More train adventures…

cofI like to finish books once I’ve started them, but yesterday I gave up after thirty pages of disappointment and just left one on a train for someone else to find.

The Fuzzy and the Techie was recommended in a recent newspaper review. It tries to address the Humanities Vs STEM debate and calls for a the two fields to work together for the betterment of technology; to make it more human.

The author makes his point well very early on, but writes in a style that just didn’t sit well with me. It’s not quite businessy, and not quite academic but because of its breezy simplicity, made me think that – ironically – though it’s probably aimed at the more sympathetic humanities audience, he’d probably pitched it at time-poor and thinly (as opposed to widely) read techies.

I abandoned it with a note in the front cover to say that I hoped that whoever finds it will enjoy it. It will probably just end up in the bin the next time someone cleans the train though…

Flakensteins…

That bastion of progressive and informed thought, The Sun, has shot itself in the foot in its pursuit of ‘snowflake’ students: Snowflake students claim Frankenstein’s monster was ‘misunderstood’ — and is in fact a VICTIM.

Frankenstein1931Karloff

The NewStatesman picked up on the story today, but The Times had made the same error a few days ago (it’s behind a paywall but you get the sense of the article).

Admittedly, I’ve read Frankenstein more times than I can remember, but even on the first reading, your sympathy is with the creature and you soon realise that Victor Frankenstein is indeed the real monster of the story. It’s one of the perverse pleasures of the book – especially if you come to it from having watched the Universal and Hammer movie monsters stomping around and smashing everything. The creature is scorned, misunderstood and tortured, but he learns to read and becomes more articulate, even poetic, in describing his dreadful plight.

Was there ever a gold age when journalists were well-read and educated? It seems now that whatever suits the editorial agenda will do – and I don’t suppose too many Sun readers will bother checking the facts for themselves. If they were concerned with such things, they would read The Sun

1971…

exorcistSomeone’s created a great page where you can look up the most popular book from the year you were born. Being born in 1971, I was pleased and surprised that that year’s was William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.

My grandmother had a copy of the book and I’d secretly read a chapter or two each time I stayed over at her house. My parents didn’t like me reading horror books, so this was something that I usually only got to do if I took myself to the library on a Saturday when I could peruse the adult section without a teacher pushing me back toward the children’s books.

The Corgi Books edition that I got to read had what was, for me, the creepiest cover ever. There’s the strange outline of a face, taken almost like an x-ray image, or even a negative version of the Shroud of Turin. It just looked like a real image of a possession, a scientific recording, rather than a piece of art. I’d read a chapter or two and then place the book cover down before I attempted to get any sleep.

Apparently it was created by Frederick Cantor, about whom I’ve been able to find out very little, but who created a masterpiece of creepy design.

 

Portable magic…

IMG_0132I’m raking in the coals of memory again.

An aunt had given us books as presents for Christmas. I got Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

They were all abridged versions, and must have been from one of those cheap imprints where the classics cost a pound each. The covers were off-white and upon opening, already had that musty, ancient book smell – they must have sat upon a shelf in a warehouse for some time.

But the enchantment contained therein was rich and potent. I had classics in my hand and I would read them all. I would smell them and read them, and stare for what seemed like hours at the cover images before I even dared to open them and suckle at the dark nipple of gothic romance.

And, despite what christians will tell you, Dickens’ Christmas classic is the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ – a tale of self-discovery and redemption that never gets old, and which is constantly re-told and re-invented. Stephen King’s utterance on books being a kind of ‘portable magic’ never rang so true as in my days and weeks with those volumes.

While visiting my parents, I found two of the books amongst dozens, possibly hundreds from my childhood on some shelves in the basement. They were part of the ‘Minster Classics’ range, and my missing version of Frankenstein is still available online second-hand (just ordered myself a copy!).

Another realisation (for classic horror movie fans only), is that the cover image the Minster edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to be a combination of Fredric March’s Dr. Jekyll from 1932, and John Barrymore’s Mr. Hyde from 1920 – currently available to watch for free.

Formerly forbidden fruit…

asterixWhen at primary school, we’d visit the local library every two weeks. You could borrow up to six books, but only from the children’s section. This was good, as it contained all the Doctor Who novelisations and ghost story anthologies that I loved to read, but access to the adult and young adult sections was strictly forbidden. These contained the horror books that I craved, and also the comic books – specifically Asterix and Tin Tin. Marvel and DC were great for action, but if you wanted something funny and clever, then it had to be one of the aforesaid.

It’s taken about forty years, but I’ve finally got my own collection of Asterix books started with the first three omnibus editions that I received for my recent birthday. So I’ve matured (slightly!) since last reading them, but I’d managed to remember the names of all the main characters and the stories are still great fun (if filled with torturous Latin puns!). And, owning them now brings so much satisfaction after being repeatedly told ‘no’ at school. It was snobbery really – comics and graphic novels weren’t considered real books, and certainly weren’t recognised as literature.

Thankfully attitudes are changing…