Glad Tidings (For Those Fed Up Of The News)

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I imagine most people are looking forward to some festive holidays of one kind or another. And probably looking forward to the end of this year as well; 2016’s been quite the curve ball, hasn’t it? I’m tempted to take it back and see if I can get a refund. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you are feeling as peaceful as this beautiful illustration by P. J. Lynch.

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One thing I wanted to share with you that gladdened my heart a few weeks ago was an article in the CAM magazine that comes to alumni of Cambridge University. There’s a modest, one-page piece by Professor Simon Goldhill right at the back that talks about the group of academics and policy makers from the Middle East whom he convenes three times a year for two intensive days of debate. These people cannot meet on their own territories for all kinds of political reasons. But they come to the neutral city of Cambridge to discuss basic, pragmatic issues like civic infrastructure over the entire region of the Middle East. This is an extract from the article:

The debates are riveting – and properly collaborative. A young female colleague who grew up in Jenin was holding forth about how the United Nations’ plan to widen the streets in the camp was seen as a plot to bring in tanks. Another participant interrupted: “You had better blame me, then,” he said, “I drew up those laws. But that wasn’t their idea…”. The Palestinian instead of holding forth had to speak to the actual person who wrote the regulations – and the regulator had to face the recipient of his rules on the ground. Both learned from the exchange. Both had to recalibrate. The hope is that slowly such exchanges will eventually produce material that will change other people’s minds, too.

I thought this was uplifting in so many different ways. An excellent idea, brilliantly executed, safe, sensible and progressive. We don’t hear enough about the people out there in the world working with intelligence and insight to solve the problems that seem so threatening.

And I thought it was timely to remember that the media would not consider this to be newsworthy. It isn’t an emotionally manipulative, sensationalized, negative, fear-inducing piece of propaganda. Because that’s all the news delivers. The media keeps us in a state of anxiety, craving the next terrible thing they can tell us, the thing that proves yet again that everyone in authority is stupid, ignoring all the obvious solutions that seem so obvious to us. That’s simply a perspective on reality that the media creates; it isn’t reality. How many people, I wonder, are out there involved in properly helpful initiatives, like the one above at Cambridge? How many people are quietly going about their important work, far from the spotlight, unbeknownst to us all?

Lots of people. Lots and lots of them. We’ll just never hear about them.

But I was very grateful to Simon Goldhill when I read about his work, so grateful for the hope that work like his brings. Isn’t it time we reconsidered what constitutes the news?

 

 

 

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New Shiny and News

Our Christmas Edition of Shiny New Books is live today! Do go on over and decide what you want to unwrap under the tree this year…

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The BookBuzz section is rather a special one for me, as it’s my last. It’s been an amazing three years in which I’ve had the chance to interview some lovely writers and experience a slice of the joy that other reviewers have had for years, receiving free books through the post! And it’s been a real delight to work with Annabel, Harriet and Simon. We’ve been such a great team and I will miss our group chats terribly. But it’s time for a big old revamp, something that has to happen regularly on the fickle internet if sites want to keep up their audience and stay tempting. Annabel and Harriet will make an announcement in the New Year about the New Look Shiny, while Simon and I are bowing out as editors. Though we will keep a hand in as Editors At Large, a title I’m enjoying immensely as it makes us sound wild and dangerous, which is not something that happens to me every day.

Undoubtedly my decision has been motivated to a great extent by the fate of my eyes. I went to see an eye specialist back in September and finally understood what was happening. I have recurrent marginal keratitis, and when I looked it up on the internet, the advice was to go to the vets – it’s more common in dogs than humans, apparently. Honestly, you’d think one of these days I’d suffer from something nice and noble. Basically, the rims of my corneas keep getting inflamed and this has been caused by two perfectly ordinary conditions – dry eyes and blepharitis – that have grown out of control. It’s not serious, thankfully, although my corneas have taken a fair bit of scarring, but it is extremely tenacious. I’m on four months of anti-inflammatories, and may require more.

It would have been nice if an optician, on one of my four visits to them over the course of this year, had mentioned either dry eyes or blepharitis. It might not have got so bad.

Anyhow, I think they are gradually improving, although it is slow. In a normal day now I can read for up to an hour, look at the computer for about 90 mins and watch an hour or so of telly without annoying them too much. But it’s been the kiss of death to blogging. I am still not comfortable with posting and then not visiting you all, and sometimes not managing to answer comments. It feels all wrong somehow. And I’m not reading enough books to make a decent show of reviewing. It is so funny how things happen. After a year of not reading, I wonder if I will ever go back to the lovely long hours I used to spend at it. I have listened to a LOT of audio books, and Mr Litlove has been very good about reading out loud to me. There are two things you should know about this: 1) he really enjoys it and 2) he is dyslexic. So it can be an intriguing and hallucinatory experience, listening to the myriad ways language can shift and change under his gaze. For instance, we are currently reading a book about the occasion when the painting, The Scream by Edvard Munch, was stolen from a Norwegian art gallery. ‘And the next chapter,’ says Mr Litlove, ‘is called: “Munich”.’ Then he pauses. ‘Oh, hang on a minute. The next chapter is called: “Munch”.’ Honestly, it’s delightful and an oddly creative experience, but I wonder how much of a book changes when he reads it to me.

