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Unlucky: A Poker Novel – Arthur W. Goodhart

UnluckyAs a week of increasingly frenetic poker unfolds the stakes could not be higher, the outcome more uncertain. A family’s livelihood is threatened when the authorities impound their fishing boat. With Christmas approaching and debts mounting a race is on. While Alan struggles to make ends meet, his son Tommy travels to London where he has found a temporary job in a Knightsbridge department store. A chance meeting in the staff smoking room leads to a growing friendship with two students. Lilly is a ‘glamorous classicist more inclined to Versace than Virgil’. Nick, ex-army, is struggling to avoid being fired. Tommy has learnt his poker the hard way, would rather be good than lucky. At Lilly’s behest he agrees to give Nick some guidance in a deceptively simple game – Texas Hold’em. None foresees the excitement, exhilaration and exhaustion that await. Grunge and glamour, cash and comps, London’s vibrant and varied poker scene comes to life. Enjoy the jargon, appreciate the skill, feel the adrenalin surge.

Having dabbled in a few friendly hands of Poker yet never really making the effort to follow-up my vague interest – apart from with a few Flash Games when bored – it was probably not surprising that my curiosity would be piqued by a book on the subject.  I was curious to see how the game would translate to the page and also if it would be successful in its endeavour, like Stefan Zweig’s book Chess was.

It is essential for a book of this kind to have the rules and terminology reiterated for casual readers and explained for non-players, this is put into the text early on and everything is made clear in a simple way by page 60 so everybody should be up to speed and ready to be submersed in the Poker, of which there is plenty.

The story is told through a series of poker games, I was curious to see how the Poker atmosphere would translate into a book.  I enjoyed the way the players came across as natural with plenty of talking about everyday things and the camaraderie and banter of friends being a thinly covered veneer over the competitiveness.  It feels real and I believed most of the characters and that gives the book a more immersive quality.  There were a few over the top characters but that didn’t really matter as they became characters I loved to hate and hoped they lost their money, in short I was invested because of it. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/04/2015 in Fiction

 

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Creative Theory, Radical Example – Justice Koolhaas

CreativeTheorySmashwordsThis book offers dizzying and breakneck theories on subjects including digital identity, transhumanism, and blue-chip art celebrities. The introductions outline Koolhaas’s regrounding methodology, poetics, call for Theory Celebrities, and politics of infolution, along with comprehensive interpretations that allow students to choose material without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

The book is comprised of two introductions by the translator, six essays, and excerpts from an unfinished novel. The first introduction outlines Koolhaas’s technological foci, her regrounding methodology and poetics, the need for Theory Celebrities, a politics of infolution, her architecture for university reform, and the intransigent refusenikism that arguably contributed to her obscurity. The second introduction is a chapter-by-chapter commentary that guides the student through Koolhaas’s essays and literature:

‘Cybernetics: Nietzsche and Heidegger’
‘Studying Media: Baudrillard and Science Fiction’
‘Literature: Deleuze & Guattari, Kafka, and Joyce’
‘What’s So Wrong About Rant?’
‘Žižek and the Sex Between Emin and Hirst’
‘Methodological Considerations’
‘Nouveau Roman Excerpts: Caliphornia’
The Textual Connexivities chapter lists the works cited.

C. M. Cohen’s comprehensive interpretations mean that the uninitiated Koolhaas student can pick and mix material from this book to suit their purposes without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

Every so often, I trawl the internet looking to learn new things at no cost to my malnourished wallet.  Each year I wait in anticipation for what I term ‘student season’, where books are published for free on topics mostly unfamiliar to me and sound really impenetrable.  Why? you may ask, well as a reader I like to be challenged, to spend time reading around a subject and feeling like I have actually understood something new and in-depth by the end of it.
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I wouldn’t have picked up this book were it not for the non existent fee, as it isn’t usually something I’d feel comfortable with jumping into at such an advanced level but it does raise an interesting point about the university system and modern day technology.  With search engines taking out all of the effort and time out of finding texts, is it all becoming to easy for students?

