Jamie’s Digest (2): Cool Bits From Books

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Catholic Tastes

In light of both the ascension of the DUP to the role of king-makers, and Germany’s recent parliamentary vote in favour of legalising gay marriage, I thought the below was exceptionally relevant. It’s an extract from a piece published in a gay newsletter in Southampton the late 1970s by a man named Paul, a volunteer for the Solent Gay switchboard. A copy of the full text (which speaks of his sorrow at the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the country), as well as appearing in the newsletter, was also sent to the Rev. Ian Paisley, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, a trio he felt had lent credence to those who would level violence and abuse at gay people.

Many heterosexuals like to remark that if everyone were homosexual, the human race would come to an end. (The human race would suffer the same fate if the entire male population became Roman Catholic priests, but God in his infinite and unfailing wisdom ensures that only about 5% of us are homosexual and that even fewer are Roman Catholic priests.) In view of the acknowledged importance of sex in perpetuating the human race, it is strange that there are still those who regard it as something shameful, embarrassing or rather awkwardly special.”

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson (p.347 – 349)

The Bondage of Work

The below extract is for those of us (most of us) who are unlucky enough to work for ‘da man’ in any of his multifarious guises.

Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship. Nowhere else is freedom of speech for the citizens of free societies so curtailed. They can abuse their political leaders in print or on radio, television and the Web as outrageously as they wish, and the secret service will never come for them. They can say that their country’s leader is a lunatic, their police force is composed of sadists and their judiciary is corrupt. Nothing happens, even on those occasions when their allegations are gibberish. The leniency of free societies is only proper. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout clap-trap, as regular surfers of the Web know. If employees criticise their employers in public, however, they will face a punishment as hard as a prison sentence, maybe harder: the loss of their career, their pension, and perhaps their means of making a livelihood.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen (p.149)

Mo’ Men, Mo’ Problems

As a humanist an atheist and a secularist (sometimes we all walk into a bar) I’m appalled at the prejudice frequently levelled at my fellow human beings on account of their skin-colour, country of origin or set of beliefs; I’m further appalled by the foreign policy measures and media hyperbole that has inflamed hatred in this country and abroad. However, I’m also appalled at the way in which our freedom to criticise religion, in all of its forms, is slowly being eroded, mostly – it has to be said – through fear: fear of violent reprisals, and also fear of being on the same side of the argument – albeit for vastly different reasons – as the nation’s execrable clan of right-wing racists. That being said, however incompatible I consider organised religion to be with a measured, rational view of the world, and however strongly I may wish mankind to move beyond the infantile and supernatural, it’s always a good idea to seek out differing and (especially) opposing views; to be as well-informed and educated as possible on the history, structure and practice of religions.

Below is an extract about the history of Islam that you may find surprising (or perhaps not).

The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were afforded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at the time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had ong veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny. The Quran makes men and women partners before God, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in the wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treat them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle. They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion , though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.”

Amazon Link: Islam – A Short History by Karen Armstrong (p.14)

Brazil Nut

Nemesis – an account of the rise of an ordinary man in one of Rio’s most infamous favelas and his rise to the rank of don of the criminal under(and over)world – is a wonderful book: fast-paced, exciting, shocking, thoughtful, well-written and meticulously researched.

The extracts below give shape to the idea that tackling poverty and inequality through state and welfare policies/spending is not only an essential component of our common humanity, but also makes sound long-term economic sense. Effective social policies and less poverty equals a society that has greater stability, greater contentment, less crime, less unrest and less violence across the board.

After decades of dictatorship and chaotic transition, renewal and optimism were surging out from the federal capital, Brasilia, towards the furthest reaches of the country’s body politic. Whole regions and classes were reviving after a long period of neglect and deprivation. The sudden arrival of a period of prosperity that saw unemployment fall to record levels and personal spending increase significantly is crucial in explaining why Rio was becoming less violent. Young men in the favelas were turning away from weapons and drugs in favour of education and settled employment.”

