Sunday, 26 August 2012

105/111 - Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

After some really intense non-fiction I decided to download the rest of Locke and Key which I had started reading earlier this month. I really really enjoyed it, and the series hasn't quite finished yet but I'll definitely be reading more of it.

The characters are excellent and the story is really well put together. So so clever! When the Locke family move back to Lovecraft after the murder of their family, they find all sorts of supernatural things going on in the house. The house itself has 100 keys which each have a different magical power. For example, one turns you into a ghost, one takes you back in time, one changes your gender, one gives you control of shadows, etc etc.

The villain is a demon called Dodge who is inhabiting the body of a teenage boy. He is looking for the Omega key which will open a portal into another world of demons that desperately want to get through to this world. Very good.

Next: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Thursday, 23 August 2012

104/111 - The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti

Bought this book recently and it has totally blown my mind in a lot of different ways. Really really interesting and loads of stuff to think about.

Dr Brooke Magnanti is the real name of the woman who wrote the 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' series several years ago, which was subsequently made into a TV show. She was an anonymous blogger who was later 'outed' by a newspaper, and I found out recently that she had written and released another book earlier this year, which is not directly about sex work, however it does talk about it quite a bit.

I have read the 'Secret Diary' books but it's been a few years and I don't remember too much about them (but did enjoy reading them). I remember at the time reading some criticism of the books which claimed that they were harmful because her experiences were not representative of sex workers as a whole and that she was the exception. Most people are obviously very unhappy it sex work etc etc. At the time, I didn't question this viewpoint at all, because it was a viewpoint which was backed up by what I had heard in mainstream media my whole life. Since then, I have learned a lot more and my response to the books now would perhaps be quite different.

One of the things that Brooke points out is that people are usually very closed off and once they have made up their minds about a particular topic, they will usually only listen to evidence which supports their particular point of view. So I decided that I wanted to make a concentrated effort to approach the material with an open mind. I don't know much else about Brooke's life and career, except that she is educated and has a background in science. As it turns out she has an extensive background in research and as a statistician, which is one of the elements I found so fascinating in this book, because it's a subject I know very little about.

The book is divided into a number of chapters which are broadly broken down into different widely-held opinions regarding sex. For example, that the presence of strip clubs increases sexual assault rates, or that pornography makes men more violent towards women. Her theory is that these beliefs that many of us gold are actually based on faulty evidence and are created by various organisations and individuals who have a particular agenda that they want to force on others. Some of these beliefs are ones that I have held, pretty much without question, which is actually a pretty frightening idea, now that I think of it.

One of the best examples she talks about is the myth that sex trafficking is a huge problem, when in actual fact numbers have been inflated by the thousands. The reason that some of these numbers have been inflated so much is due to the fact that various groups have something to gain if the public believe that sex work is a terrible thing, or they have money to make in order to implement policies which fight sex trafficking. I'm not going to re-hash all the evidence here because she puts it much better than I could and if you want toerless it then you should really buy the book. But it's brilliant. Another part which I really liked was her examination of rape statistics after claims that strip clubs had increased sexual assaults in the borough of Camden. Turns out its bullshit!

I would like to think that I am suitably intelligent to know when to question statistics and news stories, however I guess I've been a little naive, which I don't mind admitting. After all, I'm not an expert and it's pretty horrifying to think that someone would make this stuff up with no scientific basis. For example, the huge moral panic regarding the sexualisation of children is pretty much a fabrication. A good example is the scandal of padded bras and thongs for little girls which was taking the nation by storm, in reality, almost no major chain stores were actually carrying this so called 'sexualising' clothing. In another instance, reports showing that pornography is unhealthy and causes violence were actually funded by a right wing Christian lobby group who had also written a report entitled 'virgins make the best Valentines'...

