Category Archives: Book reviews

In Like a Lemon, Out Like a Lamp

It’s March now and you know what they say about March: in like a lion, out like a lamb.  It certainly arrived in leonine fashion; in fact it was more like a snow-leopard than anything, what with the Beast from the East (not Putin) coinciding with Storm Emma (not of The Archers).  The whole shebang reminded me of how blessed we are in general to have the Gulf Stream, and how horrid things would be without it: for, though we are subject to bouts of unpredictability and flurries of inconsistency, the climate of the British Isles (excepting the Highlands and Islands) is generally mild.  With climate change summers have got longer and winters shorter; and whilst I enjoy hot weather it does naturally worry me; a propos of which I have just started reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ – a thorough and very influential guide to climate change and its deniers.

As far as climate change denial is concerned, it is now on the level of ‘the moon landings were faked’ and not far off believing that the earth is flat.  The evidence is there for all to see; the polar ice-caps are shrinking, sea levels are rising, the sea is warming, habitats are vanishing and places like the Maldives are going under.  It takes some degree of mental contortion to disbelieve all of these facts, particularly when you consider that 97% of the world’s scientists agree that man-made climate change is a fact of life.  What’s more worrying is that the process of climate change may be exponential: that like the Fibonacci series I wrote about the other day (of which more anon) levels may not increase at the same rate but reach a ‘tipping-point’ beyond which recovery is all but impossible.

Now, I’m an optimist.  I’m a firm believer in the power of humanity to solve the problems it has created.  But in order to do this we need to believe that there is a problem: and climate-change deniers, especially when they are powerful politicians or global capitalists, are holding up progress in an utterly unconscionable way.

Enough.  We can do this, but everyone has to get on board.

Speaking of Fibonacci, I have planned the novel around the number sequence and, whilst I’m quite excited about this, it does pose some problems; namely, that the first chapters are very short and the last ones very long: it will also be a very long novel if I stick to the plan.  So I’m just going to go with it and see where I end up.  It’s exciting!

Kirk out


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We Have Normality. Anything Else is Therefore Your Own Problem

I’m nearly better, though measuring your own progress is far from an exact science.  I was re-reading my old diary (from 2006) and trying to figure out if I was happier then or if I’m happier now – and I think the answer is, both.  I was happier then in the sense that I had work and money; we were involved with the children and had frequent holidays.  On the other hand the diary is full of my frustrations: people I disliked and didn’t know how to deal with; continual demands on me from work and children – and above all a total lack of time to write, which resulted in mental chaos.  My mind felt completely cluttered; and whilst I don’t have any of the external trappings I had then, what I do have is a large measure of mental clarity and plenty of time to write.  If I don’t write I get mental constipation: thoughts build up and up and are never released, like one of those progress bars which never quite gets to the end – or if it does, just starts all over again.  They ought to call them Sisyphus bars because they never get to the end…

Getting better is like returning to normal from Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex: ‘we have normality.  I repeat, we have normality.  Anything else is therefore your own problem.’

I have to figure out which symptoms were due to the TVP – aka chest infection – (eg tiredness, depression) and which are now my own problem.  Of course in a wider sense everything is my own problem, but it’s good to know which are caused by a bug and which aren’t.  Though I suspect it may not be that simple.  After all, why do we get bugs in the first place?

Now there’s a question with a never-ending answer.

Kirk out

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News! News! Good News!

No, I haven’t gone all evangelical on you: I just wanted to post some news about OH’s book.  As well as being out in paperback and widely available:

…… it has just been nominated for a prize!  Yep, ‘Replicas’ is up for the James Tiptree Jr award:

So that’s all good.  I’ve finished reading it now and will post a review at some point: suffice it to say that for a person who doesn’t generally like SF, I found it surprisingly readable.  And that’s not down to the author being OH: let’s face it, there’s a lot of his stuff which I find amazingly unreadable…

So get your copy now!  Buy buy buy!

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, friends and family, novels and longer works, The madness of Mark

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand – we’re back

Apologies for the longish break; I’ve had a longer-than-usual digital detox this Christmas, involving being off Facebook, email and WordPress as well as eschewing my usual daily Guardian crossword.  My laptop has been smouldering with the TV, Netflix and radio programmes I’ve been plonking myself in front of (in front of which I have been plonking myself) but I haven’t only been ‘consuming’ these ‘products’ (I shall come back to my loathing of those terms in a moment) – I have been reading.  And reading.  And reading some more.  Yes, for Christmas I received a copy of ‘The Book of Dust’ by Phillip Pullman.  At 525 pages it weighs in at several kilos and needs the arms of a Hindu god in order to both hold and read it (actually I have read longer books, though not usually in one volume – War and Peace comes to mind, as well as does In Search of Lost Time.  I have a vivid memory of struggling with something that had more than 1000 pages, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. *

Aaanyway, the Book of Dust – absolutely brilliant; so good I had to read it twice and sadly I did so at such a rate that before the week was out, I’d finished.  ‘La Belle Sauvage’ is the first volume of The Book of Dust trilogy; I have no idea when the second will be out or what it will be called (the Book of Dust Jacket, perhaps?)

Other than that Christmas presents centred around food and drink; things which are actually products and which I did actually consume.  I have a rabid dislike of these words being applied inappropriately to things which are not products (TV, films, shows, etc) and if anyone ever dares to suggest that The Book of Dust is a product which I have consumed, I shall beat them around the ears with all 525 pages of it.

Well, that’s it for today.  I daresay I shall have more thoughts in the days to come…

Happy New Year

* I think it may have been ‘A Suitable Boy’.