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Posted by on 16/04/2015 in Art, Languages, Philosophy

 

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The Uncommercial Traveller – Charles Dickens

DickoThis volume contains a series of lightly fictionalised but sharply observed and often polemical observational sketches published in Dickens’s periodical “All the Year Round” based on an authorial persona of a traveller at leisure.

Not the most thrilling of blurbs ever, I grant you but I couldn’t find anything more substantial which for a book like this, written by such a fantastic author is something that really needs to be addressed.

The Uncommercial Traveller is one of the Dickens books that doesn’t get mentioned very often.  Taking a diversion from his usual fiction, he shows his diversity with a range of essays from the comedic to serious social issues.

This collection of articles was written for the author’s own journal, All the Year Round in which he takes on the persona of the Uncommercial Traveller who journeys about and observes, giving insights into community and historical matters.

I read this book on and off over a number of months and have been intrigued by Dickens’ style.  His enquiring mind is at its best here, showing that even in his later years financial success had not dulled his need to take on the inequalities of the Victorian society or hold back with his incisive observances.

A mixture of hard-hitting journalism and observational pieces, it is the former that sticks in the mind the longest, looking at the terrible conditions people lived in – most especially in the workhouses – the lack of education and the closed class system of Britain at that time.

Although the book is not all doom and gloom by any means, Dickens’ trademark humour comes through and his joviality often belies sharp scrutiny on his surroundings.  Whether observing people in a theatre or the habits of children in church, his words are always alive with the love of experiencing things, whether good or bad, it is this insatiable curiosity that kept me coming back. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13/04/2015 in Classics, History, Journalism

 

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Feeling Edgy

Some memories of experiences are so ingrained within us, that we can recall them with absolute clarity. These memories seem to pop up at the oddest times, today for instance I am sat at home, keeping out of the sun, fighting with the ever-growing list of book reviews and wondering if I can be bothered to get up and find something to eat when the below recollections came somewhat randomly to my mind.

Find more awesome photos at http://jamesgphotography.co.uk

Find more awesome photos at http://jamesgphotography.co.uk

It’s one of those enigmas of life, that we shall never know quite what triggers off those thoughts of times past, that we instinctively knew were memorable and would be seared onto our memories in the photo album entitled ‘Always’.  One such time for myself was an impromptu trip into Derbyshire of an evening, which ended in the dark, stumbling back to the car, harassed by feral sheep with no torches to hand but that wasn’t the most indelible thought as it so often would be on other occasions.

I recall Lying atop a huge block of stone on Baslow Edge with friends, looking out over the surrounding area in the silence and fast fading light.  We had the whole plateau to ourselves the ramblers having long since left, apart from a cooling breeze and It was hard not to be in awe of such a supremely peaceful moment.  It was perhaps the realisation that this was freedom from work and other such banal thoughts and was the chance to soar in comprehension of the triumph of earthly construction.

We were on a prominence, a solid bed of hard rock, grooved by weather through many epochs. There was a shared silence between a trio of like minded thoughts – a sense of self – and reflections on breathtaking original art, put forth for the pleasure of these thinking creatures by natural processes.  The breeze swirled like as if many voices talking from the past, perhaps it is all in my imagination, a whimsical idea from an overly romantic writer, I’m sure you can all sympathise with this fanciful accord of generations. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 10/04/2015 in My Writings, Travel

 

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Shipwrecked: Four Against the Arctic – David Roberts

While reading Valerian Albanov’s In the Land of White Death, David Roberts came across the mention of an old legend of four shipwrecked Russian sailors who had managed to survive six years stranded on a barren island in the high Arctic. Incredulous, Roberts – an expert on exploration literature who had never heard of this account – was determined to learn the truth behind this extraordinary story. Little did he know that his search would ultimately bring him closer to the experiences of these four survivors than he had imagined. In 1743 four survivors of a Russian shipwreck in the Arctic Ocean were trapped on a tiny island with only twenty pounds of flour for food. With ingenuity and courage they endured six years of nearly unimaginable hardship, with only driftwood to fuel their life-saving fires, and the constant threat of attack from polar bears (they would kill ten with homemade lances). Roberts’s quest to document their story would take him across two continents and culminate in his own expedition to the remote and desolate shores where these mysterious sailors had been marooned. Riveting and haunting, Four Against the Arctic chronicles an incredible true story.

