Category: General


I really wanted to take on a reading challenge this year, to try to add diversity to what I read. I looked at several I found online but none of them quite hit the points I wanted to challenge myself on. So, I decided to compile one of my own.

I’m challenging myself to read 18 books in 2017, from my list of 24 challenge criteria. I’m not necessarily trying to read something for everything on the list because I’d like to give myself some flexibility and a chance to actually succeed. You could try to do all 24!

24-book-reading-challenge

In January I read:

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins – which I counted as “a popular best seller”. This was outside my normal reading habit as I tend to go for genre fiction and avoid mainstream books, perhaps because I don’t want to feel like I’m reading the same thing as everyone else.

“Marked” by Sue Tingey – I won this book in a competition I didn’t even enter! It was weird. I got a message on Twitter, completely unexpectedly saying “you’ve won a free copy of a book”. It was “a book I knew nothing about.” Anyway, they sent it and this year I finally got round to reading it.

In February I am reading:

“The Dark Half of the Year” by North Bristol Writers – I could count this as “a book by someone I know”, but I’m going to use it for “an anthology of short stories” instead. I may or may not skip over my own story.

“The Works of John Keats” – My lovely partner bought me an 1899 edition of the Works of John Keats for Valentines Day. I’m planning to work my way through this over a couple of months while also reading other things. I don’t want to risk carrying it around in my bag at my day job.

 

If you’d like to try this challenge, why not post a comment with a link to your blog and let others know what you’re reading.

Is it Okay to Stop Reading a Book?

I am currently caught in a reading dilemma.

The book I’m reading isn’t very good. Or at least isn’t holding my attention.

Is it okay to stop reading a book? Logic says “of course!” and yet it feels wrong.

Book with glasses against the backdrop of a library

Image courtesy of pannawat

When I am enjoying a book I make time to read and rocket through the chapters to the end all too fast, but when the book I’m reading isn’t engaging me I tend to choose other things to do. I might have that book on the go for over a month, and not spend much time reading. So by forcing myself to keep going I read less over all and then I resent that. I want to read lots of books and this book is getting in the way!

Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable pass time; there must be something seriously wrong if I find myself procrastinating from it, right?

So why do I feel so reluctant to give up on a book?

There’s a part of me that wants to give the author the benefit of the doubt. The eternal optimist that believes that the next chapter is when it will start to get good.

Then of course there is the fear of missing out. What if the next chapter is where it starts to get good and I don’t give it that chance and I miss out?

If something doesn’t hook me within a chapter or two, I can put it back on the shelf on the basis that I’ll tackle it again at another time. Maybe I’m just not in the mood for that genre. I can justify that.

But, if I persevere and get a decent way into the book, by the time I begin to suspect that the author is never going to deliver what I want from the book, I’m already committed. I’ve already spent some number of minutes/hours reading. If I give in now that was wasted time and I also have to admit that I was duped or made a bad call, and no one likes to admit they were wrong.

There’s also a nagging fear that if I don’t finish it, it will sit there, unfinished, forever, constantly reminding me of my failure to read it. If I put it back on the shelf at this point I’m not going to want to try again. I’ve already come to the conclusion that it’s not for me. And if I won’t want to read it in the future, it’s now or never!

This is particularly a problem with printed books rather than digital. I struggle to part with books (okay, things in general, I confess) at the best of times. At least if I finish it I can part ways with it amicably as I donate it to a charity shop or drop it off at a book share, but how can I let it go if I haven’t read it? I chose it and bought it; I don’t want to get rid of it before I have had my money’s worth.

By this point I understand I sound like a crazy person.

Is it just me who feels this way?

… No seriously, is it? Leave a comment below and let me know how you feel about giving up on a book.

What do you do if you start a book and it doesn’t grab you? Do you persevere and struggle through to the end? At what point do you decide enough is enough and walk away?

Do you ever regret not finishing a book?


Over on The Great Escape I explore more about the implications of readers quitting on books in my article Fiction Industry News – Amazon and Pay-Per-Page

This is a post about the futility of trying to make capital and physical punishment humane. I read an update on the case of Raif Badawi and (notwithstanding the complete injustice of his case as a whole*), I found myself thinking, this is insane. This is like…

The Land of the Headless

In the novel, Land of the Headless by Adam Roberts, society demands beheading as a punishment for certain crimes, but cannot reconcile this with its moral attitude to murder and death. Therefore they invent technology which allows them to carry out the prescribed punishment of beheading without it being a death sentence. Suffice to say the idea is seriously messed up and makes for a hard time suspending disbelief as a reader.

