Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Short Reading

I resolved when I started this blog that I would try and review every book I read, which I've done, apart from the ones I don't finish, and I can't review an unfinished book. There aren't many of those anyway. But what I've never written about is the other bits of reading that I squeeze into spare minutes, at work, whilst tea's cooking etc, etc. These are usually short stories and the occasional essay. So I thought I might start to post brief reviews of some of these things, just as a bit of a a change. Oh and newspaper or magazine articles, but I'll only post about those if they're really interesting!

Death by Scrabble by Charlie Fish
This is a really short story about a man playing scrabble with is wife who starts to realise that the words he spells out on the board seem to be manifesting themselves in the real world. He tries to test this theory with devastating consequences, especially as it appears he is not the only person to have recognised this phenomenon. I can't say much more without re-telling the whole story, but it's a really interesting idea, and I think it might come into my head the next time I play scrabble (not that I do very often).

The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant
This one is definitely a more classical short story, with a twist at the end. A woman of little social standing marries and becomes discontented with her life because she does not have all the nice things and finery's of life that she feels she deserves. She is not in poverty by any means, but she just wants a better, richer life. Her husband secures a ticket for a well to do social occasion, but instead of being pleased, she is disgusted as she will have nothing to wear. After wheedling money out of her husband, she procures a dress, and borrows jewellery from a friend. But the jewellery goes missing, and her life takes a turn for the worst, as the couple put themselves into debt and poverty to replace the necklace, all revealed to be totally unnecessary at the climax of the story.

For a short story, there's a lot going on here.It's full of social criticism, and moral outrage almost! Criticism of the constant need to be bettering yourself, even if it means stretching yourself too far, is inherent through this story. The woman can not be happy with the simple pleasures of life and always wants more. Stretching yourself can lead to disastrous consequences and leave you in a worse situation than you were in in the first place. Although written in the 1800's, that message could still be taken heed of today! It could also be read as a criticism of a materialistic society, as the woman is noticed by everyone in her new dress and borrowed jewellery in a way she is not, or feels she is not, in her everyday clothes. Whether this is a criticism of society itself, or individual perceptions of what makes a person worthwhile, I'm not sure. I suppose it could be read either way. And the twist at the end, which I haven't actually revealed, would imply that things should never be taken at face value, beauty is not always about expensive, material things. On a simplistic level, it could also be read as honesty being the best policy.

Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell
I'm only going to mention this briefly because I'm working on a full post based on this. It's an essay written by George Orwell in response to the idea that the ordinary man doesn't buy books because they are too expensive. He basically refutes this idea, but does it in a very detailed way by adding up the total cost of all the books he owns, whether new or second hand, and comparing them to the cost of his tobacco, beer or cinema trips. Comparing prices, an average quantities, he concludes that buying books is no more expensive than keeping up a smoking habit.Taking into account the time spent reading a book, and the time spent at a cinema he comes to the conclusion that he spends no more on books than on other forms of entertainment.

I was really interested in this, and it was really well written. The point he made was clear and concise. The only difficulty I had was that I struggled to understand the values he assigned to things, being written in the 1940's and therefore in imperial money. So I thought I'd use his essay and formula as a base and do it for my expenditure and see how it all adds up. I'm working on that, so I'll post it when it's done.

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