GoodReads 2018 Reading Challenge

As the year draws to a close I have finally completed my Reading Challenge for 2018. I managed to flick my way through forty five books to reach the goal. Looking over the finished list is like reflecting over a photo album of the past twelve month. Hopefully next year I can increase my target to fifty and if you have any reading suggestions for the new year then please leave a comment.

 

Novels

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

The Magus by John Fowles

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Christopher and His Kind by Christopher Isherwood

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims

Changing Places by David Lodge

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera

The Fall by Albert Camus

The Rum Diary by Hunter.S.Thomson

The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazou Ishiguro

MaddAddam by Margaret Attwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Attwood

 

Plays

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling

No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

The Flies by Jean Paul Sartre

The Respectful Prostitute by Jean Paul Sartre

Dirty Hands by Jean Paul Sartre

 

Poetry

Selected Poems by Delmore Schwartz

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

At the Existentialist Cafe by Sara Bakewell

Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

Selected Poems by Charles Baudelaire

Answering Back by Carol Anne Duffy

Selected Poems by Stevie Smith

Now We Are Sixty by Christopher Matthew

Opal Sunset by Clive James

 

Non-fiction

Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays by Albert Camus

The Great Fire of London by Samuel Pepys

Create Dangerously by Albert Camus

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

The Little Book of Buddhism by Dalai Lama

Introducing Lacan: A Graphic Guide by Darian Leader

Histories of Nations by Peter Furtardo

Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean Paul Sartre

Collected Maxims and Other Reflections by Francois de la Rochefoucauld

Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harrari

 

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‘Introducing Lacan: A Graphic Guide’ Review

The Graphic Guide series take the complete works of writers or a subject and turns them into a basic introduction. For Lacan, they lead you through his biography and key concepts and demonstrate how they matured over the course of his career. The information is broken down into easily accessible paragraphs, accompanied by visual aids and humour to cement your understanding of his theories. This approach is particularly helpful for English speakers who often receive the psychoanalyst/philosopher’s dense works in translation. ‘Introducing Lacan’ gives clarity to the often muddy and sprawling sentences that form the writer’s original French texts. I’d implore every school, college and university to purchase a complete collection of these graphic guides to coax their students into complex writers and their concepts.

Rating: 4/5

Books Once Banned in Britain

It’s hard to imagine that the islands that cultivated Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling have a strong tradition of literary censorship. I’m not referring to old restrictions placed by the church or crown to protect their institutions against opposing propaganda. But a whole back log of banned books leading right into the twenty first century. In fact, 2018 marked the fifteenth anniversary of England’s last book ban being lifted. In honour of this I have compiled a reading list of once unlawful texts that you can proudly display on your bookshelf, rather than hide under a loose floorboard.

 

Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr

Published in 1964 Last Exit to Brooklyn is an unconventional novel. The reader is dragged through an uncompromising set of stories that describes the lives of those residing in the New York districts.  In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Spycatcher by Peter Wright

Originally published in Australia Spycatcher is the candid autobiography of a British Intelligence Officer. A large portion of the book’s content covers work of MI5 agents during the cold war. Given the sensitive content it became immediately controversial leading the British government to prohibit the publication of the book as well as implement press gag orders in order to restrain reporting on the autobiography.

Unusually, Spycatcher managed to stay publishable in Scotland an copies began to trickle down over the border. Given the ineffective banning of the book the ruling was eventually overturned. After all, national security secrets are not worth safeguarding if the rest of the world has access to the text.

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is probably the most famous and infamous book on this list.  The novel depicts the criminal relationship between a literature professor and a twelve year old girl. Given the dark subject matter it’s not surprising that censorship was the initial response to Nabokov’s work. Britain first declared Lolita an obscene text in 1955 and publication of the book remained criminal for four more years. Following the lead of France and the USA the novel became accessible to the public, however the initial English publisher Nigel Nicolson was forced to resign from his role as a Tory MP.

 

 

Playing with Water Colour Pencils

My first encounter with watercolour pencils was in an art supply kit. The kind you receive for Christmas as a kid containing pencil crayons, a couple of erasers and sometimes a few pieces of charcoal. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the water colour pencils and after a few failed attempts neglected them to the bottom of the box.

