Saturday, 30 September 2006

the mcluhan test

The privilege of browsing is, however, still allowed, if less comfortably than it used to be. This relates to the unique feature of the bookshop: you can sample before you buy (or not). A large proportion of walk-in customers do not know what they want precisely, and will have bought nothing when they leave. They will, none the less, have fingered and sampled the produce, and taken their time doing it. A bite here, a bite there. Despite a growing pressure to make bookshops more like In-N-Out Burger, it is still possible to browse. Dust jackets, blurbs, shoutlines, critics' commendations ("quote whores", as they are called in the video/DVD business) all jostle for the browser's attention. But I recommend ignoring the hucksters' shouts and applying instead the McLuhan test.

Marshall McLuhan, the guru of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), recommends that the browser turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book. It works. Rule One, then: browse powerfully and read page 69. If maps are useful, so are charts. Bestseller lists weed down the mass of available novels to the 20 or so that everybody is reading - but almost certainly will not be reading in a few months' time. The trick is not to get into the game late, but to pick the rising titles near the bottom, or to check out what is on the list of the other major English-speaking country before they arrive on your shores.
- from one of John Sutherland's Guardian articles on reading novels.

the head teacher's customers

I've just recorded an interview with a head teacher about school meals. He referred to his pupils as "customers".
- Eddie Mair on 18 September.

bullet-proof hymnbook

Our hero's death is repeatedly defied, in one instance by a bullet-proof hymnbook. "I'm not surprised," says the local sheriff. "Some of these hymns are terrible hard to get through."
- from Guardian review of a stage adaptation of (the film of) The 39 Steps.


I've put more of the links from my 'online reading' folder in my Favourites onto this page to make it more likely that I'll look in on them once in a while - some of them I haven't looked at for many months, so hopefully they haven't become too unpleasant in my absence.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

just like the war on drugs

'This war on terrorism is going to rule! I can't wait until the war is over and there's no more terrorism!'
'I know! Remember when the U.S. had a drug problem, and then we declared a War On Drugs, and now you can't buy drugs any more? It'll be just like that!'

- I saw this line in a cartoon not long after September 11th 2001, and it stuck with me. I won't link to it, because the cartoons there in general are pretty sweary (and just not so good) and I'm such a prude (you can refind it easily enough, as I did to quote it right, with a search on key words), but this one hit the nail on the head.

the first black president of america

Question on BBC1's Test the Nation: "Who was Winston Churchill - A rapper, US President, The PM or King?"
Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend, Danielle Lloyd: "Wasn't he the first black president of America? There's a statue of him near me - that's black."
- quoted on BBC's sports quotes of the week page, 4 September.

Monday, 25 September 2006

that pope speech in full

The pope caused a fuss - ongoing, latest bulletin here - with this 14th-century quote: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The BBC story helpfully gave a link to a 'speech highlights' page, which in turn gave a link to a full speech page. The quote turns out to be not from a speech about terrorism or violence, 'religious' or otherwise, or even Christianity and Islam, but a much more interesting speech (given at a university where he used to teach) about faith, science, reason and the nature of God. For example:

'The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.

'At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?'

Conclusion: 'In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.'

There's also an interesting non-critical para about the Reformation in the full speech (which is a pdf and I'm not going to retype here).

The quotation is from an illustration which is perfectly reasonable in the flow of the argument. In fact, the illustration could have been worked without the quotation; ah well, live and learn, eh?

And that's the first time I've read a speech by a pope. Ah, the internet. And ah, the media.

the pram in the hall

The pram in the hall is not the enemy of good art. Cyril Connolly said it was, but different writers respond in different ways. The arc my character follows in The Sound Of No Hands Clapping is in thinking, initially, that having children and being married is an impediment to success as a writer. That the time you feel obliged to spend with your wife and children encroaches on the time you should be spending writing a book. But at the end of the book I change my mind about that and realise that without the order and stability of family life, I wouldn't be able to write anything at all. I'd just be a hopeless drunk.
- Toby Young, The Word, October 2006

Friday, 22 September 2006

a previous life on Barra

One of the many sound ideas pioneered by the Romans was a grammatical form which expected the answer no. Even as you asked the question, you already knew the reply. How useful this would be today. Turn to your Radio Times, children. Spooks (BBC 1): "Is the country under siege from sinister forces at the heart of the establishment?" No, it isn't. Don't be silly. The Boy Who Lived Before (Channel 5): A five-year-old recalls a previous life on Barra. "Will a trip to Barra provide positive evidence?" No, it won't. Not only is he five, he is on Five.
- the splendid Nancy Banks-Smith, in Tuesday's Guardian. As Danny Baker often says, 'That's an hour of my life I won't get back.' Still, I was reading at the same time, and saw some footage of Barra, where I've not been yet.

Monday, 18 September 2006

american imports on telly

In the first half of this year, 24% of C4's primetime programmes were US imports. In 2001 the figure was only 17%, but five years before that, it was 21%. Perhaps more tellingly, in the first half of 2006, Five also showed 24% US shows; BBC1 screened 9%, BBC2 8% and ITV just 2%. But ITV is planning to add more US dramas shortly.
- Radio Times, 16 September 2006

inside the 80s

From the September 2006 feature in Word on The 80s:

By the end of the 80s a new generation appeared, a generation born in the 60s and 70s, already saturated in pop culture. By the 90s, the sheer ever-expanding size of the available music catalogue meant that the emphasis was no longer just on the newest releases. Jimi Hendrix could seem just as 'new' to an enquiring teenager as any product released that week. Rock music had become a classical form; virtually every new record - whether consciously or unconsciously - now referred in some way to rock's past.
The 80s was the last decade when everything was different. It was the last time pop music was fresh and full of possibility.
- William Shaw

