Category Archives: reviews

Last Exit to Brooklyn

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.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

If you’re among the two people who read my previous post you’ll know how nine-year-old me failed to become The Hero of Time. My inadequacy in completing my first Zelda game has haunted me ever since. At night my sleep is disturbed by my conceding of the Kingdom of Hyrule to Ganondorf. The failure repeated itself in several of the games and every incarnation of Link I played ultimately lost. In Majora’s Mask I couldn’t prevent the moon from plummeting into Clock Town and in a Link to the Past I gave up at the first dungeon. However, just as the Zelda games keep reincarnating the hero for fresh adversity, so I continued to pick up my sword and console to face the varying Avatars of Ganon. There’s an anecdote that stipulates that a room of monkeys with a typewriter will eventually write up the works of Shakespeare. This claim is accurate because after trying my sixth attempt at Zelda I finally succeeded in defeating the darkness. I became the saviour of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

Some may argue that this is an easy game and a true Hero is the one who can dispel the tide of Evil on a television, not on the dual screens of the Nintendo 3DS. Others may postulate that it is cheating to use an online walk-through and to rage quit when defeated in order to preserve hired weapons rather than wasting Rupees on purchasing items again. To these combatants I respond that I am the Hero of both Hyrule and Lorule with no defeats. To save two kingdoms from despair any means must be taken.

A Link Between Worlds is a classic Zelda title, relying on the usual tropes and story I have come to expect and adore. As Link I save the Princess, obtain a decent enough sword to cut up bad guys and defend the triforce. The map is reminiscent of a Link to the past and it isn’t an offence in saying Nintendo has built on old work. The unique mechanic of this game is the ability to merge into walls by become a painting. This technique allows you to walk between Hyrule and Lorule, accessing areas that cannot be reached in one plane alone. Jumping between the parallels is a unique feature that adds an interesting facet to the game and a new complexity to dungeon puzzles.

With the newly mastered ability I imbued the master Sword with ore and defeated the recent aspect of Ganon and his androgynous benefactor Yuga. As the title credits detailed victory my chin raised in pride. After fifteen years and countless defeats I had finally grown into the Hero of Hyrule. With new pride I may return to the past, be awoken by Navi and rectify the mistakes of childhood.

 

The Defeated Hero of Time

I have been the Hero of Time for fifteen years. In all the time I’ve been defending Hyrule I’ve been cursed: cursed to never complete a game. My hex began with my first console. For Christmas 2002 I was gifted with a Nintendo64, a copy of Mario Cart and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Mario Kart was easy to play, simply accelerate and dodge the shells. Zelda, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge to great for a nine year old.

The first hours of game play were easy enough. I was awoken by Navi, bought a shield, obtained my sword and delved into the internal dungeon of The Great Deku Tree. After banishing Gohma I mourned the passing of The Great Deku Tree and snaked my way around Hyrule Castle, before Princess Zelda sent me on my Quest up Death Mountain. It went so well I could have recorded the first few hours as a decent walk-through. Next I bombed open the entrance to Dodongo’s Cavern and with my shield raised I soldiered inside. At this point my Mother wanted a turn at being The Hero of Time. Hesitantly, I passed her the yellow controller, only to watch her push the joystick forward and Link straight into lava.

Declaring it was a child’s game she passed the controller back and went along with her day not knowing my Deku Shield was now cinders. I tried to continue along the Dungeon with my Hylian Shield but it was too strong to defeat the Deku Scrubs. Instead of returning their projectiles, the overly effective shield demolished the attacks and prevented further journey into Dodongo’s Cavern. Defeated I trudged back out of the second dungeon and went in search of a new Deku Shield.

Even now I am hindered by my lack of instinctual direction. For the nine year old player this was even worse. Hard as I tried I couldn’t return to Korkiri Village and purchase the essential item. I traveled the map for days, braving the skeletons the plagued the plains at night. In the end I gave up on my dream of retrieving the Goron Ruby and left my the console to gather dust.

The Most Moreish Mozzarella

Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties my perfect Friday nights have become more demure. No longer are my weekends spent drinking away hours in clubs or sipping a cocktail at a bar. Instead, my idea of the ideal evening is a plate of various snacks and a glass or two of red wine. The sundries can vary depending on where I have been shopping but my plate must always have some cheese and olives. I have yet to encounter a cheese I do not enjoy and each lazy evening I sample a new variety. However, there is one cheese that must always be present: The humble Mozzarella.

There is something irresistible about the creamy spheres that I always enjoy. When I pick up a pack and hear the slosh of water around the cheese, I am immediately content and know the evening will be peaceful. Over time I have had the pleasure of slicing many varieties under my cheese knife. It has reached the point that I feel  my understanding of the food has reached beyond the level of novice and I can now advise the newly initiated on the correct purchase.

In order to determine what constitutes a good cheese we must set ourselves some categories. I propose two empirical perimeters that will allow for comparison: Texture/Shape and Flavour. Beginning with Texture/Shape we must understand that supermarket Mozzarella spends most of its life in a bath. Once the packaging has been opened a considerable amount of liquid must be drained. Now the cheese is squeezed free of excess fluids we may now consider how it appears and feels upon the tongue. Has the ball lost its shape and now resembles a creamy puddle or hold its shape? Does it slice and tear away easily in fleshy strips? The sad truth is that some retailers sell overly saturated mozzarella that is an immediate disappointment upon opening.