On the whole, it seems like these crises are pretty much entirely fabricated in order to get some sort of shady policy in place, whether it be the criminalisation of prostitution or implementation of abstinence-only education for adolescent girls. In almost every instance the studies quoted were totally unscientific and without merit of any kind. Some of the reports produced which contained interviews did not even bother to survey the group of people they were referring to. When it comes to sex work, there is a lot of time and money invested in promoting the idea that sex work is bad, exploitative, bad for sex workers' health and that they are victims. In studies where sex workers themselves were interviewed it was discovered that enjoyment and high self-esteem were actually on par (or even higher) than the general population.

Those are just a small few of the points I particularly enjoyed, but I guess what made these arguments so compelling was that they were not based on intense emotions and bad science, but that the views I had taken for granted were actually questioned in a way that used proper evidence and science to back it up. Admittedly, I guess there is a potential problem in that it could be argued that as a former sex worker, Brooke herself could be seen to have an agenda of her own. Nevertheless, her arguments were compelling and backed up with evidence, and therefore I feel confident that I have questioned my own opinions in the right way. And certainly in the future I will question much more rigorously where certain evidence comes from, or what the agenda behind it might be.

There were a couple of bits that disappointed me a little bit, one of which was that Brooke has distanced herself from the label of 'feminist'. I find this really sad because the genuinely cruel attacks she has suffered from so-called feminists are pretty appalling, and this is something that I have witnessed myself during some of the reading I have done. A little while ago I was reading some information about how certain groups of feminists are against inclusion of trans-women, or non-biological women who nevertheless consider themselves women. I was horrified by some of the things I read on blogs, which were so full of hatred. That is a part of the movement that I would also prefer to remove myself from. In addition, recently I have been trying to find a local feminist group to join in order to share ideas and fun with like-minded women. The first group I joined began to talk about lobbying against local strip clubs, which really doesn't interest me in the slightest. I also think that she's spot-on in her criticism of feminism to mainly be concerned with the needs of white middle-class women.

I disagreed slightly with her analysis of some recent books I have read, such as Natasha Walter's 'Living Dolls' and Kat Banyard's 'The Equality Illusion' because I enjoyed reading them. When I think about women and sex work, I don't have a problem with it in principle. I think that if you want to do it, then good for you. However one thing that concerns me is that I sometimes feel as though the women who are making these choices are not doing so with self-awareness, which makes me sad. There is a lot of talk about 'choice', like the choice of a woman to get her tits enlarged. It's totally a choice, she can enlarge her tits if she wants to. However it would make me sadder to meet a woman who was doing it out of social pressure to have large breasts, or to have the 'perfect' body, or to please someone else. If women are making these choices with full agency and awareness, that's totally cool. And anyway, who am I to judge?

One last thing with regards to sex trafficking of women from overseas. I think I may have written about this on here before, but during one of the internships I undertook for a publisher, I was asked to proofread a memoir by a woman who claimed to have been trafficked into prostitution and sex slavery from age 12, all the way across Europe until she was eventually kept as a sex slave and then 'saved' by a UK reporter who was doing an undercover investigation of the sex trade. The book was awful. It was supposedly written under a pseudonym because the woman who was now supposedly married and living in France was still in hiding from the men who had trafficked her. It sounded like total horse shit and was a total Cinderella story. The publishers eventually reached the point where they had out quite a lot of work into the manuscript and were starting to get worried that they were being conned. They had not yet met the author as she has kept stalling over and over again, and when they had finally made plans, she mysteriously died the following day. What a coincidence!

I never found out whether it had all been a con, but to my knowledge the book was never published. As far as I could work out, the 'translator' of the book, who worked for a sex trafficking charity, appeared to have made up the entire story, and when different members of the publishing house had been contacting the author and her family, they had in actual fact been contacting the same person behind the curtain. Odd.

Anyway, this has been long and rambling, but I really enjoyed this book, and it has definitely changed my outlook.

