I greedily gobble it all up and have nothing to show you in return, and that’s not good enough. All I can say in my favour is that I don’t get interested in things I don’t find interesting. So perhaps, for example, I’ve spent the last year listening to folk and occasionally drawing naked men (yah really), but that doesn’t mean I don’t still do poi or knit or read (thanks C, incidentally, the Christmas literary tour is going very well). Next year, who knows, I shall probably have even more interests. Mongolian throat-singing or embroidery or caving. No, wait, never caving. Terrifying. I like caves when I know I will definitely be able to breathe and preferably have enough space to do star jumps and don’t have to swim along in the dark underneath who knows how many tonnes of rock. It’s fun being a magpie, I think too many people I know get stuck with the interests they’ve settled with, but I think it’s about time I started coming out of the closet and shoving interesting new things down peoples throats. Oh don’t look at me like that you know what I meant when I wrote it.

In all fairness perhaps I’m not like this at all. This is another one of those things where I can’t see myself clearly enough from far enough away to be able to tell. So…readers-who-know-me-in-real-life. Answers, please?

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My First Foray Into Science Fiction

Iain M. Banks’s latest novel, Matter, the latest Culture novel. It’s pretty impossible to describe, but basically it’s about power and rivalry and kinship, politics, societies so great that they can play with smaller ones to shape the universe they way they want it. Fascinating, beautiful, gripping, well-written, and in a whole universe so complicated and so utterly different from anything you’ve ever imagined, Iain M. Banks is, well, a genius, to have imagined all that. So, none of your scoffing, read it. I wouldn’t class myself as a typical reader of sci-fi – after all, this is ‘my first foray’, as you see, so forget your preconceptions, leave them to one side, and try something new.

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Chicken Soup; Tidy Home, Tidy Mind; Man Up.

Woke up hideously early in the morning; read for a while, then tidied the kitchen until it gleamed. Sadly we don’t own a mop or a broom so shoes are still de rigeur, and there’s no recycling or glass bins yet so there are bottles, boxes and assorted plastic items in a heap by the back door, mixed in with pegs and shopping bags. But it’s not unhygienic, and it’s not impossible to work in, and that’s something.

Now I’m going to tidy my room and it’s going to be beautiful. Not a wire or a greying pair of knickers drying over a drawer handle to be seen, promise. There will be a box of things to go home, and space for a load of new things to come up. Then I’m going to fill in a few more forms, and I’m going to go to the post, and I’m going to go into town, and I’m going to buy a finally-I-got-my-loan treat for under a tenner (I’m thinking new knickers, always fun), and I’m going to get on a train and listen to something mellow and knit. Then I’m going to get off the train and have a wonderful weekend.

You see, I’ve decided that the best way to be OK is to make myself be OK. I am pretty and worthwhile and I can do the washing up, see? I am intelligent and interesting and I can break hearts if I want to. I can impress parents, sometimes. I can befriend random strangers at pubs and parties and on buses. I can knit. I am going to garden things. I go to lectures and I read books and I live and I’m trying to get a job. And the people in my life are there because they want to be, and because I want them to be, because if they didn’t want to be, they wouldn’t be. That is how the world works.

The doctor prescribed me a book.

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Some Fucker Turned Up With No Legs!

I saw the film on Tuesday; don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it.

I thought it was going to be like The Notebook, and it was. But I really hoped that it would be more like High Fidelity or something. Reading the book the soundtrack could have been amazing, all this fantastic edgy 90s music, punk and grunge and rock and Iggy Pop and The Doors and all sorts. They’re referred to constantly in the book itself, aren’t they? That and some beautiful Lieder and string quartets and some seriously powerful classical music, rather than the insipid gushy violins and piano score that the film got instead. And there are all these scenes in dodgy bars, and drugs and alcohol and Henry, in the book, can be something of a twat. And Clare’s family are so much more complicated than the happy Republican front they present. There are so many threads in the book which were completely left out, I felt, until all that was left was the actual love story which in some ways is almost the least interesting aspect of the book, despite being to the reader, of course, the most important. All that stuff with Henry’s ex-girlfriend, Ingrid, that could have been interesting.

