Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Living for the moment

Like, I don't love Graham Rawle enough already.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pet hates

Yesterday it was the Pet Shop Boys, today it's just the pet shop. Ms ND and the Dude came running this morning to see what had me groaning in frustration. How many times do I have to say it? Pets are not people.

If it is true the highest test of a civilisation is the way it cares for its most vulnerable, then Australia's animal welfare record has nothing to do with it. Australia's human welfare record does: we could do a lot better when it comes to the way we treat the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly -- who ARE our civilisation's most vulnerable members. Pets are not members of civilisation, they are commodities and luxuries.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's okay to mistreat animals. And I'm not saying people shouldn't keep pets. In fact, I agree with the majority of the article: owning a pet is a choice and a responsibility, not a right, and people need to think carefully about doing so. However, humanely killing unwanted dogs and cats that are incapable of existing by themselves in an environmentally friendly way is not a violation of civilised standards. It's a shame, but it won't be the downfall of our society.

Argue with me if you like: I'm sure Dr Peter Singer would.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Drawing a long bow

This morning's newspaper included an article about the Pet Shop Boys, one of His Highness' favourite bands. I was astonished by a claim in the second paragraph that they were on a surge of "Obama-inspired positivity"; I mean, the boys are Londoners through and through, somewhere between indie and UK Pop -- so NOT the sort of thing you'd associate with hopping on a US bandwagon.

I had to read right through to the end of the article to find the throwaway line that led Bernadette McNulty to this extraordinary leap of logic:

"We did feel quite positive making this, because you could sense the times changing," Tennant says. "It was the same as at the end of '88 when we recorded our version of It's Alright. The Berlin Wall was coming down, Nelson Mandela was coming out of prison, acid house was starting. It was an astonishing period of change. And last year, it was the same. When Obama was fighting Hillary it was like the future versus the past, and George W. Bush was finally going."

And now I'm thinking the PSBs have lost the plot. Obama is not Nelson Mandela, by any stretch of the imagination. The Berlin Wall coming down was an iconic moment that is not in any way to be compared with George W Bush's retirement. And they're only 50! Gah! That means senility is just around the corner for me as well...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How to talk about books you haven't read

I found How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read (by Pierre Bayard, Granta, 2008) on the sale table at the bookstore on the weekend, and couldn't resist taking a peek inside. By the end of the first page, I was hooked. Written by a professor of literature, it begins with the premise that there are millions more books you have never read and will never read than you have actually read or will read in your lifetime. Of necessity, you will therefore spend the majority of your life talking about the plethora of books you have not read.
He further categorises books into four categories: books you have skimmed (encompassing most of the books you've read), books you have heard of, books you have read but entirely or partially forgotten, and unknown books. Bayard is French and unsurprisingly leans towards a Derridean theory of reading, espousing the postmodernist precept of multiple readings of any given text. That's a concept I particularly like, since it would be a boring world indeed if we all got exactly the same meaning out of every single shared book (although it would certainly save time in our household, in which one or the other of us is generally to be found loyally but disappointedly ploughing through books recommended by another member of the family -- the phrase "you MUST read this, you'll love it" is almost never, in our experience, true.)
Bayard says that you can say a lot about books you haven't read, just by being able to place them in your personal library. If you know what books they'd be filed next to on your mental shelving, for example, you can learn a lot without ever opening the cover. For instance, I just bought Ransom by David Malouf (which is presently a book I have heard of, but I hope to make it a book I have skimmed soon). I have read other David Malouf books (although it was some time ago), so I'll mentally shelve it with The Great World (a book I have mostly forgotten). I know it's a retelling of the Iliad, so on its other side I'll shelve the original Iliad (in translation, a skimmed and partially forgotten book), as well as other Greek literature, mythology and history (skimmed, heard of and wholly or partially forgotten). Thus, without having read past the cover blurb, I already know a great deal about what the book is like and can attend the Writers' Week seminar with impunity.
Isn't that fantastic! Think how much time and stress you'll save now that you know you don't have to read your next book-club book before you get to the meeting! I feel so free...