Posts Tagged ‘culture’

…but I haven’t forgotten this blog! Life kind of got on top of me; I’ve been reading a lot and working a lot and doing a lot in general so I let the blogging slide.  But I find as I’ve been reading I’ve been coming up with more topics that I want to blog about, so hopefully over the next few weeks you’ll hear more from me.

So what have I been reading recently? Well, I’ve just updated my ‘Books read in 2011’ page so you can see exactly what I’ve been reading. But I think there are some in the list that deserve a special mention.

Moab Is My Washpot & The Fry Chronicles, both by Stephen Fry: The first 2 books in Fry’s biography are nothing short of fantastic. He’s honest, self-depreciating, critical, humorous, and passionate and throughout it all his language and vocabulary keep you grabbing for the dictionary (in a good way).  His love of words resonates across the pages and you can’t help but smile at the loquacious style and wealth of word play.  I loved these books and heartily recommend them.

Travelling with Che Guevara by Alberto Grenada:  I think I’m safe in making the assumption that everyone has heard of Che Guevara.  Many will have heard of or watched the film based on Guevara’s book, The Motorcycle Diaries.  I’d heard of Guevara and the film, I knew a little about his politics but my knowledge was vague.  This book is the diary of Guevara’s travelling companion when they took off on an old motorcycle to cross South America and explore their own continent and how the locals live, work and survive under a variety of different regimes.  They meet a variety of characters along the way and Grenada’s descriptions carry you along with them.  You can smell and envision their surroundings; you can hear their conversations with locals.  You can sense their frustration at the lack of democracy and the influence of American capitalism on the impoverished locals and indigenous peoples.  It’s a great book and an excellent insight into the early formation of Guevara’s politics.  It’s so good, I went straight out and bought Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries.


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Is it the choice of subject matter?  The genre?  The number of pages?  The use of big words?  Is a Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie book considered to be of a higher literary quality than Dan Brown or Stephanie Myer?  If so, why?

I heard an interview on the radio a few months ago with Jeffrey Archer and he described himself as a storyteller.  There’s an interview with Archer on The Browser website where he talks about 5 famous books.  It’s really interesting because in this article, as with the radio interview, he makes the point that Dickens isn’t considered a great writer, but a great storyteller, the same goes for Dumas.  It’s taken the French 200 years to recognise how good a novelist Dumas was.

So the question is this, in 100 years what books written from this current period will we consider classics?   What will they be reading in school?  Great Expectations, Pride & Prejudice or Harry Potter?  Will students be studying Ian McEwan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Sebastian Faulks?  What makes these authors more worth studying than Sarah Waters, Philip Pullman or John Grisham?  The latter 3 authors have all won literary awards so aren’t they as good as the others?

I wrote an earlier post asking if we’re aver embarrassed by what we read and I concluded that we shouldn’t ever be embarrassed, as everyone likes something different.  But I do notice that if people ask me what I’ve been reading recently I sometimes will say ‘just some crime novels’ in a dismissive way.  But if I’ve been reading something that’s considered literature I’ll make a point of naming the author.  Is that really pretentious?  I don’t do it all the time – now I sound defensive!

It’s an interesting thought as I personally much prefer a good story to an award winning literary novel.  The Booker Prize long-list was released on 26 July and, not surprisingly, when I looked at the list I had read none of the books.  In fact, I haven’t read any from last year’s list either!  But I have read a huge number of works that are classified as literary classics.  I’ve read every Charles Dickens novel and they are considered classic works of literature – but when they were first published they were the Victorian equivalent of Eastenders!

So what’s the key difference between a literary effort and popular fiction?  Personally, I don’t know how to describe the difference other than in many cases a good story is easier to read.  People criticise Harry Potter and dismiss adults reading these books, but I would much rather see anyone of any age reading Harry Potter or Dan Brown than reading nothing at all.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read every Dickens, I’m a huge fan and I’ll highly recommend Dickens to anyone. But why should you read Dickens rather than James Patterson?  There’s no reason.  They’re both great story tellers, though one does take a few hours longer to read than the other!

Maybe one difference between literature and popular fiction is that literature is what we’re told we should read, like it’s good for us!  Who says so, some critic in the Guardian?  Why should they advise us on what we should read?  I think I’m pretty capable of deciding what I will and won’t read.  I enjoy reading reviews, they provide me with ideas of books I might be interested in reading.  But I certainly don’t choose the books I read based solely on reviews or award lists.  At the end of the day surely the sign of a good book is how enjoyable it is.  That’s the key point of reading, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t read over 100 books a year if I didn’t enjoy reading and I wouldn’t enjoy reading if there weren’t so many darn good stories out there!  So I say, stuff the critics and the awards lists stick with what’s enjoyable.  100 years from now, that’s what we’ll still be reading!

