Large box of author copies have arrived. All ready for reading!
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
Really enjoyed this retelling of ancient Greek myths by the legendary Stephen Fry.
No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly or brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses.
In Stephen Fry's vivid retelling we gaze in wonder as wise Athena is born from the cracking open of the great head of Zeus and follow doomed Persephone into the dark and lonely realm of the Underworld. We shiver when Pandora opens her jar of evil torments and watch with joy as the legendary love affair between Eros and Psyche unfolds.
Mythos captures these extraordinary myths for our modern age - in all their dazzling and deeply human relevance.
Unfortunately, it illustrates a problem with Audible, in that I made a lot of notes (or clips as they're called), but it would take a long time to sift through and type them all out. Usually, other people have picked out the same passages as me, so I can Google the quotes and include them, but for some reason, there aren't so many quotes from this book coming up at the moment. It would be unbelievably useful if, when you saved an Audible clip, it also gave you the text.
The majority of the bits I bookmarked were the links between the ancient names of the gods and modern words today, such as Brontes, thunder, who gave the brontosaurus its name - thunder lizard - and Hypnos, Latin Somnus, associated with sleep. There were a lot of really interesting geographical links between god names and places, and a lot on symbolism, such as the difference between Hermes's caduceus, which features wings and two entwined snakes, and the Rod of Asclepius, which features one snake and no wings. The former is often confused for the latter and used to represent the medical profession, whereas:
The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods..." - Wiki
Anyway, there's so much to unpack here. I especially liked the bit in the story of Pandora's Pithos (it wasn't a box), where one of the torments she unleashed was trapped inside, the only one that was not awful: Hope. That seemed particularly cruel.
I've always loved mythology, and some of the first books I read were illustrated fairytales and the myths and legends of Greece and Ireland, so I was fairly familiar with most of the stories, but Fry purposefully avoided many of the very well known ones in favour of some lesser known tales, and it was all the more interesting for it.
Actually, I've never mentioned it on this blog, because I read it years ago, back in uni, but C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces is a very nice retelling of Psyche. I'm surprised it doesn't get mentioned more often.
It's a real pleasure to listen to Fry narrate his own book. He carries such an air of knowledge, authority, and above all, interest in the subject. His enthusiasm pulls you in.
Really did enjoy this. It's worth picking up if you enjoy origin tales and classical mythology, though it's best to focus on the overall story rather than trying to remember the names and domains of every god - there are a lot of them.
Although I can't include all of the quotes I'd like to, there are some choice ones on Goodreads.
Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.
Also check out my review of Circe by Madeline Miller.
Monday, 2 September 2019
Monday, 26 August 2019
Down the sodium-lit streets, along roads that have been traffic-calmed to within an inch of their life, Peter Grant is trying to subdue the spirit of riot and rebellion:
My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.
Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden ... and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.
The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.
I really enjoyed this one. It fell into a sub-genre of novels I really like, where institutional bureaucracy meets the fucking insane. In this case, the spirit of Punch & Judy, with a Punch who can split your face wide open.
Grizzly back-alley goodness, steeped in ancient mythology and believable police protocol. Same ilk as Jane Lovering's Vampire State of Mind, and Yhatzee Crowshaw's Differently Morphous, with the sinister atmosphere of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman.
I'm a latecomer to this, but it seemed at one point it was on everybody's bookshelves. I'd always liked the cover and so, when I saw it on Audible, I thought, 'I'll have that.' Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is an excellent narrator and really carries you along on the current.
The book provides some useful advice for life:
When I'm considering this I find it helpful to quote the wisdom of my father, who once told me, "Who knows why the fuck anything happens?"
"Just because you think you know what you're doing, doesn't actually mean you know what you're doing."
And a few really interesting snippets of London history:
‘I am Jack Ketch,’ I said, and this time I felt it carry out to the audience. I got a ripple of vestigia back, not from the people but from the fabric of the auditorium. The theatre remembered Jack Ketch, executioner for Charles II, a man famed for being so unrepentantly crap at his job that he once published a pamphlet in which he blamed his victim, Lord Russell, for failing to stay still when he swung the axe. For a century afterwards, Ketch was a synonym for the hangman, the murderer and the Devil himself: if ever there was a name to conjure him with, then it would be Jack Ketch.