I love a good story about people forced to meet nature head on with courage and resourcefulness so I saved this book for the cold days and it finally got its much anticipated reading last winter.  As a reviewer, I like to try to find positive points in all the books I read, things that may interest anybody who is undecided about it but this one did have me struggling to find something to praise.

It all starts with the misleading cover, it has everything you want from a travel cover, a title that makes you want to enjoy the suffering of others, a seagull and a nice font.  The trouble is that this is not the advertised story of shipwrecked survivors but of one man’s attempts to find out more about it and regale you with his experiences in detail, lots of detail and most of it irrelevant at that.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 06/04/2015 in History, Travel

 

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Glimpsing Perfection

There she sits, with coffee. Entranced.
Form symbiotic with her passion, the book.

The beauty of her aura coming from that abstracted universe nestled safely in loving hands – to me it is almost flirtatious.
Oblivious to the world, she does not notice me observing;
the delicate way the page is held, poised for turning.
Time slows as the leaf nonchalantly hovers, before the abrupt snapping back into time by the crisp, concise turning.

Her flagrant eroticism permeates. 

Over time, I am witness to the slow changing of her features, a furrowing of the brow, like the transition from sun to sudden squall on a summer’s day.
The subtle hunch of the shoulders as if trying to physically become one with the story and it’s participants.

A slight changing of position, the reclining of her head to ponder upon subjects unknown to me.
Eyes unfocused yet fully concentrated.
The need to quiz without compromising her pure and simple pleasure becomes the torture with which I afflict myself.
A form of magical utopia to my biased eyes.

* I would like to say that this is a purely fictitious work and I do not stare at women in public or indeed private places, mainly on account that nobody seems to read around here and secondly and more importantly I do not wish to gain stalker status.

 
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Posted by on 02/04/2015 in My Writings, Poetry

 

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The Great Sea – David Abulafia

Big WaterFor over three thousand years, the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the great centres of civilization. David Abulafia’s The Great Sea is the first complete history of the Mediterranean, from the erection of temples on Malta around 3500 BC to modern tourism. Ranging across time and the whole extraordinary space of the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Jaffa, Genoa to Tunis, and bringing to life pilgrims, pirates, sultans and naval commanders, this is the story of the sea that has shaped much of world history.

The Mediterranean Sea. The meeting place of some of the most impressive cultures this planet has seen.  A melting pot of globalisation in microcosm, a cross pollination of so many unique ideas that have formed the world we live in today.

David Abulafia has taken on this colossal narrative combining all manner of diffuse subjects into one book.  It was always going to be a gigantic challenge to chronicle an overview that fits all the pieces of history together and this is an impressive work.

Beginning in 22,000 BC (I’m a traditionalist) and heading on all the way through to 2010, it’s a tumultuous journey through wars, migrations, alliances and trade, the waxing and waning of cities and empires, where religions meet and co-exist uneasily and new ideas are freely spread and incorporated in inventive ways.

The book does focus mainly on the coast, it does reference things inland but only briefly if they happen to affect the Mediterranean and the cultures around its shores.  As a result, at times it does feel like there are gaps as to the exact reason to why some things happen and where interlopers from inner Europe or Asia come from and their motivation for doing so.  There is a particular interest in trade though which made me happy as I find the diffusion of good to be a very fascinating subject. Read the rest of this entry »

 
40 Comments

Posted by on 28/03/2015 in History

 

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