You’ll all be glad to know that he is doing well, and making lots of furniture. He started a new upholstery class this autumn, a much better one than the first, which is full of lovely ladies and he is the only man. He loves it, and they love him. And nowadays he comes out with things like: ‘Please can we go and visit the haberdashery above the bike shop in Ely?’ Which is not a sentence I ever thought would pass my husband’s lips. Life is full of surprises.

The Extra Shiny!

It’s all go this week, isn’t it?

snb xmasYes, the Christmas Extra Shiny is upon us, with 30 additional reviews and articles. Also, the Book Club is discussing Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I’m about halfway through the book at the moment, and can see I’m going to need a lot explained to me, so I hope you’ll join us in our debate.

A quick mention of a couple of reviews I’ve written. First, the properly extraordinary story behind the creation of comic book heroine, Wonder Woman written by Jill Lepore. Secondly, the collected shortlist for the Notting Hill Editions biennial essay prize, which were just stupendously good.

Do go over and have a look at all the new reviews – hopefully we can give you some ideas for all those tricky festive gifts.

 

 

 

Two Go To Greece

Much earlier in the summer, Mr Litlove and our son decided they would like to have a boys’ bonding holiday together. They toyed with the idea of doing a patisserie course in France, and then our son said he really wanted to go somewhere they’d never been before. With me in the mix up until now, that left the rest of the world pretty much open. And so they decided they would go to Greece and travel round the classical civilisation sites.

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Once they’d booked their flights, Greece made headline news every day with its financial problems. Weeks went by when the banking system failed, and threats were made about the country’s ‘Grexit’ from the EU. Angela Merkel wasn’t happy, and facebook was full of pictures of Greek ministers signing off German debt after World War Two. A referendum took place on July 5th and I’m not even sure now whether it mattered. ‘It’ll all be fine come September,’ said Mr Litlove optimistically, and what’s really odd is that this summer has flown by, but June and July do seem a long, long time ago. I don’t doubt the financial crisis rumbles on, but my menfolk fly out on Wednesday and it’s been a while since I’ve seen an article on Yahoo about Greece (which shamefully passes as my news feed). I believe cash is once more flowing from the ATMs which was the only real worry for the tourist earlier in the year, when I was wondering if I’d have to sew euros into the hems of their t-shirts or something.

I’m still mildly concerned about seeing the pair of them fly off together. They went through a bad patch about fifteen years ago when I could never send them off on an outing together without one of them returning in tears. ‘Oh come on,’ Mr Litlove protested. ‘That was only Christmas trees.’ Indeed, it was one of our traditions for a while that Mr Litlove should call me from the windswept fields of the farm shop to the north of our village with the sound of our son’s wails buffeting around in the background. I seem to remember shoe shopping didn’t go much better, but if they can steer clear of buying shoes or Christmas trees in Greece, they can at least avoid the old triggers.

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I have also warned them that when it’s just the two of them, one of them is going to have to listen. On a driving tour, I think there may be quite a few conversations along these lines:

Son: What are we doing here?

Father: This is where we agreed to go next.

Son: I don’t remember agreeing.

Though that makes me feel quite glad to be staying home. Nor will I have to find missing items for either of them. It’s been an interesting weekend in that respect, as Mr Litlove discovered on Saturday that he’d misplaced both his passport and his driving licence. This did not make him happy. The passport turned up quite quickly, but the driving licence is still in the Domestic Bermuda Triangle. He has applied for another, and has some sort of substitute form with all his licence details on it. I don’t suppose anyone else has been in this situation, have they? Of needing to hire a car when their licence has gone missing? Mind you, if they have to take public transport, it’s not such a disaster, as I have vivid memories of a holiday in Corsica with Mr Litlove many, many years ago, when he would drive along enthusiastically pointing out houses with swimming pools, five hundred feet below in the valley.

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I have picked out their holiday reading, though, and am putting together their first aid kit, travel essentials I think they may have gone without otherwise. And I’m rather tempted to dig out a once-famous photo of the two of them in the bath when our son was about 6 months old, and suggest they recreate it – though in the sea, as I don’t think a bath is appropriate any more. And I’m not sure what kind of a bath they’d need to accommodate two 6’4” men. Nope, really don’t want to think about that!

They’re both looking forward to it hugely, and Mr Litlove can barely contain his excitement having spent the weekend on the internet researching places they can visit, and enormous meals they might eat.

And what will I be doing while they are away? Oh a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. I have friends to see and catch-up chats on the phone, and with a bit of luck, I might get to hear my friend and co-ed at Shiny, our lovely Simon, give a paper on Elizabeth von Armin at the weekend. Wouldn’t that be fab? And I might just try and project a maternal ring of protection in the general direction of Greece, you know, just in case.