Bedside Book Stack

Every book-lover knows the ‘skint-in-seconds’ effect of entering and exploring a book store. Inevitably one spends more than one intends, because BOOKS. Do you need a justification? My grandfather, a fellow book-lover, would say “buying books is never a waste of money”, and I believe that too. You don’t just buy pages bound together, you get a story, a film to watch in your head, ideas to explore and ideas that challenge you and your world-view and so many more things that are too numerous to list here.

What’s currently stacked on my table?

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning & Importance of Fairytales by Bruno Bettelheim. 

I’ve always loved mythology, folklore and fairy tales. The first story I read independently was The Three Wishes, and as a child my collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales was one of my favourite books (The darker original Little Mermaid. The Tinderbox).  That is how I came to take a course via FutureLearn on Andersen’s fairy tales, and was recommended this book as a follow-up read to the course.

51-9cfon7XL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I was interested to begin with but have shelved it for now. The book has a very psychodynamic/ Freudian take on fairy tales, which is interesting to read and also shouldn’t be surprising given that Bettelheim was a psychoanalyst/ Freudian practitioner. What put me off the book was the subsequent discovery that much of it is actually plagiarised from another writer; that Bettelheim was a fraud/ had no official credentials or training in psychology; and that Bettelheim was abusive towards children put in his care.

If one were to purely consider the text, with no reference to Bettelheim and his scandals, it makes for interesting material. Not all of it is convincing, as Freudian interpretations tend to be rather ‘out there’.

The Art of the First Session by Robert Taibbi

41FY35c0I8L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_A bit of CPD in my own time. Its never too late to keep improving and evolving in one’s professional practice, especially if one works as a clinical psychologist, counsellor, student/guidance/academic counsellor, psychotherapist, psychological first aid worker etc. And this is the book that will help you do just that. There are very, very few books that actually tell you HOW to do therapy or WHAT to do precisely in a session. This book tells you the how, the why and the what. It is a wonderful resource both for beginners in the field and for more experienced practitioners. I’ve found that its contributed significantly to how I manage sessions professionally, and its helped me feel more effective and more empowered in my capacity as a helping professional. Highly recommended.

Devices & Desires by P.D James

81RL4Yn88GLP.D. James is always a great read. The only book of her’s that I did not enjoy is ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, but then I’ve never been a fan of Pride & Prejudice.

I have yet to start this one. I am however looking forward to it as its one of the Adam Dalgliesh books, which are generally good.

Also by P.D. James, and thoroughly suspenseful reading for mystery/detective fiction buffs: Cover Her Face, The Murder Room, The Private Patient, Original Sin

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I’ve only just started reading this – about 100 (or so) pages in – and

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I love it! I hope to finish it and then review it for this blog.

In the meantime, I will just say that it is a dreamy fantasy.

Do read it, if you haven’t, if you enjoy fantasy.

She-Wolf of London (1990 – 91) – Impressions from Episode One

***NOTE: May contain spoilers for an obscure, early 90s television series***

SheWolfLondonYou know when you’ve finished a television series and you need something to fill that void in your life so you take to late night YouTube searches for a replacement? (Readers, do not judge me too harshly – we’ve all been there) That is how I came to discover ‘The She-Wolf of London”, a series from the early 90s. Having completed five series of Dharma and Greg (love, love, love the show – but the finale could’ve been better; seemed to backtrack on a lot of character development), and experiencing show withdrawals, I turned to YouTube and discovered this ‘interesting specimen’, shall we say?

8ca1b5cfcd4317267101be5207e7e4bbThe plot: A young, pretty American student (Randi) travels to London to study under an English professor (Ian) of mythology and the occult. Just as her English adventure begins, she encounters a werewolf on the moors. Fortunately, she survives the attack, but now bitten by the creature, she transforms into a ‘she-wolf’ at the full-moon. Randi and Ian work together to search for a cure for her lycanthropy, and along the way continue to investigate other supernatural phenomena and other beings. And naturally, along the way, love blossoms between the two.