While China was lauded for pulling some 100 million citizens out of poverty from the mid 1980s, fewer noticed Brazil’s more monumental achievement flowing from [socially democratic political moves and social policies designed to eradicate the chronic, crushing poverty experienced by a significant proportion of Brazil’s citizens). In Brazil, 30-40 million people managed to cross the poverty line. Given the much smaller population of Brazil, this was an even greater feat than the Sino equivalent.

The consequences of this golden era for Brazil’s political personalities were immense. The primary beneficiaries were the poor, not least those who lived in the favelas of the south. This was especially true of Rochina. Its isolation from other favelas and its now well-established tradition as a large market, both for the residents and for those coming from outside looking for a bargain, enabled it to ride the wave of economic confidence with a swagger. This growth spurt offered alternative employment to its younger men and women, and so the drugs trade became a somewhat less attractive career path.”

What was the biggest obstacle to political reform? Well, surprise, surprise: “The vested interests of Brazil’s powerful, if numerically small, economic elite proved deft in constructing numerous barriers.”

Amazon Link: Nemesis by Mischa Glenny

Read books, motherfuckers. Read books.

WTF #1 – A Cock and Ball Story

I took my almost-three-year-old son to the library a few weeks ago, asked him to flick through the rack and pick one out for us to read. He chose a gentle, harmless, lovely little tale about a… my blood ran cold. “Jack,” I thought to myself, “you appear to have eschewed the ‘children’s’ section in favour of the ‘books about gigantic cocks and bollocks’ section. I scanned through the pages. Originally French, eh? Christ, it had to be.

“Ah, let us raise a glass to arr new friend, who een no way looks like a reedeeculous beeg cock and balls.”

Barbapapa is a children’s book about a band of French folk and their good pal Billy Big Baws the Walk-n-Talk Cock. I would’ve made allowances for taste and decency had this been a cautionary tale about the dangers of intra-organal friendships or a warning about the dangers posed by male genitalia (especially the mutant variety), but a cursory examination of the text revealed that not a single human character in that story was moved to scream: “SACRE BLEU, WHYYY ARE WE WALKING DOWN ZE STREET WEETH THEES ENORMOUS NUTSACK, INSTEAD OF RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES’?” This book was unashamedly pro-baws.

I don’t know exactly what the hell is going on here, but I’m on the phone to le social services.

I’ve scoured the internet, too, and all I’ve found is a handful of people all reminiscing fondly about this book. Not one of them has pointed out the striking resemblance Barbapapa bears to a bouncy big boaby. It would be like us picking up a copy of Spot and discovering that the dog we loved as a child was actually a four-legged, hairy vagina.

“Fire! Fire! Queek, call ze fire brigade!” “Are you mad? Thees ees clearly a job for a giant spurting cock!” One wee guy’s even rubbing Barbapapa’s dirty blow-hole, for heaven’s sake!

CASE CLOSED

BARBAPAPA? BARBABIGCOCKANDBALLS, MORE LIKE!

Jamie’s Digest (1): Cool Bits from Books

I’d like to share with you a few passages I’ve stumbled across in books I’ve been reading recently that have struck a powerful chord with me, variously for reasons of eloquence, prescience, insight or good old-fashioned entertainment value.

To kick things off, here’s an excerpt about Donald Trump that sums him up succinctly and powerfully, and echoes the way many millions around the world feel about his rise to political power:

“He was slowly turning the country into a videocracy, a land where one person could spread disinformation and lies to millions of passive spectators who were hypnotised by the flashy, false glamour of television. Every month there seemed to be a new scandal, but nothing could bring him down: not the stories of bribery or of prostitution, not the gaffes or toe-curling vulgarity for which he was famous. There was no depth to which he wouldn’t sink. But none of it made any difference: he was ferociously defended by his mediocre political allies and by his hirelings in the media… There wasn’t a trace of statesmanship or gravitas; there wasn’t a hint of honesty or dignity. It drove me nuts and, having done my bit to warn of the danger by writing a book about him, I now yearned to go home.”

