I have been a second-hand bookdealer for 25 years. I have had hundreds of conversations with people who are bored with what they are reading. Some of these people read mainly literature and over the years I have come up with some suggestions to get them back into reading some sort of quality fiction. TRY SOMETHING LESS CHALLENGING. Some people tire of literary novels with dozens of inter-related characters and loads of sub-plots which make the reader feel they need to concentrate all the time. Try one of these pre-novel classics – Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Don Quixote by Cervantes or Boccaccio’s Decameron in a good modern translation. Reading self contained episodes with only minimal progression to the story line can be a breath of fresh air for some. I am a fan of Rabelais and his Gargantua and Pantagruel is one of the maddest, most bawdy and surreal books I have ever come across. It is also hilariously funny in parts. All three titles will take you into a world quite unlike most novels, can be dipped into at your leisure and you do not need to have your thinking head on to read and enjoy them. TRY A DIFFERENT WORLD OR PERSPECTIVE I am amazed at how many people who come into my shop have only considered literature written in English. I am a huge fan of Spanish, Portuguese and South American literature. If you can get your hands on Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star, Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner or Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate you could be in for a treat unlike any English novel you have ever read. Whether it is Spanish or African, French or Chinese give some foreign literature a go. STOP TRYING TO PROVE HOW HIGHBROW AND LITERARY YOU ARE As a teenager I ploughed my way through Dracula and decided life is too short to read supposedly great and important books just so you can impress other people. Ask anyone who has read Finnegan’s Wake if this is true. Don’t turn your nose up at quality fiction. In my Historical Romance section you will find Dorothy Dunnett who has written a House of Niccolo series which has been described by some as literature. Likewise Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey and Maturin series found in the Historical Thriller section. Or you could dip into some Sherlock Holmes which will give you some of the best short stories ever written. Some customers just needed to take time out and to start enjoying reading again without worrying about their reputation. Which leads neatly into…….. TRY HAVING A BREAK FROM LITERATURE Science Fiction? You don’t want to read about intergalactic spaceships battling it out to save the universe and neither do I but you could try Philip K Dick’s Counter Clock World. He is a very limited writer but with more original ideas than any writer I know. Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is better written and thought provoking in a different way, and if you want something different again there is Peter F Hamilton’s Greg Mandel trilogy. Mandel is a psychic detective operating in the near dystopian future and the series is, without a doubt, the best example of mixing two literary genres that I have come across. I could suggest P G Wodehouse, Margery Allingham or John Buchan who have a foot under the literature table but can also be classified as humour, crime or thriller respectively. TRY SOMETHING SHORTER Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, a classic if ever there was one and not much longer than a hundred pages. Or how about The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway? Or Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad? Many great writers have written short novels and some customers have dismissed such works because they are not deemed substantial enough. Concentrate on quality over quantity and vastly increase your chances of both finishing and enjoying the literature that you read. TRY UNCONVENTIONAL STYLES OF WRITING Ever heard of Djuna Barnes? Try Nightwood. Her style is pretty much unique in my experience. People like Martyn Millar and Richard Brautigan take an approach to writing that I found lazy and shoddy. Both have a bit of a cult following and it may be just what you need. When Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh became popular I was amazed at how many rose to the challenge of reading a book that contained so much Scottish dialect. And whilst not exactly unconventional Hemingway brings a terseness to his writing that can be refreshing if you are tired of the airs and graces of more conventional literature GET YOUR TEETH INTO SOMETHING DIFFERENT There are so many epic novels that there is nearly always one of them on my shelves to recommend to someone feeling adventurous for something substantial and different. I have Weymouth Sands in the shop at the moment by John Cowper Powys and I would just as happily recommend his Glastonbury Romance. John Dos Passos and his U.S.A trilogy is as long as they come and a landmark of 20th Century literature. Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is unlike any other novel I know. If politics and the working classes interests you give it a go. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow exhausted me but then so does Captain Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica but I think everyone should at least give the Captain and Gravity a go. TRY READING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE READING FROM THE LITERATURE SECTION Not everyone reads literary reviews and some trust a book-dealer’s observations. There is often little point in recommending the likes of Dickens and Hardy as so many people have negative, preconceived ideas about them. Instead I pick books written this millennium that they often have not heard of. Here is a handful of titles that have been repeatedly requested over the last few years. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is definitely up there as is the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is another to consider. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind ain’t as popular as it was with would be travellers but still worth a mention if you are thinking of backpacking in the near future and want some inspiration. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time sells well out of both the children’s and literature section. And if you want the latest candidate get Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. And believe me there are very few frequently requested Booker prize winning novels. I could go on multiplying examples but lists have a limited usefulness and if you have read this far I have done my bit and you are hopefully more interested in visiting your local secondhand bookshop and asking the staff for five minutes of their time. Best of luck.
Let’s play a different sort of fantasy football with two appropriately named teams chosen to match the spirit of some of the last fortnight’s religious news.