Mirrorpix(Side Note: The mutual fascination that exists between the British and the Americans has doubtless been around for centuries – there is much evidence of it in literature, but even more proof of it is found in film and television. However, this ‘fascination’ often presents itself in the use of hackneyed tropes – the Americans usually resort to the ‘bumbling Englishman’; ‘stiff upper lip’; everyone speaking with a posh accent, and living in huge mansions in the UK, everyone being practically related to the Queen; the British tend towards the ‘genial but dumb’ American, the ‘overly loud and socially gauche’ Yank. We’ll be covering some of these stereotypes with regards to this show too. Shockingly, British people do not generally dress or talk like they’ve all just stumbled off the set of ‘Jeeves & Wooster’).

Impressions:

Opening Scene – Moonlight, a creature racing through overgrown grass, Gypsies on the moors fleeing an unnamed (and unseen) beast… way to set the mood. At this point, I find my interest pleasantly piqued.

hqdefaultWhat does the theme music/ intro that follows want to tell us? Laden with recurrent images of: *cue dramatic voice ala honest trailers* …clocks… Howling female silhouette against Big Ben’s clock face – more clocks. Close ups of EYES. Artistically falling Tarot cards. Eerie owls. The Moon. More clocks. The Moon merging into a… (you guessed it, didn’t you?) CLOCK! Well clearly, time is an important theme, and obviously the moon and the clock are symbols for the full moon, the time of the month that is most significant in lycanthropic lore. The tarot cards and owls, one supposes, are there as signifiers of the occult. For its day, this intro probably was more effective than it seems now. Watching it, I found it to be more funny than gothic and atmospheric, the latter being what was originally intended, I presume. You can see it for yourself here.

imagesWe now find ourselves watching an aeroplane in the night sky. The camera shifts to the interior of the plane, where we focus in on another stereotype – the pretty, and super smart female student, Randi. Didn’t get that she’s a student? Or that she’s obviously very clever? SHE’S WEARING GLASSES. AND SHE’S READING A BOOK. Clarification for the uninitiated: This is an ancient method of making female characters on screen seem more intellectual. You can’t be intelligent without glasses and a handy book to pose with or flash around.  (Dorky & Cute Female Character Trope: CHECK)

DSC02159.jpgRandi and the air hostess have a conversation. Ah, the good old stereotypes at play again! Devilled kidneys for breakfast – apparently the only thing served by the airline. I wonder whether anyone has ever actually been served devilled kidneys for breakfast on an aeroplane. (Disgusting British Food Stereotype: CHECK)

c-1509276673-1004868750We now see Randi on her way to her first class with Prof. Ian, passing through breezy medieval castle-looking hallways. Not all British universities look like castles (You mean not all schools/universities look like Hogwarts? My life has been a LIE!) – especially not in central London; other than the King’s College London Maughan Library, where some scenes of Harry Potter were shot. (All-of-Britain-is-wild-moors-and-castles Stereotype: CHECK)

Flirty glances between the Prof and Randi – obviously there is a love story that will unfold. (Love At First Sight Trope: CHECK)

teacher1990Also, a note on the fashion. Very late 80s/ early 90s, but Ian’s wardrobe (ugh, that bow tie!) seems even more dated. Are the English meant to be living in a time capsule, immune to the emerging dressing styles of the rest of the world? I understand that Ian is meant to be a university professor, but honestly, even university faculty members would know how to dress – you can be formally dressed without looking like you’ve stepped out of a time machine from  two decades earlier.

The Prof rides a bicycle – this would’ve seemed more in place were the story set in Oxford or Cambridge (the castle like university building may also have made more sense).

Randi and the Prof get a chance to talk after class. I am certain that the character was named Randi, just so that the writers could have Ian explain the British (slang) usage of the word, which is less than flattering. Possibly this was meant to heighten the ‘sexual tension’ between the two characters. More awkward than cute/funny. (Language Differences Used for Humour/ Embarrassment: CHECK).

(Side Note: 5 Tropes in the first 6 minutes)

‘Motivational Psychogenic Analysis’ of myths and folk legends – Randi’s proposed Master’s thesis. I’d love to read it, if it existed.

FAST FORWARD
– Randi is (inevitably) having problems with her student accommodation, Prof offers her accommodation at his parents’ B&B (Yes, seriously).

– Randi mentions at dinner that she’s planning to go ‘ghost-hunting’ on the moors; everyone warns her that its dangerous (foreshadowing).

– Prof’s family seem like eccentric weirdos. I’m surprised Randi would be willing to stay with them.

– Randi camps out on the moors. Attacked by a mysterious beast. The next thing we see are hospital lights, and Randi regains consciousness to discover she’s at hospital and the Prof has been summoned. She is agitated and insists that she wasn’t attacked by any ordinary wolf, but that the beast was a supernatural entity. Prof brings her back to London, his family is very concerned for her.

– Late one night on campus, the animals in the lab (? or pound?) are unusually agitated by Randi’s presence. Ian hears strange sounds and goes to investigate. He discovers that all the cages are empty, their wiring torn. A huge beast chases him around the library. Whilst hiding, he recalls Randi mentioning being bitten by a beast. The police come to investigate the next morning.

– The next morning, Randi takes a shower in the men’s locker room. Annoying boys make immature jokes. Ian and Randi meet up, and Ian voices his suspicion that she’s been infected by a werewolf. Randi seems resistant to the idea at first, but then agrees to work with him to find a cure.

– Randi and Ian return to the moors. Randi shows Ian her drawings. She finds a ring in the ground. They drive to a gypsy caravan where she finds and identifies her werewolf attacker in his human form. A chase ensues, the attacker’s car crashes and he presumably dies. Randi and Ian are safe and drive back to London, where Randi is seen hungrily downing her dinner

– End of Episode 1

This first episode, although very clearly dated now and oft-times seemingly silly, has managed to secure my interest. I do think I will watch further episodes, if only to judge the show better.

Lesson: Late night YouTube binges aren’t always entirely useless.

Love & Human Remains (1993) – Review/Reaction

WHAT DID I JUST WATCH?!?  

large_Aq5RgnkiDUkXyp4HWckPOBxaUcJ.jpgThis film is a confused mess (euphemistically one might call it a “unique” film) of all its weird plot developments and occurrences; yet once you’ve started watching it, you don’t find yourself switching it off or stopping – somehow, despite its uncertainty and miss-mashed-ness, it manages to draw you in (at least for the duration of the film) and you’re curious to know how it ends.

The Plot: Against the backdrop of a serial killer on the loose, stalking and killing women in Toronto, we are presented with a set of unusual protagonists, their bizarre (or perhaps ‘edgy’) lifestyles and their (equally bizarre) doings/decisions.The film is based on a play by Brad Fraser, ‘Unidentified Human Remains & the True Nature of Love’. Never having seen (or read) the play, I cannot compare it to the film, and I cannot say whether the play is better – I do however suspect that it might be.

For most of the film, the serial killer plotline does not really intersect with the protagonists’ lives; it runs parallel but the viewers are unable to make a meaningful connection – its almost as though the two storylines could be from separate films.

Our motley crew of colourful protagonists is perhaps the strongest element of the film. The characters are interesting, if unusual. Nearly all the protagonists are alienated in some way; alienated from mainstream society, alienated from those around them or even alienated from themselves. Further exploration of the characters and their interpersonal relationships would have made for a better film.

The Characters:

  • David: a former television actor, currently working as a waiter. Presents a cynically bemused self to the world – sardonic, superior, nonchalant; previously in a relationship with Candy, his current roommate, which ended when he discovered he was gay.
  • Candy: David’s roommate and former girlfriend. Decidedly unlucky in love (in heterosexual relationships), she decides to experiment, and finds herself in rather a tangle
  • Benita: David’s best friend, a psychic and a sex worker specialising in urban legend informed S & M scenarios. She and David share a close friendship, and she is one of the few people that David is actually shown to care for quite deeply.
  • Kane: A young busboy, infatuated with David, and uncertain about his own sexuality.