Neat, right? Except what you’ve just read wasn’t about Donald Trump at all, but Silvio Berlusconi. I guess history doesn’t always have to wait half a century or so before repeating itself.

That damning summation of Berlusconi was taken from Blood on the Altar: The True Story of an Italian Serial Killer by Tobias Jones, a book I’d heartily recommend, whether you have a predilection for serial killers, travel writing or both (imagine if there was a more literal mash-up of that sub-genre : Route 66 With a Busted Wing by Theodore Bundy; Yorkshire: From Dusk till Dawn by Peter Sutcliffe; Eastbourne Uncovered by  Harold Shipman).

Sometimes Jones can ramble a teensy bit too far off the beaten (to death) track, but his affection for and empathy with the bereaved family, his thirst for justice, and his passion for Italy in general and the Basilicata region in particular (not to mention his deep knowledge of the region’s culture and history) all work in concert to make Blood on the Altar a well-researched, gripping, gruesome, grizzly and (mostly) fluid piece of work.

Amazon link: Blood on the Altar

The [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] of [redacted] [redacted] on [redacted]

The following excerpt is taken from You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen, a book of striking relevance to this new age of offence in which we now live. Cohen is an author whose style and literary substance I admire greatly; that he was a contemporary and devotee of Christopher Hitchens – my oratorical and journalistic hero – only serves to amplify the keen respect I already hold for him. I think this book – while some may criticise it for occasionally stating the obvious, or preaching to the converted – is an incredibly lucid, important and necessary piece of work, and should be read by absolutely everyone (while they’re still lucky enough to enjoy the comparative freedom to do so).

“The faster you strip cultures down, the more you find contrariness and disputation, rather than a solid core, until eventually you reach the individual, a mammal shaped by evolution, material needs, cognitive biases and historical circumstances no doubt, but still a creature with a better right to state his opinions than kings and clerics have to silence them.

The faster you strip down the respectful arguments for religious censorship , the more you see the nation, tribe or community splintering, until you are left with one group of individuals with coercive power behind them demanding the right to censor another group of individuals because they disagree with them.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book

This book is pants – and I mean that as a compliment

I can’t resist buying books for our eldest son, Jack. I’m an avid reader (as is his mum), and a very vocal champion of the benefits and rewards of reading; as such, it’s a delight to see Jack so enthusiastic about and captivated by reading. Books are great for the burgeoning intellect, and even better for the imagination. It’s a constant source of joy and puzzlement to me that there are so many hidden gems and incredible bargains to be picked up in charity shops: as a hoarder, especially of books, I can’t understand why anyone would want to throw one away, much less a classic.

I picked up a special edition of the second book in the Captain Underpants’ series (all books in the series are written and illustrated by American author Dav Pilkey) during one of my recent charity shop forages. I had no idea there was a series, much less that I’d picked up book two of twelve. My son loved the book so much that my partner ordered him the full ten-book box set online (we had no idea there were actually twelve books in the series at that point).

The Captain Underpants books is intended for slightly older kids than my (almost) three-year-old, but because each volume is packed with good-natured naughtiness, inspired nonsense, mind-bending baddies, oodles of toilet humour, mini comic strips, and features an engaging illustration on every page, they’re more than able to maintain his interest, excite his imagination, make him laugh, and leave him longing for more.

I’ve only just discovered that a Captain Underpants movie is on general release this summer. It’ll be interesting to see my son’s reaction to his beloved heroes talking with American accents, given that I’ve made the three main characters of Principal Krupp, George and Harold sound reminiscent of the headmaster from The Inbetweeners, Louis Theroux and Peter Capaldi respectively.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for alliteration, and if you are too you’ll enjoy the below excerpt from the fifth book in the Captain Underpants series. Oh, and buy your kids – or the small people in your life – these books.

