Are you comfortably numb?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Exams

Well, I've just seen my (provisional, but it never usually changes) examination timetable.

Positives:
Exams don't start till 18th May. Plenty of revision time.
They are all really spread out.
I only have 4.
2 of them are in the morning.

Negatives:
Exams start on the 18th of May. Argh.
I have FOUR! That's 12 whole hours of torture.
2 of them are in the afternoon.
And worst of all....
MY LAST EXAM IS ON 6TH JUNE, ABOUT 6 DAYS AFTER EVERYONE ELSE'S.

So while all my friends are out having fun, getting tanned and wiling the time away without a care in the world, I will be stuck in my room revising.

Joy.

I hate exams.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Editorial Issue 1309

I finished a book yesterday. It was one of the best books I've ever read. The kind that when you're in the process of reading it, you can't stop thinking about the characters, no matter what you're doing. While you're in a lecture, you're wondering what they're up to; where the next twist in the plot will turn. Your waking desire is to feel for the cover that sits within inches of your head, poised where your eyes will focus upon opening. Books like this are precious; when you're reading them you know they'll make it onto that well-worn mental list that you reach for every time a stranger enquires as to your literary taste.

The book was a novel entitled We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Its selling point lies not only in its intriguing title but its subject matter: a teenage mass murderer. Contrary to what you might expect on first view of the cover, Kevin does not have special educational needs, nor is he a child caught in the cross-fire of a custody battle. He is a boy who killed nine of his classmates when he was 15.

I can see why others would be less than enthralled by the intricate language, but it was to my taste, and I enjoyed every carefully chosen word. It was well-structured, too, written in a series of letters to the author's estranged husband, wherein she relates in painstaking and galling detail her experience of Kevin's birth and upbringing. The reader is privy to the thoughts and feelings she never aired with her husband, which gradually conspired to build a suffocating barrier between the two.

But what also impressed me during the period it took to read this novel was just how much we should treasure books. Books are there to be savoured, not just swallowed whole like the televisual snack food we crave. It takes time to read a book, and, more importantly, it takes commitment. You are part of the process – you, the reader, form a dialogue with the author in which you chew over their ideas, pondering what you like and what you don't. You certainly don't get spoon-fed a book – there are gristly bits that take some digesting, and the careful reflection this demands can sneak surreptitiously into your thoughts for days. Unlike a television programme that you idly watch (ironically in order to "switch off"), you can purge any forgotten, niggling details with a turn of the page, retracing the plot contours and replaying the character development to your heart's content.

The written word also readily invites us to empathise with the characters it crafts, unlike its image-filled counterpart, which can only tell us what we already know. You can only identify with pictures up to a certain point; they can only show us what everyone can see all the time anyway. Words, on the other hand, allow the author to enter through the window of our soul, to the innermost thoughts that we thought pertained to us, and only us. A writer can turn reflections, feelings and even intuitions into prose that resonates as deeply within us as the private sentiments it reaches are buried. I found myself constantly under the uncomfortable impression that Lionel Shriver had researched her book by delving into my brain for evidence of the human experience. Not because I am the mother of a child killer, but because her ability to pen instincts and notions that I thought transcended words is uncanny. It's what makes me love Steinbeck and anyone else who has this ability, and it's what simultaneously makes me despair at my own lack of it.

In an age where film appreciation entails a wide-eyed curiosity and awe towards special effects, witty scripts and clever acting, don't forget the book. Instead of watching people pretend to be as real as possible, read a novel where pretend people are impossibly real. Just make sure it's a good one.

In short: you need to read about Kevin.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Aidan told me the Neighbours thing

...that is all. I apologise for insinuating that I worked such a fundamental fact of life out by myself. The credit is all yours...

Incidentally, while I'm at it I may as well post something that's slightly less trivial. There's a lot in the Guardian today about them winning the right to print a story about the cash-for-honours investigation, following the injunction on the BBC (which has now been lifted, subsequent to the Guardian's refusal to pulp yesterday's newspaper... I think I've got it the right way round). Alan Rusbridger, the editor, has written a comment.

While reading, I was struck that although the press and politically-minded inviduals clearly care an awful lot about this case, as, if proved against Labour will make a mockery of our political system, how much does the general public actually mind? The Guardian and the BBC fought for their right to report because they think the public has the "right to know"; they see it as a matter that is fundamental to the public interest.

But is the public interested in it? I'm sure some of them are... but it seems to me that issues like child obesity and whether we will have to pay more on our road/car tax grab our attention far more forcefully. Whether this is true will be seen if and when Labour is found to have sold peerages. Will the water-cooler discussion centre around Lord Levy, or Britney Spears' imminent breakdown?

By the way, has anyone actually read Spycatcher? It looks very interesting.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Neighbours

I can't believe I never realised this, but did you realise that Erinsborough is an anagram of Neighbours, plus an extra O and R? Apparently that was the closest they could come to an accurate anagram.

An avid Neighbours watcher (on and off) for over 10 years, and still such an amateur...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Editorial Issue 1307

I'm a Christian, and I'll fight for your right to offend me

I believe in God. And the Bible. And Jesus. How ridiculous is that? You probably think so, and you'd probably tell me so. In fact, you'd probably think you had the right to denounce my beliefs as stupid anywhere, any time.

You'd be right: you do. As long as you don't abuse me, incite others to kill me and the rest of my kind or set fire to my house, you can criticise my religion until the cows come home, pigs fly or the Tories win another election.

Is this wrong? Should Christians be immune from criticism? Do we have a God-given right to be shielded from offence? Nope. That doesn't mean I think you're right, and I certainly won't sympathise with anyone who insults me rather than engages with me respectfully, but that doesn't mean they should be gagged. Why should I expect others to hold the same values that I do?

Freedom of speech doesn't come with a price tag. It doesn't come with small print. And it most definitely should not come with restrictions imposed by a minority of offended people.

But that is what is happening. The story of the Cambridge student journalist forced into hiding for republishing one of the Danish cartoons that led to violence, arson and killing is a huge wake-up call. (From cartoons to killing... think about that for a second.) The Vice-President of the Cambridge University Islamic Society commented, "freedom of expression does not constitute a freedom to offend."

Of course freedom of expression constitutes a freedom to offend. When did my freedom of speech grow an exemption clause? When did one group earn the right to move the goalposts on what's offensive? It is the law that draws the boundaries on what is not legitimate criticism but incitement to hatred and violence. Incidentally, I happen to find it quite offensive when those marching through London to protest at some ill-commissioned drawings hold placards calling for an encore of 7/7.

I find derogatory images of Jesus abhorrent, but I won't chop off the artist's hand, nor will I demand an apology. My beliefs, however precious, cannot and should not be used to smother others' rights. Difference of opinion may lead to clashes that cause offence, but it should surely be celebrated as part of progression?

Moreover, the freedom of speech that can so offend religious people is the same freedom that gives us the right to express our religion itself. We would do well to remember this. Society must fight to uphold its right to offend. But we must fight with words: not fire, or bombs, or attacks on the cornerstone of the society that gives us the privilege to believe what we want in the first place.

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