I enjoyed this. Ronson writes well, as usual. I thought it was interesting that he largely focussed on people who had in fact done something wrong, i.I enjoyed this. Ronson writes well, as usual. I thought it was interesting that he largely focussed on people who had in fact done something wrong, i.e. it’s not a book about ‘simple’ internet abuse of the gamergate type. it’s not hard to argue in each case that maybe the people deserved *something* — some kind of backlash — but he persuasively argues that being the target of an internet firestorm is a much more severe punishment then people looking in can easily appreciate.
Having seen some negative responses to the extracts that were published in the NY Times and the Guardian, I’d just add that the book is more nuanced and messier (in a good way) than even long extracts might suggest....more
Short stories set in Bombay in the 30s and 40s, which mainly seem to be about prostitutes and their various male customers. These didn’t quite click fShort stories set in Bombay in the 30s and 40s, which mainly seem to be about prostitutes and their various male customers. These didn’t quite click for me; apart from anything else I was sometimes unconvinced by his ability to put himself in the shoes of his female characters. Apparently Manto is better known for his stories about Partition; perhaps those would have been a better place to start....more
This is an interesting one: a piece of oral poetry, transcribed from a performance by a griot, Nouhou Malio, in Niger. To quote the introduction:
The EThis is an interesting one: a piece of oral poetry, transcribed from a performance by a griot, Nouhou Malio, in Niger. To quote the introduction:
The Epic of Askia Mohammed recounts the life of the most famous ruler of the Songhay empire, a man who reigned in Gao, an old city in present-day eastern Mali, from 1493 to 1528.
Although to be strictly accurate, it recounts the life of Askia Mohammed and some of his descendants. I was interested to learn that the events were recorded in contemporary written chronicles, so we have some sense of how the stories have changed over the centuries: the genealogies have been compressed a bit, and some historical events seem to have been conflated, but the people and events are clearly identifiable.
The subject matter fits comfortably into what you might expect of epic poetry: kings, conquest, revenge, wrangling over succession. But of course it also has cultural specifics; for example, Askia Mohammed is remembered for spreading Islam in West Africa, and one of his notable achievements was a pilgrimage to Mecca. Similarly, some of the second half of the poem is the story of Amar Zoumbani, one of Askia Mohammed’s descendants, and his ambivalent social position as the son of a king and a slave woman.
It’s enjoyable as a story — if you skip over some genealogies of the Bob begat Fred begat Kevin variety — but it doesn’t seem particularly remarkable as a piece of literature. It seems to be fairly plain, direct storytelling; there’s some interesting use of repetition for emphasis, but otherwise the way the language is used seems straightforward; with the inevitable caveat that some amount has been lost in translation. Most notably, the original switched occasionally from Songhay to a version of Soninké used as an ‘occult language’ by Songhay griots, healers and sorcerers, a language which is apparently sufficiently obscure that many lines are just marked as ‘undecipherable’. There’s also some suggestion in the introduction that Malio switched between dialects of Songhay, though I may be misunderstanding; what effect any of this code-switching might have is left unclear.
I kind of feel I should be drawing comparisons with other oral/epic poetry: Greek, Haida, Norse, or Anglo-Saxon, which is the only one I’ve actually studied. But nothing insightful is coming to mind, tbh.
Anyway. The Epic of Askia Mohammed is my book from Niger for the Read The World challenge. ...more
This is a properly remarkable book. It is, as the subtitle explains, ‘The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea’.This is a properly remarkable book. It is, as the subtitle explains, ‘The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea’. Lady Hyegyŏng* was married into the royal family; she married Sado, the Crown Prince, when they were both nine years old. Sado never became king — he was executed in 1762 at the age of 27 — but their son inherited the throne as King Chŏngjo. Remarkably, Hyegyŏng outlived him as well, and three of these four ‘memoirs’ were written after 1800, during the reign of her grandson King Sunjo.
So she had a long and eventful life, and it makes for fascinating reading. It’s sometimes a little difficult keeping track of who’s who: there’s a large cast of characters, the court intrigues are confusing, and the family relationships are complicated by the fact that the kings and princes have children by multiple women; some wives, some consorts. And because I’m unused to Korean names they all sound a bit the same to me. But it has a list of characters and some family trees, which helped.
The other complication is that these are four separate memoirs which overlap with each other. So the first (‘The Memoir of 1795’) is closest to the modern idea of a memoir, starting with her childhood and covering most of her life, but it carefully avoids any details about the single most important event: the execution of Prince Sado. The execution of the crown Prince by his father is so politically charged that she only alludes to it in the vaguest terms. Then the memoirs of 1801 and 1802 are more directly political; public advocacy aimed at defending the reputation of her father and brothers, who had fallen out favour after the death of Chŏngjo. And in the Memoir of 1805, she finally returns to the story of Sado, explaining that 40 years of silence has allowed false versions of events to take hold, and she believes it is important to tell what really happened.
And the story of Prince Sado is extraordinary. I don’t want to give all the details; I’m sure I enjoyed this book more because I was surprised and shocked by it. But the central fact of his execution is this: he was suffering from some kind of mental illness, and it progressed to the point that he was thought to be a credible threat to the life of the king. But because he was royal, custom forbade any method of execution that would disfigure the body, and poison would have implied he was a criminal; so he was shut into a rice chest and left to starve to death.
As you might imagine, this event traumatised the entire royal family in various ways; hence it being taboo to talk about it for four decades after it happened.
But although it was an extreme example, it also gives a hint of the brutality of court life. There are an awful lot of people who get banished to remote islands, or tortured or executed; usually for saying something which is perceived to be disloyal. That ‘disloyalty’, at least at this cultural distance, often seems to be based on terrifyingly slight nuances of speech.
So I found it fascinating as a portrayal of a time and place, and the whole story is positively Shakespearean.† But it is also much more readable than you might expect. If you skipped the two middle memoirs it would be a positive page-turner; not that they aren’t interesting, but they are harder work.
The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng is my book from South Korea for the ...more
I’ve only read the odd bit of Sharon Olds before, and I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy reading a whole book of hers. I did enjoy it.
There’s somethI’ve only read the odd bit of Sharon Olds before, and I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy reading a whole book of hers. I did enjoy it.
There’s something interesting in the way a whole book of poems about a woman dealing with the end of her marriage seems quite different to a novel doing the same thing. But I haven’t really thought it through yet....more
This was pretty good. I liked it more at the beginning when I didn’t know what was going on and everything was a bit mysterious; as more details wereThis was pretty good. I liked it more at the beginning when I didn’t know what was going on and everything was a bit mysterious; as more details were revealed, and the world of the novel got the more fleshed-out, I lost interest a bit....more
There was a lot about these poems which I found sympathetic, like the wildlife/environmental themes, but something about Kinsella’s stylistic quirks mThere was a lot about these poems which I found sympathetic, like the wildlife/environmental themes, but something about Kinsella’s stylistic quirks made it a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not quite sure what it is… something about the way he uses sentence fragments and run-on sentences? Anyway, there were poems I liked but overall it just didn’t chime for me....more
Seems like a great idea for a book, but not as entertaining as I hoped it would be, really. I would have preferred the extracts ordered semi-randomly,Seems like a great idea for a book, but not as entertaining as I hoped it would be, really. I would have preferred the extracts ordered semi-randomly, instead of by subject, to give more of a lucky dip feel. Chronologically perhaps. But maybe the real problem is the very dry tone of Victorian journalism. ...more