Next: not sure yet, haven't read any fiction in a while, so maybe I should do some of that.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

103/111 - Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction by Veronique Mottier

The second book in my spree of reading books about sex. This is one I bought recently as there was a three for two offer on the 'very short introduction' series. I have read a couple of books from this series before, with mixed results. Some have been good, others not so good. I think this is due to the fact that you can get a very mixed bag of authors when writing something like this. Obviously, you need to find someone who is an expert in their field, but who can also write an accessible and interesting volume, that is also quite short.

When I was interning for a British publisher who were producing similar guides, sort of as an introduction to a topic. One of the tasks I undertook while I was there was to perform research into potential authors for an introductory guide to particle physics. It was tough. I had to just start googling professors and experts and compiling lists of people who might be suitable. It's not as simple as that, though. One of the other things I had to do was to proofread a manuscript for a guide to modern history. It was dreadful. I can't remember who it was written by, however it was never published, as it was basically incoherent. I found it amazing that someone who is a university professor could not write a basic introduction to the subject. Awful.

Anyway, onto this book. This book was actually quite good, and very interesting. One of the better guides, a good introduction to the topic which actually makes you want to read more into the topic. Some of the bits I found interesting included:

- The history of sexuality, with a brief outline of how the ancient Greeks and Romans approached sexuality. There was a cool part where they talked about finding some ancient fossilised footprints in the floor, where a prostitute had carved the words 'follow me' into the base of their shoes to advertise their trade.

- Early Christians actually didn't believe that marriage was a good idea. They believed mostly in chastity and believed that marriage and families distracted from getting closer to God. Which is probably one of the reasons that priests are not allowed to get married, I guess? Eventually the church decided that marriage was an acceptable compromise.

- Throughout the book, it outlines the usual stuff about women having been thought of as inferior to men. It was also traditionally thought that women had sexual appetites that were out of control, and that if men had sex with them too much, then women would drain their power.

- Many feminists initially viewed the pill with suspicion as it was seen as another instrument of male control over the female body. I already knew this, but some feminists believed that women should no longer have relationships with men, at least until the balance of power became equal. Sleeping with men was regarded as sleeping with the enemy. I think this is a difficult idea to get to grips with.

- The most interesting chapter was about the state in the bedroom. I had no idea that eugenics was so widely spread throughout Europe. There was a quote in the book from someone called Margaret Sanger: 'Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilisation are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born.' Ouch. This quote was from 1921, but it sounds like it could have been written at any time. Like during the reign of the Nazi party, or even today! It's really difficult to think about this, because on the one hand it's an awful thing to think, and totally dreadful. However, on the other hand, from a pragmatic point of view it seems to make sense that people who don't have the money or resources available to raise families should maybe not have loads and loads of kids? I don't know, it's a really uncomfortable idea because historically, eugenics was very much racially motivated. People didn't want 'undesirable' races breeding, or people with supposed 'defects'. Creepy.

- Another thing which pretty much totally horrified me was to read that during the 70s and early 80s, gay rights groups and feminist groups had alliances with paedophile groups, and they worked together for the decriminalisation of sex with children. However, this was more to do with forming alliances between groups on the grounds of solidarity, since they were all groups of marginalised people. Obviously, gay rights groups and feminists are not paedophiles. It's crazy to think that there was at one point alliances between these groups! Eventually, gay rights groups released formal statements distancing themselves from paedophile advocacy and actively began to criticise their aims.

I guess in a way it's strange to think about how much things have changed. There was a time when it was unthinkable that women should be allowed to vote, they weren't allowed to own land, and they were not supposed to enjoy sex. Until quite recently, being gay was defined as a mental illness and was criminalised in many places (and still is in some). To me, this is unthinkable, and I fully support the rights of women and people in the LGBT movement. However, will we one day look back at paedophiles and be horrified at how badly we treated them? Will sex with children one day be decriminalised? I can't imagine it happening, and I hope it doesn't. Obviously I accept that women and LGBT people are adults with their own faculties and should be allowed to live their lives in any way they want to. But children cannot give informed consent and are not physically mature enough to have sex, no it seems to me that a relationship between a child and an adult would be too much of an uneven balance of power. Gross!