In 1861 William Booth resigned from the Methodists in Liverpool and headed for London where, in the grand tradition of metropolitan reinvention, he founded his own church and took Christ, bread and social work to the heathen natives of east London. In 1878 he declared that he was tired of being called a volunteer and that he was a regular in the army of Christ or nothing at all; thus the Salvation Army was born. But no army, however pure its motives, occupies a foreign country without resistance, and this was provided by the Skeleton Army. Driven by gin, bone-headedness and growling resentment that being the Victorian working class was bad enough without being preached at by a bunch of self-righteous northerners, the Skeleton Army broke up Salvation Army meetings, disrupted marches and attacked its officer corps. The emblem of the Skeleton Army was a white skeleton against a black background – a badge worn by right-thinking ne’er-do-wells from Worthing to Bethnal Green.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is a dark, fun frolic of a book, and the start of a long-running series.
Friday, 23 August 2019
Every now and then I indulge in a true crime book or documentary. The most recent of which was Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, who was involved with the case during his time as a political cartoonist for San Francisco Chronicle, which is one of the papers Zodiac sent letters to.
During my post-grad, I studied Forensic Linguistics. We studied cases like the Yorkshire Ripper, and how local accent helped catch him, and the Unibomber, who was brought down by his own idiolect. Each of us has a pattern of speech which is unique, like our fingerprints. That's called idiolect. The Unabomber apparently thought himself too smart to use the phrase You can't have your cake and eat it (because you can), so he used You can't eat your cake and have it (which is true, you can't). This turn of phrase was recognised by his sister-in-law in letters to his brother.
So, speech, language and crime is a fascinating subject, and the reason I was drawn to this.
A sexual sadist, the Zodiac killer took pleasure in torture and murder. His first victims were a teenage couple, stalked and shot dead in a lovers’ lane. After another slaying, he sent his first mocking note to authorities, promising he would kill more. The official tally of his victims was six. He claimed thirty-seven dead. The real toll may have reached fifty.
Robert Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when Zodiac first struck, triggering in the resolute reporter an unrelenting obsession with seeing the hooded killer brought to justice. In this gripping account of Zodiac’s eleven-month reign of terror, Graysmith reveals hundreds of facts previously unreleased, including the complete text of the killer’s letters.
Things I learnt:
- E [is] the most common letter in the English language, followed in order by T, A, O, N, I, R and S. The most commonly doubled letters in English are L, E and S. The letter most commonly occurring together are TH, HE and AN. More than half of all words end in E, and more than half of all words begin with T, A, O, S or W.
- The most commonly doubled letter in the English Language is L (LL).
- The most common three-letter combinations, trigrams, are THE, ING, CON and ENT.
- During an autopsy, it's called 'penetrating' if an object, such as a bullet, enters the body but doesn't exit, and 'perforating' if it also exits. Not sure why this stuck with me - useful if I ever retrain as a coroner, perhaps.
Returning to idiolect, there was a suggestion that perhaps Zodiac was British because he used the phrases Happy Christmas and picking off the kiddies (killing the children), which works for Britain and Canada, but not so much America. Later, there's a suggestion that the term fiddle and fart around, is commonly heard among older men of Lubbock County, Texas. But I'm curious as to why that doesn't also back up the British theory, as fiddle about and fart about are common expressions in the UK. Although, fiddle and fart together, not so sure.
Given that the guy deliberately misspelt things to throw people off the scent, it wouldn't be surprising if he also drew from colloquial speech outside his native area.
Something else I found interesting was the Zebra Murders. A racially-motivated set of murders by The Death Angels in the 1970s. Interesting purely because it's a footnote of history I had never heard of before.
There was also the suggestion that Zodiac was influenced by a 1932 film called The Most Dangerous Game. The whole thing is available online, so you can make up your own mind.
The obvious allure of Zodiac is that he was never caught, therefore the reader always has that tantalising prospect of noticing something others have missed and solving the crime. The book firmly places suspicion on Arthur Leigh Allen, who died in 1992.
I must admit, it all seemed a bit circumstantial and bias-confirmatory, but then, I wasn't there, so don't know. Whilst looking into the case after finishing the book, I stumbled across this fascinating story, where a guy called Gary L. Stewart tracked down his biological father, Earl Van Best Jr., who is a man with a very unfortunate resemblance to the Zodiac composite.
Stewart went on to co-orther a book called The Most Dangerous Animal of All, in which he claims his father was Zodiac.
Anyway, interesting stuff, and quite an education in deciphering ciphers.
Thursday, 22 August 2019
The blog tour for The Children of Lir is complete. The reviews are in, the interviews given. To find out what people are saying, head here. Huge thank you to Fraser's Fun House for organising this tour, it was a real pleasure working with them. Hope to do so again in the future. You can pick up your copy: