I haven't been writing any reviews lately. A part of the reason is this unrelentingly depressing weather. But, I am also exhausted from reading four super-long books from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
I spotted a flying fox hanging upside down from a mast tree in my building's yard. He was chomping away on the tiny black fruits that the tree produces. The photo is terrible but you can make out his lovely bronze colour and he was huge. I know bats are mammals but I can't be bothered starting another label so I am going to file him away under birds.
I read this book some time ago so I am trying to claw at my memory to write a couple of lines. Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School has spent the better part of two decades researching choice. She claims that her interest in choice goes back to her own childhood and her parent’s marriage. Born to Indian immigrants to Canada, she asks age-old questions about arranged marriages. She doesn’t stop there. The book all the scenarios involving choice that’s she explored over her long career. Some like the study of Anglo and Asian children were very interesting (the Asian kids were likely to perform tasks better if they were informed that their mothers had made certain choices for them whereas the Anglo kids did better when they made their own choices and in fact were embarrassed or horrified to learn that their mothers were somehow involved in making even trivial choices on their behalf).
Others I dispute like the study of fundamentalist religions being liberating for their followers despite all their restrictions. “Members of more fundamentalist faiths experienced greater hope, were more optimistic when faced with adversity and were less likely to be depressed than their counterparts... Indeed, the people most susceptible to pessimism and depression were the Unitarians, especially those who were atheists. The presence of so many rules didn’t debilitate people; instead, it seemed to empower them. Many of their choices were taken away, and yet they experienced a sense of control over their lives.” What a load of manure! This is my problem with these pop-sociologists. They crawl out of academia and make sweeping proclamations on the bases of studies that we can’t possibly question. Still, Iyengar is no Malcom Gladwell and she takes the middle path for the most part.
There’s plenty here to fuel dying conversations or make yourself look interesting, perhaps even intelligent pre or post-coitus. The writing however is atrocious, a hodgepodge of studies and examples presented in a strange conversational style. Also, the reference to the Taj Mahal as one of the seven wonders of the world a few pages in did much to prepare the groundwork for that opinion of mine.
You can check out Sheena Iyengar at Ted.com talking about some of the material in her book.
It is interesting that I was reading Pigeon English when the London riots broke out. But, that’s about where the interest ends. We are led to believe that Kelman’s maiden novel is a path breaking look into the lives of inner city youth in England. It has been lauded nearly universally and appears in all manner of lists, incredibly even under the bestselling columns of Indian booksellers. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that it was commissioned by a committee charged with guarding all sorts of things from education to multiculturalism. In fact, this terribly self-conscious work is suffixed by discussion points around questions posed to the author “Who is your favourite character in Pigeon English?” Knee in the groin for the snivelling publishing understudy who asked that question.
There really is only one character in Pigeon English. Harrison Opoku is a precocious 11-year-old Ghanian who has recently arrived in London along with his mother and his sister Lydia. It’s through Harri’s eyes that we experience life in his council estate and his state school. Kelman takes incredible pains to use the language of an 11-year-old immigrant. If he means this to be endearing or authentic, he has sadly missed the mark because the idiosyncratic writing is chiefly annoying. The pigeon in the title could refer to the use of West African English phrases like “huitious”, “advise yourself”, “ease yourself” and “gowayou” (Kelman's no Chimamanda, he may have got the lexicon right, but it isn't syntax he needed but spirit) or the protagonist’s obsession with the pigeons that land on the balcony of his council flat. But the wonder of being in this new world takes a sharp left turn when a boy is stabbed on the local high street and Harri and a friend decide to play Miss Marples, discovering that all is not rosy in the land of crumpets and council flats.
I have always thought that the most tedious thing being a novelist is coming up with appropriate and non-monotonous words for describing speech (said, exclaimed, drooled, ejaculated etc.). This brings me the only bit of Kelman’s writing I admired (in that ‘what a sly bastard’ way).
Mamma: ‘What is DFC?’
Mr Frimpong: ‘Who knows? Some code of theirs. Just nonsense.’
I didn’t tell them what DFC really means. I pretended not to know.
Mr. Frimong: ‘Will they be on CCTV?’
Derek: ‘They’ll have covered their faces. They’re ignorant but they’re not stupid.’
Pigeon English is surely a candidate for state proscribed curriculum. That overly dramatic unnecessary ending should make for interesting essay topics. My heart goes out to those snotty, potty-mouthed recipients of the English education system.
The cover is quite striking though. A pity about its contents.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I have just been skimming
I don't know but I kind of feel that fantasy's appeal goes beyond merely yearning for a different life in a different world. I am going to go off and chew on this for a while.
"Martin’s books, however, are generally praised for their realism. When people are stabbed, they die; when kingdoms ignore debts, the bankers show up. The characters understand their world, and we understand the characters. But this view of Martin’s books is incomplete, because the magical elements of his books are not, in fact, within the characters’ understanding at all — “the Others,” for example, are truly Other. In this sense, “A Dance With Dragons” is a kind of fantasy within a fantasy, and Martin now must find a way to let us feel that strangeness as the characters themselves do, rather than simply explaining it to death.
If he succeeds, he will have fulfilled one of the highest functions of this rich genre. Because fantasy of any kind tells us that the world we know is not the only one, nor the most enduring — and that truth can be anything but an escape or a comfort. “You must change your life,” Rilke said. But fantasy’s commandment can be more subtle: “Your life is not your life, not entirely, not forever.” Looked at one way, that message can seem naïve, even childish. Looked at another, however, it has a dark side, which reminds us why fantasy is so often shelved beside not romance but horror."