So yes, very interesting book, and I have one book on sex left to read, which I will be reading next! It's called 'The Sex Myth' by Dr Brooke Magnanti, who is actually the same woman who wrote the 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' books under a pseudonym.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

102/111 - How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

This is another one of the books in the 'School of Life' series. I know of Alain de Botton but I don't think I've ever read anything by him before. To be honest I wasn't expecting a book about sex from him, as he's a philosopher and so I thought he would be pretty dry.

He's got some interesting ideas about sex and the way we regard it and its part in our lives, and I don't agree with all of the. I didn't agree with his take on pornography. At one point he seems to suggest that religion and restrictions placed on women might be seen in a more positive light, in that it means that we are not always thinking about sex and it doesn't detract from our development and creativity. I think that's bollocks, personally.

However there were loads of bits that I thought were really interesting. His take on monogamy and infidelity is interesting, and he proposes that it's actually very hard. He also proposes (in a kind way) that the person who has been cheated on should also take some of the responsibility for the infidelity (of course, in cases where neither party is just a dick, more like if they have a stable relationship but have drifted apart sexually). He proposes that long term couples who manage to remain monogamous should express more gratitude for the faithfulness of their spouses, to acknowledge that fact. And that infidelity isn't always the end of a relationship. Strange to think of, because for me it has always signalled the eventual end of a relationship, either through a transgression of some sort, or the discovery of a transgression later on. Do we take these things too personally? Is monogamy realistic? I'm not necessarily sure I think it's unrealistic, but certainly difficult. Conversations I've had in the past about opening things up more in relationships have ended badly, however I think it's unrealistic to think that one person can be everything to you, forever. People change, get bored, have different needs, etc.

I also found it really interesting to read his ideas about how it's actually sometimes harder to be intimate with someone the longer you have known them and the closer you are. In this instance, he's talking about sex, however I have experienced for example it's sometimes easier to talk to a stranger about difficult things instead of people you're close to. It's sad but I guess it shows an inability to be vulnerable physically/emotionally. When he' talking about sex, he says that part of this difficulty is to do with 'shifting registers between the everyday and the erotic'.

I also really enjoyed that he talks about how hard it can be to love someone and again, how unrealistic expectations are nowadays with regards to romantic love. I'm not going to try and paraphrase what he says, so I'll just quote it: 'we can achieve a balanced view of adult love not by remembering what it felt like to be loved as a child [which is our first exposure to love] but rather by imagining what it took for our parents to love us - namely, a great deal of work.'

This was an interesting book, but I found it it be a little utopian in places. A lot of these ideas assume that people are balanced and generally good and able to act with the best intentions, and open up themselves and be bigger people. And people generally just aren't that good natured all of the time.

Next: not sure yet.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

101/111 - Locke and Key (volume 1) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Something I haven't done for a while is read any graphic novels, for a combination of reasons, so I decided to give it a go on the iPad. Firstly, it seems to be quite a bit cheaper than buying the graphic novels, so that's a plus. And it's a little more accessible - I don't have to carry around this huge thing with me that I'll only read once or end up damaging in some way. I ALS wanted to see how they would look on the iPad's display.

The experience of reading it was pretty good, and I liked the way the images looked on the iPad, very clear and bright. It didn't work so well in landscape mode, so I had it in portrait mode instead. The iPad comics also have this function called 'guided view' where the iPad will scroll through each individual panel in the correct order. I didn't like this. Firstly, if you have so much trouble reading comics that you can't read the frames in the correct order, you're probably an idiot. Secondly, I didn't like it because it seemed to detract from the overall effect of the page. It chopped things up too much, and the panels weren't a high enough resolution to keep the image quality, and it also meant that you're constantly swiping to the next panel. So I kept it in full page mode.