Furthermore the actual characterisation of Henry and Clare in the film is so much more shallow than in the book. They could have been far more interesting in the film without changing too much but Henry is Mr Perfect, St Boyfriend, and Clare is so utterly pathetic. There is nothing more to her in the film than ‘I am pretty, I love you, and I want a baby *stricken look*’. In fact, the reason the book was so good was that all the characters were believably flawed and the film just lost all that character and spark and it turned into yet another weepy love story. I was hoping to see more of Gomez and Charisse, too, they were brilliant characters in the book.

Anyway, like I say, I enjoyed it, and it made me cry, as it should have done, at all the right moments. I also love that last scene with Clare as an old woman and I was sad to see that missing; the ending of the film, I thought, was a bit flat. And why change the school trip from a gallery to a zoo, really? And Henry’s hypothermia – I swear it was more serious in the book.

It was good, yes, but it honestly didn’t in any way match up to the book, which I’m going to have to re-read now so that I’m not stuck forever thinking of Henry as the positively eggy Eric Bana, or Clare as feline, dippy, shallow Rachel McAdams.

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I Am A Twenty-Something Girl Living In The Noughties…

…of course I think I’m fat. Pretty much the whole world is geared towards making me feel fat, towards assuming that I already am or at least feel fat, and towards helping me feel more insecure about whether or not I am fat.

I know I’ve ranted about this one before but it still really annoys me, and talking to P last night I realised I am being completely illogical about all of this, so I think it’s worth reiterating. It starts with the Disney Princesses and other childhood heroines – beautiful and slim and elegant in long floaty dresses, and you could never attain such beauty, of course. Then you get a bit older and you start to read magazines aimed at pre-teen girls and I promise, promise, promise you there are diet tips and exercise fads and things in there marketed directly at twelve-year-olds; you’re already being shown ‘fashion to flatter all figures’, but meanwhile school is doing its best to put you off getting exercise at all ever because for crying out loud you’re twelve years old, your hands and feet are huge and where the hell did those thighs come from and you’re incredibly aware of your body and you’re expected to wear slimy white really short shorts? Hell no. And meanwhile over in the centre of the gym the Dance Set are gyrating around chairs with impeccable hair and make-up and not an ounce of fat on them except for the fact that at age twelve they already have perfectly perky, round, grown-up boobs (or perhaps they’ve already mastered the art of bra-shopping, something which takes the rest of us about a decade, but never mind).

You’re insecure and completely exaggeratedly aware of every last part of your body and yet you grow up and it becomes public property because the first thing anyone thinks about a girl, or says to a third party about a given girl, is almost certain to be some kind of comment on her looks or the way she physically presents herself or dresses, or some kind of veiled criticism of the same – ‘oh, it’s such a shame, she’s such a lovely person’ (I’m sure you can guess what it is that is the ‘shame’ here).

And you’re growing up and changing and you’re not cute any more, you’re not the Daddy’s little girl you used to be, and so your parents will also feel that they have free rein, to comment on your figure, and suddenly on the one side you’ve got any well-meaning parent going ‘are you sure you should be eating that’ whenever you’re offered seconds or pudding or something, and on the other side you’ve got magazines and telly and newspapers and books and things, a whole industry based around making you infeasibly aware of all your slight imperfections, diets, regimes, products, throwing words in that you hadn’t even worried about before – ‘bingo wings’, ‘cellulite’, ‘orange peel’.

Every single page in any given magazine will say something about your figure – and will assume, because they’re aimed at a specific demographic, that you are dieting, that you want to diet, that you’re slightly overweight – and because the entire world, without even knowing who you are or of your existence, assumes you’re fat because you’re a woman, or at least that you think you’re fat, and because everyone else thinks you’re fat, you think you’re fat, because of course all your friends also think they’re fat, and if they think they’re fat, then you must be fat too because look how thin they all are, so-and-so has a far flatter belly than yours but then her thighs are gigantic, but then so-and-so has stick-thin legs but huge boobs, or whatever – and theyr’e not necessarily thinner or fatter than you they’re just different but suddenly you’re in competition with every woman you know.

And if you’re in the slightest bit insecure all of the above will trap you from the age of about twelve and you will think that just because your belly isn’t perfectly flat, or your arms perfectly toned, that your body isn’t fit to be seen in public, so you’ll cover up with leggings and cardigans and tops that ‘skim over all those unsightly curves’ just like the magazines say.