“The creamy candied carrots clobbered the kindergarteners. The fatty fried fish fritters flipped on to the first graders. The sweet-n-sour spaghetti squash splattered the second graders. Three thousand thawing thimbleberries thudded the third graders. Five hundred frosted fudgy fruitcakes flogged the fourth graders. And fifty-five fistfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters flattened the fifth graders.”

Amazon link: Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

Mary Whitehouse, the woman who spent the latter-half of her life campaigning to stop Great Britain’s religiously-and-politically conservative ‘values’ being warped and eroded by the Godless, licentious, lusty, lefty luvvies, commies, adulterers, swingers, blasphemers and homosexuals of the state-funded BBC (and beyond), died in 2001 at the grand old age of 91. She wanted to clean up TV, and society with it. Spoiler alert: she – and the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NAVLA) lobby-group that she spear-headed – failed miserably. You need only watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Dexter, Cracker, Black Mirror, Queer as Folk, The Inbetweeners, American Horror Story, or indeed most other shows on the schedule barring Songs of Praise, to see the truth of this. This book is a humorous look at some of the real gems from the Mary Whitehouse/NAVLA archive of letters both written and received on subjects as various as the child-traumatising horrors of Doctor Who, pop groups who appear to advocate teenage uprisings, accusing Jimmy Hendrix of having a wank on-stage, and this example below, where a newsreader is taken to task for insinuating he might be about to take a piss. It’s amazing how tame some of the supposed infractions of moral decency that Mary Whitehouse seized upon seem now from our vantage point in modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah (no place I’d rather be). If only Mary Whitehouse could see us now.

“Letter to BBC newsreader Richard Baker

7 May, 1973

Dear Mr. Baker

I am sure I speak for very many people when I say how much your work both as a newsreader and as the compere of ‘These You Have Loved’ is appreciated. It always seems to me, if I may say so, that your work has real quality.

It is because of this that I venture to make two criticisms. The first, and most important, was the remark you made recently at the end of a news bulletin which carried, as its last story, a feature about the antics at the opening of a new lavatory. As you signed off you made some remark about having ‘to go’ yourself. Watching the screen, your own expression of embarrassment led up to the conclusion that these lines had been prepared for you, and were not spontaneous as these final ‘punch lines’ are obviously meant to appear.

Mr. Baker, we have a high regard for you, but remarks of this kind are not only an intrusion into our privacy, they are an intrusion into your own. I feel quite sure, from the impression of your personality which comes over the screen, that you would not normally publicly inform a gathering of your friends that you were going to the lavatory, you would just go!

I have intended writing to you ever since that particular episode, but was moved finally to do so by your remarks about ‘feathered birds’ in ‘These You Have Loved’ on Saturday night. I know this is a small matter, but feel sure that the people who gain so much enjoyment from listening to this programme are unlikely to think of women and girls as ‘birds’. I know we felt irritated by it, and are rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are no programmes which one can watch or listen to without meeting this general cheapening of culture and people.

Could you have a word with the people who prepare your scripts?

With best wishes, and again many thanks for so much.

Yours sincerely,

(Mrs) Mary Whitehouse

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson

Happy reading, folks.

‘You’ll find that one in the ‘Vaginal Fantasy’ section, Sir.’

What’s happened to book genres recently? We knew where we were with Western, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Romance, Adventure, and the like, but now the branches of the Genre Tree bear the fruit of some strange and confounding sub-genres. One that caught my eye recently was Vaginal Fantasy.

What’s that then? Any book written by Derek Acorah? It got me wondering, and I imagined a few possible explanations for the phrase. At first I thought Vaginal Fantasy might be a whole sub-genre written for women who spend their lives dreaming of possessing increasingly absurd and far-fetched vaginas.

‘And so, as the sun set behind the hills of Dakota, I squatted in the half-dark, wishing with all of my heart that my fanny could be a leopard. In the morning, my wish had come true, and Tiddles, my pet cat, had paid the ultimate price.’