When I first came across this book, I found the concept completely unbelievable. Would a society really go so far to preserve the letter of religious law? Surely they would recognise that although “beheading” is the prescribed punishment, the implication is that the punishment is death by beheading. And if they did recognise that, surely they would simply change the punishment to something more appropriate in a society that had progressed beyond that which created the law in the first place.

Surely.

Flogging the Humane WayStop the Lashes - Free Raif Badawi

In the news yesterday it was announced that, despite international protest, Saudi Arabia’s supreme court has ruled to uphold the sentence of 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes for blogger Raif Badawi. But, while the sentence has been upheld, at present the next batch of 50 lashes has still not been administered.

Several times now his lashes have been postponed on medical grounds. It seems the judicial system in Saudi Arabia is barbaric enough to sentence him to flogging, but civilised enough to make sure that said flogging doesn’t endanger his life, or cause permanent damage.

It seems likely that the prescription of 1000 lashes was originally meant to be the method by which the convict should die, because no one could survive such a torture. So surely Raif Badawi’s sentence should be interpreted as a death sentence. Instead, by advances in modern medicine, communication and so on, the Saudi’s are attempting to implement the prescribed punishment in a humane way.

They can’t justify lashing a man to death, so they find a way to interpret the law which allows them to stick to the details without carrying out the distasteful spirit of the law.

It’s frighteningly close to Roberts’ imagined concept of humane beheading.

It begs the question, as Robert’s book did, how far would religious fundamentalists go to preserve the letter of religious law while making it morally acceptable? If the technology existed to allow victims of beheading to continue living, would Islamic nations adopt it?

Meanwhile in the Beacon of Civilisation

Across the other side of the world, the US state of Texas last week executed a 67-year-old man convicted of multiple murders. Lester Bower had spent 30 years on death row while the sentence was postponed time and again. He was executed by lethal injection which is usually considered the acceptably humane method in the US.

What makes any one method of killing someone better than any other? What does it matter to the person to be executed whether they are unconscious or conscious, suffer for thirty seconds, or a minute, or an hour? Why would it matter whether they are physically and mentally well before they are strapped down? They’re going to be dead by the end of it anyway.

It’s total bullshit designed to make something that is not okay acceptable. None of it makes execution more humane, it simply makes society feel better about itself after it has done the deed.

Many US states are abolishing the death penalty as they slowly come to the conclusion that no matter how humane they try to make the method and circumstances, it will never be humane to end a human life.

Of course, it is far easier to change constitutional, secular law than it is law founded in religion.

Morals vs Morals

It’s clear that in the modern age, we (the societal we, that is) struggle to reconcile moral outrage with moral responsibility. Within any socio-economic context there are crimes which our moral sensibilities tell us need punishment. We cannot let someone get away with something that offends our sense of right and wrong. But our moral sensibilities also make it impossible to look past the reality of the punishments we deal out. Within any population, those two opposites may be represented by different groups of people, or by a shared personal, internal conflict.

We try to reconcile the two by focusing on the details in the hope that by making the details humane we somehow transform the punishment as a whole into something acceptable.

But really, what kind of messed up crap is that?

If a nation cannot find the conviction to abolish archaic, barbaric punishments, let them go back to public hangings and the stock, where convicted criminals were pelted with rotten vegetables by a baying crowd. At least that was honest, and better that than a land with headless people walking around.


* There has been much debate on the subject of Raif Badawi’s supposed crimes. He has been sentenced for blogging and encouraging free debate about religion, a right and freedom we in the west have enjoyed for a long time. I particularly wanted to highlight the insane and futile notion of trying to make inhumane punishments humane with this blog post, but if you’d like to find out more about Raif’s case, and how you can support the campaign for his release check out the link below:

Support the campaign to free Raif Badawi at Amnesty International

 

Would You Choose a Transplant?

An article today on the BBC news website covered a dramatic meeting between facial transplant patient Richard Norris and Rebekah Aversano, the sister of the man whose face he now wears.

Richard Norris was severely injured in a shotgun accident some 15 years ago. In 2012 he received a transplant from a motor accident victim; a whole new face. The transplant was one of the most extensive ever attempted and extended from his hairline down to his throat. The operation replaced Norris’s jaw, tongue and nose.

Because the tissue came from a donor, Norris will now live with a lifetime risk of rejection. He will have to take daily immunosuppressants which opens him up to infections and disease.

