Three Books of a Kind

In the past year or two my fiction and non-fiction reading has generally tended to become focused on the Nordic and Russian/Slavic countries, by pure chance, and I’ve unearthed a great wealth of rewarding material.  For example, my interests in Russian and Soviet history has dovetailed greatly with the rich and rewarding trove of literature that the citizens of the east have produced, and continue to produce.  The latest novel that I find myself reading is the Soviet-era classic Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, a thoroughly documented and powerful kaleidoscopic panoply of a Soviet society which finds itself engaged in total war with the fascist threat from Nazi Germany and her allies.  It is a novel which very nearly did not see the light of day due to the harsh censors of the Soviet Union, but thankfully the volume was smuggled out and printed elsewhere.

However, it is a little collection of books that I’ve read recently that remind me that fiction and reality aren’t always so clear-cut, and that they often inform one another with varying viewpoints.  I had the pleasure to read one of my favourite travel writer’s recent publications, Horatio Clare’s Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North (Penguin), over the festive holiday and was ably transported once again to somewhere quite new (and rather cold) as he undertook a mission to accompany a Finnish icebreaker crew.

Another recent publication is The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories (Puskin Press), edited by Sjón & Ted Hodgkinson, which brings together a wide range of Nordic writers producing short sagas set in the fantastical north.  This reminded me of a volume I read a few years ago which was entitled Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (Penguin), edited by Robert Chandler, which took a historical approach to understanding the cultural importance of magic tales that underpin Russia’s literature over two centuries.  This is an exquisite volume, one that allowed me to appreciate the form and beauty of often simple moral tales which bled into the surreal via the use of anthropomorphism.  This can be seen in some of the works produced before and during the Soviet period (Platonov’s ‘The Foundation Pit’ say, or Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’).

This was just a quick view into some of my recent reading habits and where they have led me.  Let me know below if you’ve been having fun exploring literature and fiction from around the world!

Kneecapped By The Government

The UK government have managed to pass a pretty horrendous bill for the democracy of the country.  It is hoped, or at least I hope, that the bill will be changed again shortly, but I do not hold out much hope.  At times it seems as if this country is sleep walking to a place I dare not think about.  I am intensely aware of the many freedoms we have in the UK, of our beautiful country, but I do fear for the future.  The civilian population must remain vigilant and hold our politicians to account over their links with big business.  It is easy to get carried away with these kind of things, but we must make a stand for moral democracy and the right of the everyman.

Scriptonite Daily has done a particularly effective blog post on the ins and outs of the effects of the bill which is highlighted below.

From the Scriptonite Daily website:

“Last night, the UK government passed the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.  A bill gagging charities, NGO’s, bloggers, community groups and most attempts at organised opposition to the government in the year prior to a general election…and just in time for the General Election next year.

What is the Gagging Law?

 The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, or Gagging Law, was hailed as the UK government’s answer to the issue of commercial lobbying.

But, this bill does not take on the political power of wealthy corporate lobbyists.  Instead, it kneecaps any attempts at organised local and national opposition by civil society, so as not to influence the outcome of general elections.  It is a gagging law.  The law puts in place a range of bureaucratic and financial barriers amounting to a gag on free speech and effective opposition.  These include:

  • The maximum that can be spent before groups have to be registered with the Electoral Commission £20,000 in England and £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • Reduce the overall UK-wide spending limit before elections from £988,500 at present to a new limit of £450,000.  To put this in perspective – campaign group 38Degrees has 1.7m members, this would mean neutering their spending power on posters, staff, adverts and ancillary costs to just 26p per member.
  • Putting in place a spending cap of just £9,750 in a particular constituency, in the year running up to a general election – while the local MP can spend as much as they like until just 4 months from the election.

The new spending limits will come into effect on 19th September this year.”

Read the full post here.

As bloggers we must raise our voices.  To stand idly by is to legitimise the actions of those that lead us.

Other Blogs That Are Worth A Read

I realise that this blog is random.  Full of ill thought out scenes that in no way make a whole, or random bits of writing that never go anywhere; that stand independently and mean, ultimately, nothing to anyone other than the author.  However, I would like to point the reader in the direction of some rather delicious blogs so that even if you think you came away empty handed from this site, in reality there are a few choice diamonds sitting in your pocket.

And so we begin.  On the subject of writing there has been many books written about how to write, what to write, and why to write.  Frankly they can be boring, pedantic, tedious and over-thought.  Sometimes though there are gems, such as Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘.  I recently came across this wonderful blog, from the author V. H. Thomas. In particular  this post, ‘A HELL of a lot of questions answered!‘, is a frankly written and enlightening piece detailing the myriad of questions that often gets thrown at the author by curious friends and fans.  The author’s eloquently written response sets out both her experience and her advice to budding writers and interested parties, in clear precise points.  Topics include how to start writing, what to do with a manuscript, how to approach getting your work published, and which media to do so.  An interesting and thought provoking read!

Next up is ‘The Activist’ blog, one that I have been following for some time.  Focused on human rights issues around the world, but particularly in Tibet and South East Asia, the author writes passionately on important issues that rarely make the larger newspapers or websites.  The articles are often well cited and read widely across the world, and although you may not agree with the author on every topic raised, it will certainly make you think.  This blog is but one voice among many, but it is a strong voice that campaigns for justice and honesty.

Perhaps one of my favourite sites is Swinging for Compass, which offers up bite sized chunks of writing from an enigmatic author who traverses the world.  The style is reminiscent of Hemingway, and not a word is wasted.  Being able to conjure up a feeling or a scene in as few words as possible is no mean feat, and the author of this blog captures each country that he visits perfectly.  The evocative language is simply a delight to read, and perhaps most movingly, the author writes about the every day characters that are often given short thrift in most travel writing.

And last, but not least, there is this wonderful site where you could waste many hours, The Useless Web.  This site helps to showcase what the internet was made for.  A personal favourite from this random site generator is this Staggering Beauty website.  I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to listen to some Godspeed You! Black Emperor and muse over my career choice, or the lack of a career.  I cordially invite you to listen to a wonderful track that is both haunting and majestic…