Perhaps it is the vaginas themselves that are fantasising:

‘Oh what a tortured cunt am I! How I dream of art, of culture, of music! What music I could play as a pianist, were I not condemned to be rammed by one… if only the world could hear me perform I know it would show its appreciation. Oh, how I long for that clap!’

(This next bit hinges on you pronouncing the word ‘vaginal’ in your head so that it rhymes with ‘Lionel’. Potato, pota-toe.) Or is Vaginal Fantasy the latest instalment of the weird Japanese video game series, but with a mingey twist?  If so, it’s begging for a Pokemon cross-over.

But, no, unsurprisingly, it’s none of these things. A book qualifies as Vaginal Fantasy if its intended readership comprises the sort of women who want a dash of porn with their schmaltzy romance. I suppose it’s just a snazzier way of saying ‘erotic fiction’. Thrills and Boom, if you like. Or Thrills and Broom, if you’re feeling really, really adventurous: JK Rowling take note.

‘I just made up the Titticus Outticus spell for a laugh. Who knew it would actually work, Hermione?’

Incidentally, JK, if you’re reading this, sweetheart, I’ve come up with a few ideas you can use if you want to do a Vaginal Fantasy version of Harry Potter – squeeze a few millions more out of the franchise before everyone gets swept away by the next big thing in young adult publishing, which will probably be a fantasy romance about a time-travelling, sex-mad college kid who just happens to be a flesh-eating zombie. Anyway, here are my suggestions for new, sexy Harry Potter titles:

Mary Squirter and the Thrill Officer’s Bone

Hairy Botter and the Chained Bear Secretes

Old Harry Scatter and the Pensioners of Ass-Kablam!

Hell, JK, why be so subtle? Why not just go the full hog and call it:

Harry Potter Goes Absolutely Fucking Bongo Mental and Pumps Everything That Moves, Even Dumbledore, And I’m Talking About the One That Died AFTER He Died

If more Scottish writers get in on the act then we could have our own sub-sub genre, simply called ‘Fanny-tasy.’ Anyway, 50 Shades of Grey is a good example of Vaginal Fantasy, although, having endured some of its chapters, I’ve decided that if a woman wants the book to have a sexy effect on her vagina then she should probably just roll it up and fud herself daft with it.

~~~~~

I stumbled across another sub-genre a few years ago as I was wandering zombie-like around 24-hour Asda. When passing through the book aisle my eyes chanced upon a ticket on a shelf that read: ‘Misery 3-Pack.’ Misery 3-Pack? Who the Hell thinks to themselves, ‘Ooh, I’ve got a wee night to myself here. Get the fire on, put my feet up, get a book out, all cosy. And do you know what I’m hankering after? A nice bit misery, that’s the ticket.’

And not just one chunk of misery: but a three pack! Human history is a long, bitter struggle for survival, throughout which we’ve made it our mission to remove as much misery as possible from our existence, largely through advances in sanitation, medicine and technology. And now, as most of us in the West are privileged to live in an era of comparative safety and luxury, we’re turning to misery as entertainment? What a peculiar little species we are.

Books in this genre are usually autobiographical, and always harrowing; tales of abuse endured and survived; stories that would make even Hitler reach for a box of hankies (although he probably did reach for a box of hankies when his lieutenants reported mass Jew deaths to him; using them to mop up something other than tears, I’d imagine). Typically, Misery Lit books contain sentences like this:

‘It was then I realised, as granny tethered me to a rat in the dungeon and prepared the greased javelin for my helpless starfish, that we probably weren’t going to Disneyland after all.’

As with sex, there’s big money in misery. I wish I could write some Misery Lit. The trouble is, before you can do that you need to have suffered quite a horrific childhood, so that you can draw from those experiences. And my childhood was quite decent. Not perfect – whose is? – but broadly speaking I had quite a comfortable, lower-middle-class upbringing, during which I never feared for my life, or wondered where the next meal was coming from. And the point is this: if my mum had taken the time to beat and shag me, I could’ve been a fucking millionaire by now. Selfish bitch.