Our second and perhaps most important category for comparison is flavour. It seems absurd that different brands of such a mild cheese can have distinct differences on the pallet. However, every Mozzarella producer will procure their ingredients from different dairies and have an individual process in the making of their product. As with all cheese, Mozzarella is largely made up of fat and the levels of the unhealthy substance impact on the taste. In an attempt to be more health conscious there are now reduced fat Mozzarella readily available. Broadly speaking these cheeses are an abomination and if you are inclined to ingest these for health reasons, then I would suggest eating less of other foods or exercising more. It is better to relegate Mozzarella to a rare treat than compromising on one of life’s purest delights.

Now we have our guidelines for understanding quality, we can move on to comparing some common varieties. I have picked up three readily available samples from a Northern English town and applied to them the rules of Texture/Structure and Flavour. This brief comparison will hopefully guide you in your purchases and lead you along the road of Mozzarella appreciation.

ASDA Mozzarella Cheese- £0.63

The first cheese on the list proudly proclaims to have been made in Italy. This claim should be a considered mild international offense to the Italians. At the low price of 63p the supermarket’s mid-range, own brand offering could be considered fair value for money. That is by paying so little for the cheese you will receive little in return. Once you’ve opened the packet, poured away the liquid and given the sphere a small squeeze  you’re left with a melted snowball. This Mozzarella is excessively saturated and fails to hold the ball shape. Only the center is an enjoyable texture because the enormous amount of fluids makes the majority of the cheese into a mild milk slush. The water gives the cheese a diluted taste and promotes the impression of eating a new terrible form of Mozzarella flavour protein shake.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend offering this option on a cheese board. Instead, I believe the true destiny of this offering is for cooking. When exposed to heat the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the flavour and allowing the cheese to shine. For the bargain price it’s definitely worth exploring on a pizza and is mild enough to be enjoyed by children and strong cheese abstainers.

Rating: Raw eating- 2/5 Cooking-4/5

Galbani Santa Lucia Mozzarella- £1.30

This is perhaps the most readily available option in most retailers. The reason for this is because it’s a really dependable option. Galbani offer a wide variety of choices from the maxi (large tube), to dainty pearls and a light Mozzarella that is only good as substitute wall filler. The standard Mozzarella ball is solid, soft and tears away in satisfying fleshy strips. It doesn’t ooze liquid on the plate to taint other cheeses. Instead, it stands firm to knife pressure and retains a proud shape. The flavour is mild, creamy and feels indulgent to eat. After eating one sphere I look at the other cheeses I have purchased with minor disappointment- I should have bought two Mozzarella instead. I would recommend this Mozzarella for all general eating and is always my standard choice.

Rating: Raw eating- 4/5 Cooking-Just eat it now

Fattorie Garofalo Mozzarella di Bufalo Campana- £2.39

Now we’ve reached the top end of the Mozzarella scale. This is your Champagne of the cheese world. Just like champagne it can be a little overrated. Sometimes your standard Prosecco will be just as good. However, there are times when only the best will satisfy. I imagine that when I win my Nobel Prize for Literature because of my seminal cheese reviews, the after-party will be flooded with the fancy stuff.

This Mozzarella has a fluffy outside texture that immediately places you onto a cloud of eating. It is intensely creamy which makes you jealous to have not been born a buffalo, able to drink the goodness from source. The price and availability doesn’t make this everyday eating. The good stuff should be a treasure for when you truly deserve the best Mozzarella has to offer.

Rating: Raw eating- 4.5/5 Cooking- HEATHEN!

Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems

I was fifteen when I read my first poem by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poetry wasn’t something I stumbled into in the library or online but was studied in an Literature class. Before reading Woman Work we were introduced to the poet. Our teacher cut out facts about the poet and the varied life she had led on slips of paper. The class then had to go around collecting and sharing the snippets of information that compiled a rough biography of the author. Then we read the poem and compared it with an old English text, which I can no longer remember. Woman Work is a beautiful piece that kindled my appreciation for Maya Angelou and strengthened my adoration of poetry. I would have liked to leave a copy of the poem in this post but I’m uncertain of the legality of doing this. Instead, I’ve included a link at the bottom to poemhunter.com.

After my first exposure to Angelou’s work I read a lot of her poems online. Her collective works are vast and due to publishing rights a large proportion of the poetry isn’t available on the internet. I read what was accessible in the early 2000s and moved towards other writers. About three years later I became curious about Angelou again and in order to satisfy my craving for the author’s words I purchased all of her memoirs that had been published until that date. Unfortunately, these books weren’t to my taste. Perhaps the non-fiction nature of the stories deterred me, or the introduction to new writers at university pulled me away. In either case, it shames me Maya’s collect memoirs are gathering dust on my book shelf and to this day remain unread. I’m drawn to the every time I pick new text but for some unknown reason they’ve yet to be chosen.

Despite neglecting Angelou’s prose for several years I have always remained a bit of an admirer. I’ve devoured all interviews that I can find online and have internalised the lesson Angelou repeats from Roman playwright Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”

Last week I purchased Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems onto my kindle. The book has become part of my morning routine. Every day I have awoken, made my coffee, and before heading for the shower I read several poems in the book. Several mornings I have been a little late for work because I wanted to finish another page. The poetry ranges across several themes, however several topics such as love, poverty and the African American experience uphold the collection. Angelou writers these subjects with passion that is infectious to the reader, making it as electric as the caffeine in my cup. Between the coffee and the poetry collection the day is more inviting to dive into. What surprises me is how effortless her world is to connect to. Despite our generational difference, ethnic experience, gender  and geographical divide Angelou’s poems are refreshingly accessible and important to me. In the shower this morning I asked myself,

“Why should a white working class man be captivated by Harlem Hopscotch?”…

“Because it’s all human.” I replied.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/woman-work/#content