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..the experience surpasses the expectation!  Gotta love that!

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World Press Photo Winners 2010

Whilst browsing the BBC website I noticed a link to a photo gallery of World Press Photo winners.  The photos are stunning and sometimes disturbing but definitely worth a look.  After looking at the BBC gallery I thought I’d find out more about this competition.  A quick google search brought me to the World Press Photo website.  According to the website the organisation was founded in 1955 and is run as an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam.  Their mission, “is to encourage high professional standards in photojournalism and to promote a free and unrestricted exchange of information.”

I had a browse through the winners gallery and this photo stood out for me:

It doesn’t make the same impression when it’s so small but it’s well worth a closer look.  I just loved the clarity of the colours and the simplicity.  Many of the other winners focus on current affairs such as natural disasters.  The photos are amazing and they really do bring home the plight of the people involved and the reality of the situation they’re living with; but I probably wouldn’t want a copy on my wall.  I can appreciate the truth of the images but I think I’d rather look at something beautiful.

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I went on to Google today and I noticed a new link, actually I’m not sure how new it is but I’d never noticed it before!  It said, “Museums of the World – now introducing the Art Project, powered by Google“.  So I clicked on the link to see what it was, and I’m loving it.  You can choose a museum take a tour around various rooms or look at specific paintings.  For example, I chose the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and it opened in the Arles room, as you can see below.

So I took a little look around and then I decided to look more closely at a few of the paintings and when you select an individual painting you get more information and history via the viewing notes.  One of the paintings I chose was the Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, I love the use of colour and the texture of this work.  It’s as if I can feel the spray from the sea and smell the salt in the air.

Love van Gogh and I’m loving this Art Project from Google.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to travel and see works like these first hand and I think the internet is a powerful tool for expanding people’s knowledge of art and culture and what’s out there.  It’s also a great way to see what’s on your doorstep and encourage us all to pop down to our local galleries and museums.

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Am I cultured?

Are we book snobs? Prejudiced against certain books?  Think they’re not literary or good enough to class as a serious read?  Do we class certain books or genres as non-cultural reading?

A friend of mine recently commented, on seeing the list of books I’d read in the last year, that she’d read hardly any of them and felt very uncultured.  My automatic reaction was to correct her, just because she hadn’t read certain books didn’t make her uncultured.  Plus can we call someone cultured if all they do is read books?  What do we mean by cultured?

I called this blog ‘culture and cake’ but I’m really only focusing on books rather than any other form of culture.  Surely to be truly cultured a person must experience a variety of literature, music, theatre, cinema, foods, people and places.  It’s easier to have an opinion on a variety of topics if you’ve had a variety of experiences.  People often have something to say about a book or a film and can provide an opinion but that doesn’t make you cultured, just opinionated.  Just because you’ve read Chaucer or Proust doesn’t mean you’re more cultured than the person who’s read Harry Potter or spends 8 hours in front of the telly every day.  It’s just a different side of culture.  If everyone read the same books and listened to the same music the world would be a very boring place.  What would we have to debate about?  The great thing about cultural diversity is just that – culture is diverse and everyone’s opinion is worth something.  Just like everyone’s choice of reading material is worth something.  I may not be a fan of Salman Rushdie novels, that doesn’t make me uncultured.

I don’t believe we should pressure people into reading certain books.  Embrace the variety and make your own choices.  There are days when I love reading Harry Potter and days when I can’t get enough of George Orwell, doesn’t make one day better or more cultural than the other, just different.  And that’s great.

There may be an argument that reading literary prize winners provides people with an introduction to a variety of styles of writing and language and therefore can enhance a person’s own language skills.  But that’s more about a broad vocabulary and grammatical skills than culture.  I’m sure people reading this blog will find plenty of grammatical errors to comment on, and I believe I’m pretty well read, so obviously reading doesn’t guarantee a perfect level of grammar!

But I also regularly read up on current affairs, visit the theatre, watch films, travel, and listen to an eclectic enough range of music!  So am I cultured?  Perhaps to an extent but there’s still a few million books to read and plays to watch, so I don’t think it’s even nearly time for me to stop experiencing new things just yet!   And thank goodness for that; wouldn’t it be awful to think there was nothing left to experience, that you were as cultured as you could get?  My friend may think she’s uncultured but she’s most definitely not, she has children, goes on holiday, reads, listens to the radio and has many experiences I don’t.  So I reckon we’ve just had different contacts with culture and that makes catching up and chatting even more fun as we get to share what we’ve done and learnt with each other.  So choose a cultural experience of your own and get stuck in.

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