Kirk out

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The Search for Certainty: God and the Transgender Debate

Does God hate gender-queers?  According to ‘God and the Transgender Debate’ by Andrew T Walker, certainly not.  This is the best aspect of a book which fell into my hands via a relative and which I snatched up eagerly, hoping it might have some insights to offer me.  God loves gender-queers; in fact God loves the whole rag, tag and quiltbag, and so should we.

The good news is that Walker goes to great lengths to urge Christians and churches to accept and welcome the transgender/gender queer/gender dysphoric.  Apart from that, I have to report that sadly the book has little to offer the trans person or their families (I shall use the word trans as an umbrella term here, to avoid either lists or acronyms.)  He even goes so far as to say that churches should use the preferred pronoun of a trans person coming to them.  However, he goes on to say:

‘If and when this person desires greater involvement in or membership of the church – or if, for example, a biological male wants to attend a woman’s Bible study – a church leader will need to meet with them and talk about how they identify and what faithful church involvement and membership will look like.’

All of this sounds very open-minded and in some ways it is; but since the bottom line is ‘you must accept Genesis’ you pretty much know how that conversation’s going to go.  I have been on the receiving end of such conversations (to do with other issues than this) and I can tell you it hurts just as much then, as it does if you are not welcomed in the first place.  In fact it hurts more, because it signals that acceptance by a community is conditional; that if you want to go further you have to shed certain aspects of yourself and conform.

The basic tenet of this book is exactly the same as books on homosexuality twenty or thirty years ago: that God created Adam and Eve and this means that the sexes, while complementary, are irredeemably different.  There is no spectrum; there is a line that cannot be crossed (in the same way, similar books twenty or so years ago emphasised that sex is between a man and a woman because god created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.)  This is the bottom line.  The Bible is the ultimate repository of truth and that’s that.  It remains for the church to find ways of dealing with trans people in a spirit of love.

Now I give him full marks for the spirit of love aspect: he really does go out of his way to point out that all have sinned etc and trans people should be treated no differently from the rest of us.  So far so good.  What the book doesn’t posit is any kind of a solution.  Churches like his (he’s a US Southern Baptist) have gotten savvy about ‘praying things away’; there are too many examples out there which show this doesn’t work and hasn’t worked (I know of at least one in my own life).  Which leaves him with – well, not very much really.  Basically if you have gender dysphoria you’re stuck with it until you die – at which point, of course, all your problems will be gone.

‘When it comes to gender dysphoria, Jesus is not promising that coming to him means walking away from that experience.  He is asking someone to be willing to live with that dysphoria, perhaps for their whole lives – and to follow him nonetheless.’

This seems to me highly unsatisfactory.

What is at the bottom of this debate is the fundamental question of human identity.  Walker does at least separate gendered cultural norms from ‘essential gender’ (whatever that is), though he hardly takes it very far: it’s OK for girls to like football and boys cooking, but men have broad shoulders whereas women have broad hips.  Wow.  I’m sensing a basically unaltered fundamentalism here.

The book dismisses the modern culture of individualism with a very superficial analysis and surveys history with a single sweep, concluding that ‘in traditional societies… virtually every society until the last decade or so in parts of the West – gender has been attached to sex.’

This is simply inaccurate, and as an American he ought to know more about Native American culture and its ‘two spirit’ idea.  There are also African societies that think differently about gender, so the idea that traditionally this is all cut and dried is bunkum.  I don’t mean there isn’t a bottom line; it’s just that where it is ain’t exactly clear.

So all in all, this book is helpful in one aspect only; in its teaching to the church to be compassionate and accepting.  And for that I honour it: but the rest, I am afraid, leaves us with the same question we started out with.

I’ll leave you with some humour:

Kirk out

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Yes, My Other Half’s Novel is Out in Print!!!

Today’s news is that OH’s novel Replicas which came out in Kindle form a few months back, is out in print!  I haven’t actually read it yet because I can’t read books from a screen, but here’s the link:

So get yours today!  Buy buy buy!  Delivered in time for Christmas!

Oh, and I hope it’s OK to link here to the Insecure Writers’ Group, as Friday is so close to Christmas…

Kirk out

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I Went to the Library Because I Wanted to Read Deliberately…

I have never read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, though of course I have heard of it – and now that I come to it I’m ashamed I took so long.  We Brits are scandalously behind when it comes to reading American literature: of course we read Henry James and have a stab at Hemingway and Pound (aren’t Pound and Eliot more British in spirit anyway?) but as for me, I am terribly behind on my US classics, only coming to Walt Whitman late and never having touched Faulkner.

All is not lost! for I am only sixty and it is probable that many years remain in which I can rectify these omissions.  In that spirit, I went to the library and happened upon Walden which, though I have only read fifty or so pages, has already blown my mind.

First, I never knew that there were so many quotations in it – for just as every line in Withnail and I is quotable, so every page of Thoreau has something in it that you didn’t know came from thence.  On the first page I read a line familiar to me from Dead Poets’ Society:

‘I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.’ *

That idea of living  deliberately, thoughtfully, not just being swept along by the mainstream, is very appealing – though it does of course mean living a very stripped-down life.  Still it’s good to question which of the things you regard as necessary to life actually are.  Is a car necessary?  Is a job necessary?  And if so why?  You may come to the conclusion in the end that you do in fact need all these things; but at least you’ll have thought about it: and as we all know, the unexamined life is not worth living.  (That’s Socrates, not Thoreau, but still.)

A few pages later I came upon this:

‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the  music which he hears…’

Everyone knows that line, as well as this one:

‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’

I had no idea that Thoreau was the source of these; and now I do, I want to read more.  I’ll keep you updated as I go…

Kirk out

*I guess Thoreau didn’t go on holiday by mistake?

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