Wednesday, July 10, 2024

About crabs

Was teaching a group of Hong Kong teens last week. They’d just visited the National Gallery and I asked them to identify the picture they enjoyed the most and explain why.

One girl picked Van Gogh’s Two Crabs. She described it well enough, with emphasis on the colours. But why did you like this one in particular, I asked.

She beamed. “They’re delicious!”

Saturday, July 06, 2024

About the election, if only briefly

I was going to say something profound about the political events of the past few weeks but Rafael Behr got in there ahead of me: 
To an extent, Sunak’s failure was seeded in the unstable electoral coalition that Johnson assembled in 2019 with the promise to “get Brexit done”. Implementing an agenda in government that might satisfy the divergent interests of a culturally and geographically incoherent voting bloc – the ex-Labour working-class north and the traditional Tory southern shires – was an impossible feat of political alchemy.
And Cold War Steve makes art from schadenfreude:

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

About biography

Claire Dederer:

The problem is, we don’t get to control how much we know about someone’s life. It’s something that happens to us... There is no longer any escaping biography. Even within my own lifetime, I’ve seen a massive shift. Biography used to be something you sought out, yearned for, actively pursued. Now it falls on your head all day long.

Germaine Greer: 

I fucking hate biography. If you want to know about Charles Dickens, read his fucking books.


PS: Also from Dederer’s book Monsters, a zinger by Vladimir Nabokov: 
The best part of a writer‘s biography is not the record of his adventures but the story of his style.
PPS: And in the spirit of her enquiry as to whether we are allowed to enjoy good art by blackguards and rapscallions:

Thursday, June 13, 2024

About indie reading

Anna Doble on being an indie music fan in the mostly-analogue 90s:

London Fields by Martin Amis sat on my shelf for at least a year in about 1997. Why? Because one of Blur once mentioned it in an interview. My copy wasn’t even mine – it was taken out on loan from my home-town library which led me to racking up a fine so insurmountable (£8-ish) that I eventually returned it under cover of darkness in a covert mission to the marketplace whereupon I shoved the book through the library’s awkward letterbox and ran panting for the hills. Other books on the curriculum in the School of Indie were Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X (which we all actually read).

Do musicians tell people what to read these days? I know the likes of Dolly Parton encourage kids to read, but where’s the equivalent of Graham (I bet it was Graham, he worse glasses) begging up Martin Amis? And the Manics doing the same for Mishima and many others, Radiohead for Chomsky and Naomi Klein, Paul Weller for Colin MacInnes, Edwyn Collins for Salinger, Morrissey for Wilde and Capote (less so Keats and Yeats). Is literary prescriptivism not A Thing any more?

Saturday, June 08, 2024

About Kafka and crockery

Yet more musing on what we’re expected to know. This morning, in a discussion on Radio 4 about the overused adjectives “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque” Evan Lian (who drew the cartoon above) says, “I’m not the most well-read person, which is sort of embarrassing to admit on a BBC radio programme” which does rather play into the idea of the BBC (and, by extension, Britain) as being the repository of everything and everyone erudite. Which is nice.

And then on the same station’s Electioncast, broadcast immediately afterwards, BBC's own chief political correspondent, who read PPE at Oxford, says that he thinks he once read an essay by Orwell and then admits he doesn’t actually know what a Ming vase is.


PS: And a few hours later, I heard another BBC journalist refer to a calvacade.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

About pumpkins etc

Far from new, stolen from Facebook, but it belongs here, I think.

And while we’re here, this can come out to play as well.


And then...



(And all the time I’m simultaneously worrying about and luxuriating in the exclusivity of all of these. Are they funny in spite of the fact that a lot of people won’t get the gag, or because of the fact? And somehow this ties into the most depressing article I’ve read this week, Elle Griffin on how nobody buys books any more.)

Friday, May 31, 2024

About Kindles

When Kindles and other e-readers first appeared, with the promise for travellers in particular that a whole library would occupy less space and weight in your luggage than a slim paperback, I did wonder whether the new form might have missed a significant consideration when it comes to reading in public: specifically, the act of letting other people see what you’re reading. Like the music you listen to, or the clothes you wear, or the flavour of crisps you eat, it’s part of the persona you present to the world. The latest Murakami, or a Richard Osman rip-off? Unfair as it is, people will make assumptions.

And then I saw this: