Today marks 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time.
This is a significant birthday. To celebrate, I’m going to re-read (again) the novel which I first opened at the age of 13, and have returned to many times since. Many people around the world will do the same thing.
I have a feeling, though, that most of them will have something in common. Yep, they’ll pretty much all be female.
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George Orwell’s deadline came and went. No doubt for many who read 1984 in the years after it was published in 1949, that date represented an unwanted but inevitable appointment with a soulless tyrannical world.
Two years before his deadline arrived, a later generation, not overly concerned with Orwell, found a new future date to consider: 2019. That was the year director Ridley Scott set his 1982 film Blade Runner, depicting life in post-apocalypse Los Angeles.
The scene was this: Earth is largely uninhabitable. People are heading for the new off-world colonies. Those who remain exist in a dying world where nighttime and rain is perpetual; and those who remain are largely the dregs.
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Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit. Get ready to get steamy. The hot topic du jour is romance novels and the apparent threat they cause to women’s sexual health.
A UK medical journal has published a piece from ‘agony aunt’ Susan Quilliam arguing that bodice-ripper romantic fiction is discouraging condom use and giving women crazy ideas about orgasms.
Before we go any further, let’s have some gratuitous ‘literary’ sex scenes, just to give you the flavour.
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I have a passion which many others might quietly share: I am in love with the Mitford girls.
Such is my passion I have developed a parlour game which some players initially sneer at but soon become obsessed by.
What sisters they were: Dowdy and heroic Jessica, ultra sophisticated Nancy, gloriously beautiful Diana, Unity the tragic Valkyrie, and Pamela who, in Decca’s (Jessica’s) phrase, emerged as ``a you-know-what-bian’’ living with an Italian woman.
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One recent evening, my husband posed the question: If you only had three months left to live, what would you choose to read?
The discussion was travelling along perfectly well until he raised a name guaranteed to set me on a rant: Harold Bloom.
Bloom is a professor at Yale University and the author of many books including How to Read and Why. That title alone makes me want to employ the great Dorothy Parker quote: “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
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They come from far, they come from wide. They come with a fire in their bellies and a penchant for the written word that not even a million monkeys on a million typewriters could even dream of topping no matter how many sonnets they secured or peanuts they procured with their feverish and dexterous opposable thumbs. They are, of course, and without a shadow of a flickering doubt - bad writers.
The bad writer is a mystery for the ages. A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, snug as a bug in a tightly woven and off-white or eggshell coloured woollen rug.
The fact remains that since man has walked the earth since time immemorial, our command of language above all is what has set man apart from beast; what has separated the men from the boys (by men I of course mean men, and by boys I mean animals).
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I probably know as much as anyone reading these words about the life of William Shakespeare.
That’s not the boast it sounds like – it’s a statement about how little there is to know about the biographical details of the greatest writer in the language.
He died nearly four hundred years ago, and he’s been celebrated for at least three hundred, but the documentary discoveries about Shakespeare have been few and far between.
I can’t remember how I stumbled across it, but it has really threatened my Christian faith. It’s a book unlike any other, challenging my worldview and giving me nights of tossing and turning in a cold sweat.
The book is The Christian Mother Goose Book by Marjorie Ainsborough Decker, and it’s enough to make anyone an unbeliever. No doubt in good faith, Mrs Decker has ‘improved’ the nursery rhymes you and I know from childhood into ones she feels better communicate the Christian message. So, ‘Lavender’s Blue, Dilly Dilly’ begins:
Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly
Teach me to say, dilly, dilly
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The latest in the endless string of novels about Jesus has just been published in the UK (due out here in May). It comes from the pen of Philip Pullman, the author of the fantasy series His Dark Materials (a film was made of the first novel in the series, The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman alongside a polar bear).
Pullman has already stated that it’s a novel, and needs to be kept in the category of imaginative retelling. But I recall that Dan Brown said the same thing about The Da Vinci Code, and it didn’t stop millions of people revising their view of Christian history as a result of its wildly entertaining (and historically ridiculous) reconstructions of the life of Jesus.
I feel it is fair to speculate that Pullman likely hopes people will revise their view of Jesus as a result of reading his novel.
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‘Do not start me on The Da Vinci Code. A novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name’. That’s how Salman Rushdie described Dan Brown’s 2003 blockbuster in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World in 2005.
Rushdie isn’t alone in his unflattering assessment of Dan Brown’s writing. More recently, professor of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoffrey Pullum told the Daily Telegraph that ‘Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad’.
And Pullum isn’t just being a high-minded literary snob, either; the professor has a point. To illustrate his case, Pullum cites a passage from Angels and Demons in which the lead female character hears about the death of her scientist father. ‘Genius, she thought. My father . . . Dad. Dead’ writes Brown.
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When I was a hare-brained 25-year-old travelling around the world, I decided to climb Alaska’s most northerly mountain range, alone, with winter approaching and with almost no comparable experience.
I got into trouble thumpingly quickly. Two hours out from an Inuit village the polar wind came thundering up the valley like a great icy bowling ball, the wind-chill factor dropped to about minus 20 and my fingers burned just short of frostbite as I struggled to peg my whip-cracking tent into the snow.
By morning I wanted to abort, but I went on up into that white morass of mountains. It was painful, it was terrifying and it was unwise, but the experience was a perfect instance of the paradoxical payoffs of exposure.
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It has become somewhat fashionable of late to out oneself as a bit of a reader. A self-confessed bookworm. A well-read head, as it were.
The trend, of course, was started by this site’s resident well red-head, complete with that strangely-situated hyphen of hers, and it is indeed her shining example that has compelled me to write this piece. In her first column for this website, and in more or less each of her columns since, Ms Sales has – I’m sure you will have noticed – been detailing her personal history as a reader: her obsessive love of word puzzles; her discovery of camaraderie and community at a writer’s festival; and the origin of her love reading, Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, as well as the many tributaries that have fed into that love ever since.
For my money, though, her best piece remains the one she wrote, somewhat earlier on, about being interrupted when very obviously engaged with a book. “The final step,” she wrote in that piece, “is to explode.”
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Are people who read better people than those who don’t?
That’s the view of a well known Italian writer who was recently in Australia for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. You know Vicenzo Cerami’s writing if you’ve seen the film Life is Beautiful. He wrote the screenplay.
‘Those who read are better people,’ he told The Australian newspaper. ‘They are able to travel with their imagination, so they can look at things from different perspectives and don’t take things at face value. They are more mature and tolerant and therefore more realistic about the complexity of life.’
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Tim Winton is the master of fiction. But his latest tirades prove he doesn’t understand when reality kicks in.
Last week Winton won a fourth Miles Franklin Award for his book, Breath. And to celebrate he used his moment in the spotlight to attack the Productivity Commission’s review to scrap protection for Australia’s book industry.
Parallel import restrictions require books sold in Australia to be produced in Australia. It’s an idea so bad the New South Wales government could have thought of it.
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