I enjoyed the story so far - its about a family whose father is murdered, and so they move back to his childhood home in a creepy old house that has loads of supernatural stuff going on. I'd like to continue reading it to see where it goes, but I haven't decided yet if it's worth the money at the moment. We'll see. With comics I tend to prefer reading a story once a large chunk has already been published, because I can't be bothered wiring week on week for things to unfold. I'm the same way with TV shows.

Not sure what's next, only ten books left, better make them good ones!

Reaching 100

I've done it! I have reached 100 books. It took me a year and a half to get there, but I have reached it. I still have 11 more books to go before I reach 111. Obviously. I wonder how it will feel? Will I feel good? Bad? Neither?

Should I do anything special for the remaining 11 books, or should I continue as normal? I should probably start to think about what I'll do when this is all over. Will I continue, or move onto something new, or just stop altogether?

Who knows. I have a little while longer to think about things in any case.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

100/111 - How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

Finally finished reading this after buying it at the airport a little while ago once I had finished everything I had already brought with me. I have already bought a couple of books from this series, which is called 'The School of Life' but this is the first one in the series I have actually read.

I think the idea of this series of books is kind of like the 'very short introductions' but more like for psychology and development, I guess. I have two other titles in the series, one about work and one about sex.

This book was surprisingly similar to 'Rip It Up' which I read recently. Again, it talks a lot about behaviour and the way that affects the way we feel, and it also explores how much choice we have in the way we react to things and the way we shape our lives. I especially liked the parts about how we end up repeating the same patterns in our lives over and over again, and if we eventually want to break out of them, then we have to recognise them and acknowledge them and do something to change them. That sounded way too deep.

I think I'm struggling for things to say because I'm also watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics while I'm writing this, and it's SO DULL. Holy shit, it's awful. I didn't see any of the opening ceremony, so I can only hope it was more interesting. I'm only watching it in the hopes of seeing the Spice Girls soon.

That's all for now. This was a fairly cool book but didn't blow me away or anything. There's a couple of things I want to try next, so not totally sure what I'll be reading.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

99/111 - UR by Stephen King

Since I bought my iPad I decided that I ought to try reading on it to see how it feels and whether or not I like it. I decided to download a couple of things that in the past have only been available as an e-book to kill two birds with one stone.

I decided to read UR by Stephen King first, because it had only been available as a Kindle download for ages. I don't have a Kindle but luckily there is a Kindle app, which I downloaded so that I could read this. It was all pretty simple, and once I had downloaded my book, I was ready to go.

At first, I actually felt pretty hesitant about reading it. It didn't feel like the right time, or I wasn't comfortable, or something. In the end I decided to just start reading it at work and go for it. It was okay. I didn't like the Kindle app as much as the iBooks app, because it looks less like a real book and is more like reading a PDF. Then I decided to finis reading the rest of the book when I got home. Eventually, it got late and so I decided to switch the iPad to white on lack mode for reading in the dark, which was actually pretty cool, and I ended up finishing the book. I wanted to add a screenshot of this, however it doesn't look like I can take one of the night mode, so whatever.

I wouldn't say I disliked reading on the iPad, but it was definitely a different experience. There was a strange sense of the unknown, in that I had no idea how far through the book I was unless I checked the cursor at the bottom of the screen. Which isn't a problem, really. The app also kept my place in the book, so that whenever I closed the app, my place was kept when I re-opened it. I think that these things probably impacted me more than reading from a screen, as I'm quite a physical reader. I fold pages and I crack spines. If I come away from reading a book and it's in perfect condition, I feel like I haven't properly absorbed it. I tend to keep most of my books, but I treat them badly while I have them.