My granddad, a lovely man and always very smart in a suit, I met him once outside Waterloo station and he refused to sit in the same carriage as me. I was wearing ballet slippers, white socks, wrap-around Iranian Cossack-type trousers, tight at the ankles and baggy with a flap like Aladdin up the front and a silk shirt with Greek imprints, make-up and a headband. And this was only going to see my Mum and Dad down in Pontins.
- Tony Hadley

Altered Images fell out really badly. It was so severe ... we didn't really speak until recently, trying to sort out money, because Altered Images' money remains in a bank account in Glasgow, because we couldn't agree on how to split it. So we were never paid. Anything. It's gone on for so long now it'll probably all go to lawyers.
- Clare Grogan

from glory to golgotha

The third temptation in the desert revolves around the question of a sign: if the Lord throws himself from the pinnacle of the temple, the angels will bear him up and he will sustain no injury. It is often assumed that what is envisaged here is some demonstrative portent to impress others with the glory of Christ. But as Barth points out, there were no others present. The sign was a sign for himself, for his own reassurance. The temptation was of the utmost gravity: to say, 'The real question is my own sonship - to make sure of that and forget all else and all others and all service until that is absolutely clear'. It is a temptation to which all of us are liable and to which the only answer is the attitude of John Bunyan, prepared to die for the gospel, 'come heaven, come hell'.
- p48

If for us to live is Christ, then declares Paul, to die is gain. What an extraordinary thing to say! But Paul meant it. He had a desire, a strong desire to depart this life. Why? Not because of world weariness. He had learned to be content. It was again, Christ. For most of us, death is terrifying because it separates us irreparably from those we love. For Paul, it was different. Christ was the One he loved above all else and above all others. Death would not separate him from Christ. It would bring him closer, infinitely closer. He would see Christ better, hear him better, understand him better, serve him better.
What effect will death have on the bond betweeen us and the thing we love most? - What we might call, for all practical purposes, our god?
- From Glory to Golgotha; Donald Macleod; CFP, 2002

The only thing that annoys me about CFP is their habit of producing new editions of Donald Macleod's books with extra chapters in; twice now they've done that on books I've bought and hadn't yet read.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

is that jon wilde?

Uncut has introduced an interesting new feature where they reprint an article from NME or Melody Maker from days gone by, with a bit of a comment on it from the original author/interviewer. The August 2006 one was by Jon Wilde on Guns N' Roses from a 1987 Melody Maker. He wasn't impressed, and he says in his comment:

When the piece eventually came out in Melody Maker, Guns N' Roses were in town to play the Marquee. Two of them, Axl and Izzy I think, were so enraged by the piece that they turned up at the offices of Sounds with the idea of beating the ---- out of me. According to the receptionist they sat in the office and waited for me for two hours. Whenever anyone came in the door they'd say 'Is that Jon Wilde?' and no one had the presence of mind to tell them I didn't actually work for Sounds and that in fact they were in the wrong building all together.

Monday, 11 September 2006

looking for jack mcconnell

As a wee bonus, while looking for other stuff about The Stornoway Way to be annoyed by, I found this from the Sunday Herald of 24 July 2005:

A transcript of a call received last week at the Gnats’ HQ in Edinburgh, which seems rather to suggest that something has gone aglay between the ruling party at Holyrood and Westminster:

Man: Hello, I’m calling from David Blunkett’s office, my name’s Trevor.

Gnat: Eh right, OK, how can I help?

Trevor: I’m trying to send a fax to the First Minister – is it Jack McConald?

Gnat: Yes, something like that.

Trevor: Can I just check I’ve got the right number – is it 0131 ...?

Gnat: You know this is the Scottish National Party you’ve called?

Trevor: Yes, that’s right.

Gnat: You DO know that we’re a different political party to you?

Trevor: (confused) Ehm, right, right.

Gnat: And therefore you won’t find Jack McConald here because he’s not a member of the Scottish National Party?

Trevor: Oh! Right. I see. So where should I call?


Our visit to Lewis this time coincided with Faclan, the first Hebridean Book Festival. They had some good events lined up, and it would be worth planning a visit around again, but the only one we went to this time was disappointing - Mairi Hedderwick. The title of the session was revealed after we'd bought the tickets, suggesting that it would be her travel books featured rather than Katie Morag, and sure enough. There were some other people there with children as well as us, so she did make a wee token effort at the start, but the first thing she said to the children was that sometimes she got a bit fed up of Katie Morag, which was ungracious (and ungrateful, since I guess KM bankrolls everything else she does). She was talking about the illustrations in her books, but rather than having the images displayed on some kind of screen, surely not beyond the wit of man, she was just holding the books up at the relevant page for us to squint at. I didn't warm to her.

I'll get Donnie Foot's autobiography of childhood when it comes out, I'm sure. I'm reading Adam Nicolson's book on The Shiants (which his family owns), Sea Room. And I'll have to read Kevin MacNeil's book The Stornoway Way eventually, although the (favourable) reviews I saw really put me off - describing a radical mythbusting approach heavy on alcoholism, depression and the dead hand of the church, suggesting that the reviewers had never been exposed to any other art produced by islanders since these themes are common to the point of tedium. (Of course, it's also a bit chastening when someone younger than you from your homeland has written a book and you haven't.)


Back from holiday in Lewis, with stops on the way up and down. It's been years since I've had the full-on midge experience in Lewis, thanks I guess to timings of visit and weather, but I was adequately reminded on a couple of occasions this time the extent to which they make it entirely impossible to do anything outside.