David, the central character, embodies the trope of cynicism as a defence against vulnerability. He is nonetheless a fascinating character; as is Benita. Candy, on the other hand, is more irritating than interesting. All the characters are extremely immature and tend towards narcissism and self-absorption – Candy especially so. The roles are certainly well acted and well cast – (fan-girling here, but) young Thomas Gibson is a thing of beauty (to quote Keats) and the film is worth watching just to see him more than deliver in this role.

This film could’ve been a compelling commentary on disaffected young adults, alienation, the struggle for meaning etc, but it falls short of that and is instead really, really weird.

I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories – Book Review

How can anyone resist a book with such a poetic title?

fitz-1Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is truly one of the greatest writers, in my opinion. Although most of my reading, by chance, fate or circumstance, has been mainly the work of British writers, Fitzgerald is the one American writer I adore and esteem above most others. Fitzgerald writes with such beauty and such genuineness that for readers his stories are memorable, impactful, moving, fun or poignant (depending on what is intended), and for writers his work is a masterclass in writing.

This particular collection of short stories is a compilation of Fitzgerald’s lesser known works, many of which were assumed to have been lost but have been wonderfully put together for this book.

But the added bonus – the true joy for Fitzgerald fans – is how the stories are prefaced with short introductions and facsimiles of Fitzgerald’s letters (in his own handwriting!); copies of his own handwritten/typed and edited original drafts; and photographs of Fitzgerald, with family or friends. This book is an immersive experience and one not to be missed.maxresdefault

Short stories in this collection:

  • The I.O.U: A hilarious and enjoyable comedy about truth in writing, conning, and a harassed publisher
  • Nightmare/ Fantasy in Black: One of my favourites from this collection. A dark comedy, centred on curious happenings at an asylum.
  • What To Do About It: A doctor’s day of adventure.
  • Gracie at Sea: A cute and funny romance.
  • Travel Together: Two people travelling together share interesting experiences, another good light-hearted comedy
  • I’d Die For You (The Legend of Lake Lure): The titular story of this anthology; darker themes and interesting psychological insights to human nature – typical Fitzgerald, in the best sense of the term
  • Day Off from Love: Focused on a female protagonist, with a nearing wedding, who has an agreement with her fiancé to take a day off from each other every week. On one such day, she meetings an intriguing stranger and their interaction reveals more about the protagonist.
  • Cyclone in Silent Land:
  • The Pearl & The Fur: A short story focusing on younger protagonists – teenagers – and their escapades in a big city.
  • Thumbs Up: A variation of a story eventually known as ‘The End of Hate’ set in the civil war.
  • Dentist Appointment: Another variation of a story eventually known as ‘The End of Hate’ set in the civil war. Different to Fitzgerald’s usual stuff, but good nonetheless.
  • Offside Play: Football plays a part in this story
  • The Women in the House: A pre-revision version of the story later known as ‘Temperature’; a medical story about a patient with heart trouble
  • Salute to Lucy & Elsie: A well-intentioned but interfering father faces the consequences of his meddling
  • Love is a Pain: A meeting between two university students
  • The Couple: A story focusing on on themes of divorce and despair.
  • Ballet Shoes (Ballet Slippers): A brief piece intended as a proposal for a film
  • Thank You for the Light

As always, Fitzgerald’s best stories are about people interacting with one another – a friends, strangers, family members, couples, doctors and patients, publisher and writer, companions etc – in ways that wither reveal insights to the characters or that help the characters develop self awareness,  or learn something new or that set things in motion for new exploits and escapades.

This collection is perfect for seasoned readers of Fitzgerald, and for new readers. It contains a variety of stories with different themes and different writing styles, so that readers can truly appreciate Fitzgerald’s range and command of writing.

Highly recommended.