So yes. I think I am fat. I think this because I have been told to think I am fat by every influence on my appearance since I was old enough to care. I first looked at my thighs and thought they were horribly fat when I was eight. And I’m not stuck up or obsessed with my appearance, I am an average, slightly geeky girl, who dressed in blues and sludge greys and browns until she was about fifteen, and has only really learned to enjoy clothes in the last couple of years.

And, furthermore, I am not fat. I’m not toned, because I don’t get enough exercise. But I wear clothes that are usually size 8-10, and since when has a UK 8-10 been fat on a 5’7″ girl?

And what is more, just to point this out, men do not get this kind of scrutiny, they really don’t. There is not the same media obsession with which male celebrities are fat or thin, toned or not, what they eat, how they exercise, and so on. Media aimed at men talks about computers, cars and girls, and not, as a rule, about buying shirts that ‘hide that beer belly’ or trousers that ‘flatter that post-Christmas silhouette’.

I am normal, thank you. I really don’t get how or why a whole huge facet of media and entertainment and bookselling and so on is actually based around cynically making money out of the not inconsiderable insecurities of half the bloody population. And if you’re going to do that to us women then damn well torture all the blokes with their imperfections as well, because this just isn’t fair. I am twenty years old, I’m probably about as pretty as I’ll ever be, and I would actually quite like to enjoy it while I can. As should all of you.

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Sorry I Haven’t Been Around So Much Of Late

Here, have some news.

I am less angry than I was because it’s nobody’s fault.

My birthday was lovely – the meal out, with P and family and W, the weekend which followed (another dinner, P paid, cue much guilt), a great evening at P’s with probably too much wine and lots of wonderful people and a midnight birthday kiss and a great fun journey home and lots of lovely presents (new handbag! really shouldn’t be that exciting. And lots of books). Then an evening spent outside with wine and playing backgammon by candlelight with my parents and really wanting a cigarette not because I was stressed (for once – usually that’s a sure-fire trigger but at last it’s losing it’s power to make me want nicotine…) but because it would have been lovely just to have a cigarette in just exactly that chilled kind of environment. Never mind. I didn’t succumb.

Plans, for parties and pub quizzes and such, long conversations in the middle of the night, train tickets, festival tickets, money, I think I may actually pass these exams. Ice-cream, chocolate. Some bad days, some good days, gawp all you like, you know where.

And I discovered the tool on the new post editor where you can schedule when an entry is to be published, which I wish I’d already known about, because now I can set it to slowly publish all my draft entries. Not that many of them are all that exciting, but it gets them out of the way, y’know?

And I’m reading the Sandman comics, because I am the most awful geek, and really enjoying them, so there. And if you get the chance get hold of Bad Science because it is a great book, but I may have said this already. I’ll put a link to Ben Goldacre’s blog (he wot wrote Bad Science) in my Aspirations and Inspirations blogroll. Enjoy.

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The Red Gilt Pages Were Only The Start

I’ve finished Twilight now; and so here are my thoughts. In my previous post I said:

My other (massively patronising) theory is this: kids younger than me, who were introduced to the idea of reading and enjoying actual books through Harry Potter, will then have progressed on to these books. From Twilight, perhaps they’ll move onto adult real literature with ideas and themes they can really get their teeth into and learn to actually love reading.

Well, yes, on one hand. On the other, this book made me very angry, from my usual feminist-rant perspective. This book portrays an idealistic relationship between Edward and Bella in which they never more than kiss – and in which whenever they do kiss, he jumps back if she doesn’t stay completely stock still. Let me put that more plainly – the moment she starts to get really into the kiss, starts to exhibit any form of passion, he steps back. The way she tightens her hands round his back and clenches her fists in his hair is portrayed as strange, un-womanly, and wrong, rather than an unthinking expression of her sexuality and a perfectly natural response to a good kiss with the man she supposedly loves. And therefore she is supposed in her own mind as well as his, and for no particularly I-am-kissing-a-vampire-this-is-probably-dangerous reasons that I can think of or that are ever explained, she is supposed to stay still and not really respond in anyway, like a doll or a child or the perfect victorian woman.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the further into the book one gets, the more Bella relinquishes any power she may have had to Edward. He makes all the decisions, and everyone is surprised when Bella has an idea worth the mention. He is her protector, her stalker (in the name of furthering his cause of protecting her), he looks out for her, and with all his special vampirey powers they are in no way equal – there is nothing Bella can do that Edward can’t do better, it seems.