Recently, I stumbled across a set in a craft store and wanted to unearth the purpose of these mysterious objects from my childhood. So, I purchased a beginner sample of twelve pencils and some water colour post cards. For the first few weeks my efforts were appalling. But I persevered and discovered that I could replicate a half decent rock. With  bit more practice I was producing pretty impressive formations. However, whilst stone circles, cliff faces and craggy boulders are great, I started to become a bit bored of the only subject I could successfully capture. I found the solution on the internet.

Like every other skill there are online resources from masters in their field. After hours of studying their techniques and practice I am beginning to appreciate the diversity of water colour pencils. Their hybrid nature allows you to use them as a regular pencil crayons but with bit of water you can layer into effective, blended painting. Versatility is their main strength. With  few drops you can move from a fluid landscape into fine detailing with a dry pencil. This adds a depth and boldness to your creations that cannot be obtained using pencil crayon or water colour paints alone.

Another great aspect of water colour pencils is how portable they are. With just a few hues you can create on the go without having to carry a canvas and other art supplies. Being able to transport such a versatile and effective tool becomes a blessing on long journeys or if you want to paint outside the home.

I would have uploaded a few of my own attempts but I have no aptitude for art. Rather than let my hobby level efforts deter you from water colour pencils I’ve included some tutorials by professionals. Their tips and insight into watercolour pencil techniques will hopefully entice you into getting started.

 

 

 

 

World of Warcraft: Is it worth it?

Blizzard has recently released their latest expansion for the World of Warcraft Series, Battle for Azeroth. It wasn’t long before online recommendations pointed me towards it. The trailers, available cut-scenes and information about the new content were enticing. However, I have always been apprehensive about signing up for WoW. As a frequent player of MMORPGs I have sampled various titles from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. I played them for about a month, grew tired and turned to something else. Naturally, I was worried I would end up in the same scenario with WoW. To investigate I decided to dedicate some time to the free trial to discover if I could justify spending about ten Great British Pounds a month on World of Warcraft.

When evaluating if a game is value for money then we have to consider the amount of content available, and whether it is engaging. Since its inception in 1994, WoW has grown considerably and currently boasts a total of seven expansions. This provides players with a strong arsenal of backstory and gameplay to explore. In an RPG this is an essential element because it allows new players fully immerse in the universe from its early releases like The Frozen Throne right up to the latest title. Furthermore, Blizzard has split the character creation into two distinct sides, with multiple races and classes. This not only deepens the amount of content and lore available, but also provides several different opportunities in which you can tackle the game.

Most entertainment is now packaged as a subscription service: Our music comes from Spotify; films and television from Netflix; even snacks and toiletries are sent through the post to save a trip to the supermarket. Why should gaming be any different? Of course, the real question is whether WoW is value for money. Taking a browse over the price of new releases you see an immediate price difference. Most recent titles come onto the market upwards of thirty pounds (assuming there is no additional downloadable content). If you find yourself enjoying the game you’ll receive an average of four days worth of game-play. On a purely financial comparison WoW comes in cheaper than buying a new game, whilst assuring that you are making your way through the kind of content that you already know you enjoy.

After three weeks of exploring the free trial I have found that the pleasure in WoW comes from the immersion. Overtime, you and your friends have explored the world of Azeroth, enveloped yourselves in its rich lore and developed your skills throughout each expansion. What Blizzard offers, in their most famous title, is a fantasy world that can be continuously explored and challenged. The addictive nature as well as the frequency of fresh content sells a monthly subscription, often making World of Warcraft cheaper and more rewarding than buying a new game once or twice a month.

Frankfurt in Five Hours

In the life of every frequent traveler there comes a time when you’re left waiting at a layover airport for most of the day. No matter how carefully you align your flights it’s the only affordable or available option and you make the purchase. There isn’t enough time to commit to a full day at your pit-stop destination and the delay is too long to stay in the airport.

Two months ago I found myself in this same situation. Despite careful planning I had to take a seven and a half hour wait in Frankfurt. Instead of sleeping away the time in the airport lounge I seized the opportunity to sample my third German city of 2018. I’d like to share my experience exploring the best of Frankfurt in just over five hours, whilst spending less than thirty Euros.