Tough choices

Reading about Richard Norris’ story got me thinking about the choices he, and others like him have to make. It’s hard to imagine living with a life altering disfigurement. There must be some really complicated head stuff going on, that’s for sure.

What if it was a hand? Lacking a hand makes life difficult, granted, but many amputees live perfectly normal lives, coping with prostheses. I’m sure all of them would agree if there was no downside, but why would someone be willing to live with a reduced immune system, risk of systemic disease such as diabetes, and probably a reduced lifespan in exchange for a partially functional limb?

Should a donor hand be rejected though, there’s always the option to remove it as in the case of the first successful hand transplant in 1998. The recipient of the hand, Clint Hallam, failed to bond with it psychologically, and eventually stopped taking his medication to force doctors to amputate the donor limb in 2001.

Norris has no such option to change his mind and if his body rejects his new face, he will die. There isn’t enough left of his own body to form viable structures and his old face is gone forever.

How much harder then must the decision be to choose a facial transplant? There aren’t many options for prostheses, but reconstructive surgery using the patient’s own tissues can do amazing things to restore functionality. With a facial transplant, on top of all the lifelong health impacts of other transplants, the constant threat of rejection carries with it a certain death sentence. How could anyone live with that hanging over them?

Worse than Death?

Perhaps acceptance of such risks is similar to the mentality which drives people with such afflictions to suicide. There must come a point where living with a disfigurement seems worse than death.

As a healthy, whole person, I struggle to comprehend what that point feels like. I simply have no experience or frame of reference. The closest I can come is to try and imagine life without some aspect or faculty of my body.

What frightens me most is the loss of my sight. There are very few things I do in my daily life that wouldn’t be affected. For one, how would I write? My thought processes are highly visual and without being able to write and read notes I couldn’t organise my thoughts. I would become cut off from the passions which motivate me in life. Without them, would I feel life was still worth living? I’d like to think I would adapt eventually, but I’m not sure I could.

If I lost my sight, and a transplant could restore it, at the cost of my health, would I do it? I think perhaps I would. I would certainly give it serious consideration.

Would you consider transplant surgery for something other than a life threatening condition? What would justify the health risks for you?


 

If you’re interested in reading more about Richard Norris try these links:

University of Maryland Face Transplant

Twitter went crazy today with artists, writers, musicians and other creatives reacting against the Green Party policy on copyright.

**Warning, this blog post may contain political opinion**

Copyright is a strange beast. For many people, it’s an inconvenience standing between them and content they would like to access, copy or distribute but can’t, or shouldn’t, because someone owns it. I remember being in this group when I wanted to photocopy books for study at university, and did so on occasion, under the disapproving glare of posters above the photocopier.

For others it is the only thing that protects them from having the things they create exploited by opportunists in the first group. Now, as a writer, I’m in this group.

A policy document from the Green Party came to light today in which stated the following…

The Green Party: Policy

As a producer of so called “cultural products” this scares me beyond words. My writing is not a cultural product. It is not a product of culture, it is a product of me. If there must be a day when I can no longer claim control over by creative babies, let it be after my death so I do not have to endure it.

The backlash has been epic… well it has in my corner of the internet. This article on the Telegraph website covers the highlights: Authors criticise Green Party plan to reduce copyright to 14 years

But moving slightly away from the Green Party policy, to a more general view on copyright, why is it that “copyright” is so often considered synonymous with inaccessible or controlled?

Copyright law does not, in itself, state that material cannot be “copied”; it defines who has that say and protects their decision. Copyright holders are free to grant rights to third parties and do so all the time. How do you think publishing contracts work? They can even distribute their IP under a general licence, like creative commons, so that it CAN be copied and re-distributed for free, but it is their choice.

So the copyright holder might ask the consumer to – God forbid – pay for the creative content they spent hours, weeks, months, sometimes even years creating.

In the wake of today’s uproar, I read at least one blogger’s opinion in favour of the 14 year cut off who countered with the argument that people in other industries didn’t get paid for work they did 14 years ago… and to that I say well, no, they get paid when they actually do the work. Many struggling artists do not.

Copyright kicks in when content is created, not when it is published or sold. Some artists strive for years to get work recognised. A ticking clock would not be helpful; my own mortality provides enough of that already.

This sums up some of the astounding misunderstanding around copyright pretty well: 5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright the Media Should Stop Repeating

So can we all, please, stop demonising copyright.

If reform is needed, it is needed in the way we go about licensing IP; make ownership and licensing more transparent, so that people can engage with, and request licenses from, content owners.

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