This book is the worst kind of wish-fulfilment story in many ways – Edward is the perfect hero, and Bella is the perfect damsel-in-distress – as Lucy Mangan says she is a “bloodless cipher”, weak, ordinary, although apparently more beautiful than she herself realises, and subordinate. It comes as no surprise that Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon. Bella spends the entire book sacrificing things and slowly fading away into the background – starting by taking on all the housework from her father, ending by wishing to still her own pulse so that Edward will not be tempted by it to do any more than kiss her and thus risk getting all hot under the collar and either biting or sleeping with her – entirely taking all responsibility for how Edward feels and acts onto herself in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice; and finally, begging Edward to turn her into a vampire because that would make it possible for her to stay with him forever. Of course the author doesn’t let this happen because then she would no longer be a seventeen-year-old girl, she’d be an ‘old one’ and there would be no reason from then on in why she couldn’t sleep with Edward, or rather, any reason to hold off from doing so indefinitely, and in the moral compass of this novel that would be indescribably bad.

In the defence of the novel, to me this was a reasonably entertaining read. Objectionable in many ways, but with the suspension of disbelief comes the suspension of one’s normal moral compass so that one can empathise with the characters at hand. However it is not a novel I would feel happy about handing over to impressionable teenage girls, who might not see all the millions of flaws in Edward and Bella’s anachronistic, imbalanced relationship, who might put it on a pedestal for themselves to aim at, thus longing after a damaging, emasculating relationship with what what Lucy Mangan not exaggeratedly calls a ‘proto-rapist’. Edward is a gentleman in the most damaging sense of the word. Bella is utterly spineless. If I had read this when I was younger and more impressionable god knows what I would have been looking for in a potential boyfriend but it certainly wouldn’t have been the partnership of equals I’ve otherwise always wanted. Quite honestly, in the wrong hands, I think this book could do some damage.

I’ve rambled on for quite long enough. What do you think? Am I as usual being a bit too mad about this?

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I Bowed To The Pressure

Yes, I bowed to the pressure, I did, I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person, how will you ever forgive me. Is that enough grovelling now? I bought Twilight, is what I did. I figured that if the entire female population of the Western world, bar literature students, is raving about this book, there must be a reason, yes?

It’s not actually too badly written. The plot is so far serious wish-fulfilment – the hero is beautiful, troubled, enigmatic, sarcastic, all the things a young girl could wish for in a man; and the heroine is a normal, average girl, of little self-esteem and in many ways if not all your average teenager, perfectly fitting in with and cold-reading exactly (as if that was a difficult thing to do) how it feels to be in school. So yes, wish fulfilment, and vampires. Personally I am (guiltily) enjoying it. What it does, it does well, and I know it’s not new or clever or interesting, doesn’t tell me any more about human nature or make me think in any way, but I’m enjoying it, so there.

I just thought I ought to see what all the fuss was about for myself before dissing it utterly. The red gilting on the page-edges is possibly a step too far, though…! My other (massively patronising) theory is this: kids younger than me, who were introduced to the idea of reading and enjoying actual books through Harry Potter, will then have progressed on to these books. From Twilight, perhaps they’ll move onto adult real literature with ideas and themes they can really get their teeth into and learn to actually love reading. I know this is hugely patronising, but for the sake of the book industry and because reading good things is good for you, I’ll patronise whoever I like: I think books like this are potentially A Good Thing if they have the effect of making people read because it’s enjoyable, so that people realise there is more to books than dissecting in tedious detail Shakespeare plays or Wide Sargasso Sea or Lord of the Flies. Not that those aren’t all good books – I personally love them, but I didn’t love studying them and I’m not alone, and it’s a shame that people are put off reading because they associate reading with the endless discussions of theme, context, gender roles, and so on, all of which is made into this utterly formulaic tedium by the nature of the curriculum we’re made to follow; rather than associating reading with enjoyment and pleasure and total involvement in the book in front of them, preferably accompanied by a cat, a comfy chair, and a cup of coffee.

I’ll let you know what I think when I finish the book, meanwhile, as to whether it is actually any good. And I’m sorry that in this entry my grammar was shot completely. Heaven knows why I’m still awake.

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