Anyway, onto the story itself. Funnily enough, this is a story about an English professor who decides to buy a Kindle to impress his ex-girlfriend. His Kindle arrives in an unmarked box with no paperwork, and is also pink instead of white, like everyone else's. At first he doesn't question this, however when he visits the Kindle store he finds an unpublished work by Earnest Hemingway for sale, and his mind is blown. He shares this information with a colleague and a student and together they figure out that this Kindle is somehow a portal showing books and news from alternate realities. One of the options is to look to future news, which is when Wesley discovers that something terrible is about to happen. Should he interfere, and break the Paradox Laws, or should he wait and see what unfolds?

I really liked this and did a little cheer inside when I saw that this linked into the DarkTower universe (yay!) It was quite short and sweet, but that's okay, it was more of a novella than a novel. Makes me want to get back into the Dark Tower again. Maybe I will. Still haven't read The Wind Through the Keyhole.

Next: back to real books and time to finis How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


So I've been um-ing and ah-ing for a while now about whether to get an iPad. I use them a lot in my day to day work life, but I had never really thought about using one in my spare time. However, it's become fairly obvious to me recently that if I want to do better at my job and have a better understanding in general then I really ought to get used to using the thing in my real life, too. I've had this iPad for about 3 hours now and so far so good!

One of the things that I have really resisted is reading on an e-reader/iPad, and my opinion hasn't really changed much so far. Nevertheless, I have bought a couple of short stories and magazines to try out on the iPad to see how I get along.

Deep down, I'm sure it won't be all that bad, but I'm still a firm believer that I will never truly be able to switch to e-books from paper books. I still love the physical object of books too much. To me, there is nothing quite like having a wander in my local bookshop and picking books up and choosing things in a whim based on my mood, or what looks good, or even what cover feels good in my hands. With e-books, I would lose all that. Where would the joy of browsing be? It's not anything to do with snobbery, for me it's more to do with imagination and the feeling I get when I sit with a book and pick it up, and turn the pages and crack the spine. That, for me, is such a huge part of the enjoyment. It's too impersonal otherwise. But still, I promise to give it a try.

98/111 - The Humorist by Russell Kane

This is yet another book I bought very recently. I bought this on a whim, pretty much, which is totally usual for me. But what was not so usual was the subject matter, as I am not really a massive comedy nut. Don't get me wrong, I love comedy and I love to laugh, but I don't actually tend to watch a lot of stand-up mostly because I tend to find it quite obnoxious. There are a certain few comics that I like, such as Stewart Lee, mostly of the grumpy old man variety. But I really hate people like Russell Brand and Michael McIntyre. Too chirpy and loud for my taste.

This novel is written by Russell Kane, who is a comedian, although I am not at all familiar with his comedy. The novel itself is about comedy and death and how laughing and jokes make us human. The novel opens on a scene where hundreds of people are lying dead, while Benjamin, a comedy critic, is the only one left alive. It soon becomes apparent that he is responsible for the deaths of the audience members after telling them the most deadly joke alive. The novel is about how he cms to learn this joke.

I liked Benjamin because he was an outcast, but he wasn't totally stony and cold, he is actually quite self-deprecating. He is born into a family where laughter is always dominant, however from the moment he is born, he can sense and deconstruct jokes, but he is nt affected by their humour. He is totally immune to laughter, and so is seen as an unnatural being and is eventually sent away to a special school where he learns to hone his talents. Eventually he gains employment as a the most hated comedy critic in England.

Eventually, he comes across a manuscript whic alludes to a formula for pure humour and Benjamin makes it his quest to master the formula at any cost.

This was quite an interesting book, and I really enjoy stories where there is a sort of 'imagine if we lived in a world where....' principle is in action. Imagine if a joke cold be so bad that it would kill you to hear it. It was also quite dark in a lot of places, and a little odd (Benjamin is in love with his cousin, for example) but I liked it. It was also quite interesting from a historical perspective, since I know nothing about the history of humour, and I'm impressed that Russell Kane has put so much research nd effort into creating this world.

Maybe I'll check out some of his stand-up after all.

Next: How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry.