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Fine Night In

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…because if one doesn’t make you philosophise, the other will.

 
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Posted by on 14/12/2016 in Philosophy

 

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Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam

ordinancesurveyIn an unnamed English town, Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumours abound in the close-knit Pakistani community and then, on a snow-covered January morning, Chanda’s brothers are arrested for murder. Telling the story of the next twelve months, Maps for Lost Lovers opens the heart of a family at the crossroads of culture, community, nationality and religion.

Wrapped in some gorgeous prose, Maps for Lost lovers demands discussion.  It’s a daring book, one that attempts to make Muslims as well as migrants in general more human than they are often portrayed by the media.  Not only does Aslam tackle the unpalatable parts of Islam but also shows a community’s response to an all too real tragedy.

The central theme of the book is the disgusting practise of so-called ‘honour killings’ and how they impact on a close knit group, yet there is so much more to this melancholy story, exploring love, desperation, loneliness, seclusion and loss in everyday life, far from their homeland and extended family.

The meeting of modern thinking against the traditional, all to the backdrop of an alien cultural experience is; for both the characters and for readers thought-provoking.  Such ideas in close proximity should be brought to the fore and as the world is getting smaller and the time for debate and understanding of each other is immediate.

The chosen isolation of some Muslim groups is troubling, insularity leads to misunderstanding, fear and control over the uneducated.  The characters motivations for coming to England are explored and with well-rounded personalities with plenty of depth, even the least likeable of the main players have their moments.  Each is seen showing doubt over aspects of their beliefs (be they religious or ethical), especially those which are blatantly biased in favour of men and relegate women to being merely property.

The unease felt by the immigrants and their defensiveness and willingness to see the bad in their neighbouring cultures is a neat mirror imaging of the local inhabitants of the northern town they reside in. The closely isolated society is as racist as the local whites people can be, in a neat balancing act this is shown by the woman whose son feels he can walk to the mosque alone so she phones up all the people she knows on the way to keep an eye on him because ‘every day you hear about depraved white men doing unspeakable things to little children’.  Yet a similar fate awaits many young girls as an accepted part of their own belief system. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 21/09/2016 in Fiction, Philosophy, Politics

 

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Arguably – Christopher Hitchens

AnotherHitchSlapChristopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices.

Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensable companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.

The joys of learning about scintillating new books, of stories both fact and fiction is tempered by the sheer amount and scope of the eclectic selection already on offer.  The never-ending list of books I need to read has grown by around fifty books since reading this tome but on the other hand I will never be short of a quality read..

It turns out, if this book is anything to go by, that I am distinctly under read, despite my best efforts to the contrary.  I shall not let that soul-destroying revelation ruin my enjoyment of what is a magnificent set of essays, that should be required reading for all those who love to learn and think for themselves.

The finite amount of time that the reader has to tackle such a broad base of literature is at best daunting and at worst obscenely short.  As one who rushes from one to the other in a futile battle to read and process them all; whilst simultaneously collecting even more avenues of enquiry, it occurs that all I can do is horde these treasures (read and unread) to one day pass on to another enquiring mind who will appreciate them.

In these days of ignorant and woefully ill-informed internet commentors and the prevalence of lazy journalism, it is refreshing to not only be able to read a literate and educated voice but also one that knows no fear in not only arguing but backing up said points with actual facts and a clarity that is most welcome.  Being critical is a right afforded to citizens in  many (not enough) countries and it should be used in debate to better ourselves, Hitchens was one man who never shied from giving his opinion and we should be thankful for his body of work. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/08/2016 in Essays, History, Journalism, Philosophy, Politics

 

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Penguin Great Ideas

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives – and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.

WP_20160612_001It turns out I have managed to acquire seven of the one hundred great ideas that Penguin is selling at the cheap price of £4.99 without once realising their connection.  Two things strike me as faintly absurd, firstly that I would own seven books in a set but owing to the vast distance between the corners of my amassed collection and a poor memory, that I wouldn’t have made the connection earlier.

Secondly the price which is a steal, it enables people to pick up a bite sized portion of a new author to see what all the fuss is about and it also brings the reader loads of fascinating essays at a ridiculously decent price as well.  Who would not wish to dabble in such studies that have changed the way we view the world and in a good few instances how we actually live.

From tumultuous periods of history to thoughtful essays, the books empower the mind and allow us to read the key thoughts that defined past generations.  These are of course extracts from other books so why pick these up when you can pick these plus more in a book?  Well partly it is the need to know what texts these authors are famous for and also to gauge whose style I get on with so I can chart my reading to take the path of least resistance. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 12/06/2016 in Classics, Essays, Philosophy, Politics, Science

 

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Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks – Friedrich Nietzsche

Not TragicFor Nietzsche the Age of Greek Tragedy was indeed a tragic age. He saw in it the rise and climax of values so dear to him that their subsequent drop into catastrophe (in the person of Socrates – Plato) was clearly foreshadowed as though these were events taking place in the theater. And so in this work, unpublished in his own day but written at the same time that his The Birth of Tragedy had so outraged the German professorate as to imperil his own academic career, his most deeply felt task was one of education. He wanted to present the culture of the Greeks as a paradigm to his young German contemporaries who might thus be persuaded to work toward a state of culture of their own; a state where Nietzsche found sorely missing.

Stumbling across a second-hand book in pristine condition is always pleasing but it’s an added bonus when said book is a work I had not previous come heard of.  It seems that philosophy books are generally  kept in decent nick compared to other genres which I find interesting, I wonder if there is a book on the subject…

This unfinished work, written in the 1870’s which Nietzsche planned to complete but moved onto other projects, wasn’t published in his lifetime but was and is intended to show the early Greek philosophers and the culture they helped create as a paradigm.  The metaphysical ideas and their belief in empiricism was key to the great leaps these thinkers made and the influence they had on later theorists.

The pre-Platonic philosophers began to diverge from the belief in myths of the Gods and look at the world in a logical manner based on experience and analytical thinking which was the beginning of Western philosophy.  The five philosophers explored here are Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides and Anaxagoras and each has a few of their key concepts and analysis of existence discussed.  The hunting for rational explanations with which to better understand and quantify the order of nature and its patterns are the essential postulations with which later thinkers would build the ideas that have fashioned the basis of which much of modern thought. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/04/2016 in Philosophy

 

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The Social Contract – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Amazon‘Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains’

These are the famous opening words of a treatise which, from the French Revolutionary Terror of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, has been interpreted as a blueprint for totalitarianism.  But in The Social Contract Rousseau (1712-78) was at pains to stress the connection between liberty and law, freedom and justice.  Arguing that the ruler is the people’s agent, not its master, he claimed that laws derived from the people’s General Will.  Yet in preaching subservience to the impersonal state he came close to defining freedom as the recognition of necessity.

I’m no expert but from previous brief sojourns into the world of social political writing –  in the form of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke – Rousseau diverges from both of his English counterparts on the subject with his own model on the titular social contract.

As a classic work of political philosophy that still has merit for the reader today, I found this treatise to be a fascinating and complex work, both making a lot of sense but also coming across with a lot of naivety as well, perhaps the latter is due to hindsight or just that now we have a better understanding of global history.

Unsurprisingly for a French writer, this is a book based squarely in the corner of Republicanism and what the ideal state would be like with the freedom for all within a social and legislative structure.  The collectivism of the general will above the individual needs and desires would see every person participate in chosen law and civic organisation which would ultimately make them free. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 12/01/2016 in Classics, History, Philosophy, Politics

 

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New Year of Positive Cheer

Happy New Year one and all, I hope you all had an enjoyable eve of it.

Unlike other years, I’ve refused to look at the end of year stats round-up that WP kindly provides, partly because I don’t want this post to become a vehicle of a self-critical nature and partly because although I feel my standard of writing has been raised, my overall post total is down on last year and as a result so are my page views.  I know it isn’t all about views but there is a certain manic joy at exceeding x number of visitors and views and I do like to think that this year I will stop those diminishing returns and become better at blogging.

To avoid self flagellating too much, I have decided to become more focussed when on the laptop and write posts in two hours or less, that way I can devote more time to reading other blogs, although when I do that, it takes me on average around four hours to get around all my usual haunts.  Saving time with that will mean more quality reading can be done for writing content and that is my round about way of justifying an excuse for spending the morning of New Year’s Eve scouring bookshops for more fascinating stories and ideas.

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I managed to find a blend of new and second-hand books, balancing an atheist with a theologian as well as mixing up the different cultures, prize winners and genres which will hopefully interest you.  Previously I have attempted to turn back to my book roots only to be distracted by other things but this time I am hoping the wind will blow back more towards the books with other posts to break them up rather than – as has been of late – the other way around.

My current read is none of these by the way but as I still have hundreds of books to review, I will keep you guessing over what the next one will be, a clue of which is it doesn’t include ducks…at all.

 
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Posted by on 02/01/2016 in Blogging, Classics, Fiction, Philosophy

 

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