Reading an article on a small village in Derbyshire called Bolsover, I discovered that the city in which I live has the highest number of Satanists of anywhere in England and Wales. According to the Census of 2011 there were 34 Satanists in Bristol. The same census recorded under the same religion category 176,632 Jedi Knights which is under half the number recorded in the previous census. A Priestess of the Church of Satan was asked about the census and she said she thought someone was playing a prank and that Satanists are actually atheists and do not worship the Devil. No one saw fit to ask George Lucas about making Gods.
Monty Python City 1 – 0 Kafka United
And talking of atheists, Richard Dawkins tweeted, albeit very briefly, that he wanted to fight Islamism with erotica. ‘Why don’t we send lots of erotic videos to theocracies?’ he said. The short answer to that would discuss legal , human rights and moral issues not to mention invasion of privacy, young children being exposed to porn, censorship and technological difficulties. Another sort of revenge porn to contemplate it would seem.
Monty Python City 2 – 0 Kafka United
Stephen Fry on the other hand caused a storm on a chat show with some comments about a capricious, mean minded, stupid and monstrous God who created a world full of injustice and pain. Then he mentioned Greek Gods whom he preferred because they did not pretend not to be human in their appetites, capriciousness and unreasonableness. The interviewer failed to ask if such a lack of pretence made the existence of insects that burrow into children’s eyes any more acceptable.
Stephen Fry got married the other week and it wasn’t in a Greek church, Orthodox or otherwise.
Monty Python City 2 – 1 Kafka United
The Archbishop of Canterbury joined in the debate and said that Stephen Fry has a god given right to express such views and not be abused for saying what he said. People must not be persecuted for their beliefs whether they are religious or atheist.
No mention of the Book of Job in the Old Testament. As for two thousand years of apologetics including discussions about theodicy, not a single reference to any of this extensive tradition. Instead we hear about rights God has given to atheists for which there is no biblical precedent that I know of.
Monty Python City 2 – 2 Kafka United
Perhaps the Archbishop made the above comments because he was speaking at a Convention held by The Religious Liberty Commission to highlight the spread of religious persecution. During it he thanked Evan Harris for his efforts to abolish blasphemy laws as he opposed all restrictions on freedom of speech concerning religion which did not constitute hate speech.
What we are witnessing here is not unique to the Archbishop. Many Christians who stand up in the media to make a statement in the name of Christianity seem to feel a need to commit intellectual syncretism and use terms, concepts and ideas from non-Christian beliefs, ideologies and -isms to make their point, or more precisely to give what they say credibility.
If you advocate the abolition of blasphemy laws in the name of free speech are the numerous references to blasphemy in the bible to be abolished as well? And if not, why not? Taking away the law does not take away the offence that blasphemous comments can cause either. And where does this leave Richard Dawkins ?
Monty Python City 3 – 2 Kafka United
With all that has happened recently I doubt if there has ever been a period in my lifetime when there has been a greater need to educate about religion and its part in shaping our past and current world. Ignorance of facts help make it easier for prejudice to thrive. TV Programmes on church history, medieval history, critical thinking and philosophy could help redress the balance and give the young especially the tools to assess extremism, fundamentalism and prejudice. So what has the BBC just announced? It is axing the post of Head Of Religion so that religious programmes will be merged with history, science and business under a new Head of Factual Programming. Own Goal!
Monty Python City 3 – 3 Kafka United
PS – there is no extra time.
There are few things that we English like doing more than being wise after the event – especially if we are in a pub. Today is the 7th of February 2015 and in exactly three months time the next UK General Election will be held. I am happy to try and be wise before the event – a full three months before the event – and to not only state which party I think is going to win the most seats, but to go as far as to state the exact number of seats won by seven of the parties involved plus a figure for seats won by the ‘other’ parties.
Here are my predictions in numbers and then words.
- Conservative – 328 seats
- Labour – 245
- Scottish National Party – 30
- Liberal Democrat – 15
- UKIP – 10
- DUP – 8
- Green Party – 0
- Others – 14
- The Conservative Party to sneak an overall majority.
- As a consequence of the recent referendum in Scotland, The Labour Party to lose out heavily to the SNP , but to still remain The Opposition Party.
- The Liberal Democrats to lose out heavily all round, and regress to where they were a decade or so ago.
- UKIP to make a limited impact (mainly due to the small percentage of seats they contest) and yet become the Liberal Democrat’s nearest rival.
- The Green Party to discover just how steep the learning curve is in the run up to an election.
- No significant changes in Northern Ireland.
There could of course be an event of Falklands War proportions to change everything. The TV debates could throw the biggest political spanner ever known into the works but both scenarios are so unlikely as not to be worth considering.
- Will report back in three months or so.
- PS – have not been in a pub for weeks.
I have a handful of ambitions in life and to create the diet that solves the obesity problem in the Western world is one of them. Freezer food plays virtually no part in this master-plan. Pretty much everything in supermarket freezer sections is to be avoided if at all possible. Most of it is processed food. It is often low in fibre and nearly always high in additives, salt, sugar and fat. The quality of the ingredients is likely to be poor. Some supermarkets have premium ranges and you rarely find premium range freezer food – the only obvious exceptions that spring to mind are beefburgers and prawns.
