All tagged books

What is it that we’re saying when we talk of highs and lows? Why do we linguistically frame our lives this way? How have we even come to collectively associate and articulate “forwards” and “up” as signs of progress, while assuming “backwards” and “down” to be regressive?

As International Women’s Day reminds us of the battles still being fought in the seemingly interminable quest for parity in all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life, the likes of Smith, Didion, Lorna Sage, Siri Hustvedt, Susan Sontag (the list goes on) are testament to the strength and inestimable value of the female voice.

“The magic of escapist fiction is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better. It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better armed than when you left.” - Neil Gaiman.

In his final novel, Island, Aldous Huxley created a vision of utopia where the Pacific island of Pala is an “oasis of happiness and freedom,” free from the trappings of capitalism, consumerism, and technology. Some say that the Island is an example of humanity at its sanest and most admirable. Yet it ends, predictably, in sorrow, “the work of a hundred years destroyed in a single night.” So, what was Huxley’s point in creating then destroying a vision of paradise?

Here we are in 2015, approaching 90 years since women got the vote, being urged to celebrate all that we’ve achieved in honour of International Women’s Day. And there’s a lot to celebrate – we are not only more visible, we are also playing more of a leading role in society, politics, the economy and the arts.  However, there’s no denying that the struggle isn’t over, we’ve a long way to go yet.

The question of what motivates and inspires writers has enduring appeal for anyone eager to pursue the creative life. It also reveals some fascinating insights from which anyone can benefit. We all have a story to tell, as individuals, organisations, communities, societies, businesses. And just like any story, if it’s interesting enough and told well, people will listen.

How many of us really think about the different components of our being — our identity as determined by our own actions and beliefs, and who we are as perceived by others? For most of us, it isn't until we face a struggle in life — for the right to justice, equality, political representation, even the basic struggle as experienced by all of us at one time or another to belong — that our identity starts to matter in dramatic ways.

“Culture is perishing in over-production, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity.” If days are where we live our lives then stories are where we remember them.  And tonight is apparently the night to seek sanctuary, solace, escape and wonder in one story selected from 20.  

For anyone who’s ever harboured a perverse, semi-intellectual fetish for stationery, there is no substitute for the crisp, clean greeting that is the opening page of a new notebook. It’s easy to romanticise the humble pen and paper in an age when digital communication is taking over the world.  There’s no arguing with how computers have propelled productivity - the internet is flooded with an infinite tirade of verbiage.  But is this necessarily a good thing?

Based on the advice of writers from Stephen King to David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Zadie Smith and many more, when I cannot write my designated daily quota of 500 words on one subject, I turn to reading.  I scour the net, my bookshelves and every local bookshop, in search of inspiration, thirsty for facts that might ultimately furnish each of my projects with added authenticity.

Documenting the past comes with a frightening number of challenges that at times beg the question, why bother?  With historical writing, the challenges are even more pronounced, particularly the lack of people and sources against which to check your facts.  Depending on how you look at it, it’s either the greatest investigative adventure or a guaranteed route to sleepless nights as the unknown quantities swirl around your tormented mind.

If you follow Socrates' line of thought, the unexamined life is not worth living.  But what if, when you examine it, it’s worth even less?  That is John Gray’s conclusion; in fact it’s the beginning, middle and end of his entirely nihilistic polemic, Straw Dogs, in which he catalogues a history of rapacious human activity, taking down science, philosophy and everything in between.