Transport

Regardless of your destination getting from the airport to the city center is usually pricey via public transport, . Before you’ve even reached your location a large chunk of the budget has already been eaten. Fortunately, Frankfurt offers affordable deals in order to get you around the city. A same day return to the airport cost around fifteen euros. This ticket also allows you full access to the tram system. Overall, this is a great deal, it saves you time mapping your way to destinations, whilst encouraging tourists into the heart of the city to enjoy the attractions and businesses available.

 

Food & Drink

I’m always astounded by the food prices in Germany. If you are frugal with where you shop than you can feast for a surprisingly small amount. This doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of your meals for quantity. After all, one of the fundamental pleasures of travel is another country’s cuisine but scaling yourself back to street food may be the answer. Like every other German city Frankfurt seems to have mastered easy eating. On every corner there is an option: curry-wurst; kebab or falafel. It’s hard to walk past bakeries without being drawn to the bargain price and enticing smell of freshly baked bagels. To accompany this German beer and regional soda is ridiculously cheap. Just don’t drink and eat too much, you want to be comfortable on the flight later.

 

Attractions

If you’re like me then you will have blown your budget on food and have little left for sightseeing. Thankfully, Frankfurt has plenty of things to explore for free all within a few hours walking distance or a quick hop on tram away. In your few hours you can enjoy the botanical gardens, the Euro Tower or Borse. If the weather is in your favour then I would head straight to City Hall Square. Here you will be greeted with iconic German architecture and witness the Römer– a medieval structure that has been Frankfurt’s city hall for around six hundred years. The square also houses an impressive statue of Lady Justice. This bronze figure enhances the calm and and inspiring atmosphere, especially when the town bells are ringing.

 

 

The Best of Dublin

Over the summer break I visited five cities in four countries: Edinburgh; Dublin; Stockholm; Frankfurt and Munich. One of the major drawbacks of flitting across the continent every few weeks is that your bank balance rapidly depletes. In an ideal world every visit would include sampling the country’s best cuisine and embracing every excursion they have to offer.

Unfortunately, we can’t all afford the jet set lifestyle. Sometimes we have to take a budget flight and just experience what a country has to offer. This was my experience of Ireland. I booked cheap air travel and saved my money for the city itself. Whilst I would highly recommend everybody journey to the  Emerald Isle  at least once, I have to confess that it isn’t Europe’s most inexpensive city break. So, in order to help you save a Euro or two I’ve compiled a list of my three favorite attractions in Dublin.

 

Dublin Castle

If you want to know the history of any city you need to find where the rich people lived. They decided how the economy ran, dictated the direction during times of war and enforce the ebb and flow of culture. Dublin Castle is a proud example of this. For over eight hundred years the building has been a monument to the lives of Irish people. It’s walls echo a history of religion and bloody conflict (predominantly with the English).

Part of the building is free to the public but the best experience is a guided tour. For a reasonable fee you can explore the stone underbelly of the keep, wander the ballrooms as well as reflect in the chapel. The guides are engaging and full of facts, turning an few hours visit into what feels like an afternoon stroll through history.

Oscar Wilde’s Home and Statue

Located in the scenic Merrion Square if you’re a bit of a bookworm then Oscar Wilde statue is worth a visit. If the weather is in your favour the you can amble around the picturesque gardens, visit the home that that nurtured Wilde, before taking the ever important selfie with the statue. There are small pillars with inscriptions of Wilde’s wittiest quotes and the positioning and visitors give you the feeling of a pilgrimage. You may need to bring an umbrella on a rainy afternoon because it is a bit of a tourist spot and there tends to be a small queue for a photo. At this point I would like to include my own photo. Unfortunately, my shaving was a little lackadaisical that day and the shadow gives me the look of Charlie Chaplain.

Guinness Storehouse

It’s an unwritten rule that when your are in Ireland you should sample a Guinness. The best place to experience your pint in the Guinness Storehouse.Essentially, the excursion is an interactive advert for those who have never had the drink or a mecca for beer lovers. As you explore the many floors you are educated on the brewing process, the history of the brand and get several opportunities to sample the product.

Every visitor gets a free drink token, which you can spend in several locations depending on your tastes. If you’ve never pulled a pint of beer before then you can use your token to do so or if you prefer to sample Guinness’ range of brews then they offer you many smaller samples. Personally, I would recommend climbing to the top of the building, towards the Gravity Bar. Up here you can reward yourself with a cold glass of the good stuff, whilst enjoying the 360 degree, panoramic views of the city from the glass walled bar.