Freezer sections are not popular because they offer healthy and nutritious food. They are popular because so many people are lazy and the products are cheaper than their fresh counterparts which often take time and effort to prepare. There are however three and a half exceptions to be found in frozen form and you may find them a welcome addition to your diet if you have not done so already.
Berries and currants predominate the frozen fruit section of every supermarket I have been in. Which is great as they are low in fructose and the frozen version is very often considerably cheaper than buying fresh. Not only is there rarely any waste but also the act of freezing when at their freshest means there is no need for any added preservatives. In or out of season you can have at your disposal half a dozen or so berries and currants to be eaten on their own, with your breakfast cereal or used to make your smoothie or fruit juice.
Or perhaps you like ice cream. If you can find it, take a cube of frozen ginger and a few tablespoons of frozen fruit and put it in a bowl to thaw out. Then put two thirds you usual amount of ice cream with it. Packets of ground linseeds often come with added fruit or even cocoa which is even better. Add a spoonful or two sprinkled over the top. Linseeds in this form provide as much protein gram for gram as most cuts of meat. Like ground hemp seeds, which you can also use, they also add quality fibre.
You do not need to stop there. Just because it says breakfast cereal on the packet does not mean you can’t add a few tablespoons of it. Porridge not recommended. You could top it off with something like cinnamon or a chopped up nectarine or some nut or dried fruit of your choice. You may have to have a few attempts at getting the taste of it right. But something similar to what I have described will add fibre, animal fat free protein and variety to your diet with a little bit of cheap help from the freezer section. And you will be eating less ice cream. Maybe further down the line you could substitute the ice cream for a live yogurt or Greek yogurt or think about adding local honey to help you reduce the chances of getting hay fever………..
Bags of mixed chopped vegetables tend to go a bit soggy and be a little bland in my experience. If you shop around you may find as many as a dozen varieties of frozen unmixed vegetables and most of what I said above about wastage, processing time, all the year round availability and cost also applies to frozen veg.
Unlike frozen fruit you do need to check for extras in the ingredients list and this is especially true with frozen potato products. It is not unusual for frozen or oven chips and especially potato wedges to contain anything up to 15% added salt, wheat and other additives. I actually prefer wedges and think that eating potato with the skin on increases its nutritional and fibre content but I do not kid myself that I am doing anything other than choosing the lesser of two evils compared with chips fried in fat.
If you still need convincing about the advantages of frozen food, consider the 500g bag of mixed chopped peppers I buy for one whole English pound – £1! Great when added to meals cooked in the oven 15 – 20 minutes before the end, can you imagine how long it would take you to produce such an amount if you personally had to remove the stalk, seed and pith and then chop them up to produce such an amount? And no waste to dispose of either.
Having touched on protein substitutes for meat, a brief mention for fish. Read a few labels and find some line caught, responsibly sourced and not farmed, unbreaded fish. Never tried pollock? Then give it a go especially if you like a more meaty texture. Again you will save money and time spent preparing whilst increasing massively your intake of hormone-free protein.
FROZEN VEGETARIAN FOOD
Most frozen vegetarian meals share the bad points other ready meals have but with the cheap quality meat taken out. However if you have never checked out the ingredients of vegetarian burgers and sausages you may be in for a bit of a surprise as they often contain as much protein as meat and sometimes more. Vegetable protein comes primarily from mushrooms, soya and wheat, all three of which have been names and shamed in various quarters over the years. Let’s not kid ourselves that eating them is anything other than consuming a processed food that happens to be vegetarian, so use sparingly as you would with any food which contains about 15% fat and a gram of salt for every burger or sausage used. Anyway a source of protein you may not have thought of before.
So if your New Year’s Resolutions for food have not quite worked out, then how about considering adding some of your favourite fruit and veg in frozen form to your freezer, and throw caution to the wind and tweak the ice cream recipe till it works for you? Or add both a frozen fish and frozen burger and sausage meal a week to your diet? You might lose weight and you might end up adding permanently just one variety of berry, currant or vegetable to your diet or just increase the range of protein you consume. Which is a slightly better place to be than you are now. Or you might just give the freezer section a complete miss. Which might not be such a bad thing especially if you can afford to buy as many fresh berries, currants and vegetables as you please.
In the 25 years I have been a second-hand book-dealer I have never witnessed anything like the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Over a period of several months, dozens of women came into my shop and told me one of three things. Either they had never been in a bookshop before or they had never even read a book. Or both. But here they were buying 50 Shades of Grey to read. Completely unwittingly E L James had tapped into the biggest market there is for any author and that is the huge number of people who don’t buy or read books.
Within an hour of hearing about the Charlie Hebdo massacre I had found out that the only person I know in Paris was safe and sound. She had taught me something about French culture that I had not known before. Cartoons, graphic novels, manga and anime are very highly regarded, if not revered, in France . This is a tradition that goes back decades and I decided to refresh my memory about it and especially the recent history of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. This included looking at several articles which had examples of their cartoons and I could not understand why they were affecting me so.