Dan Sandman

Archive for December, 2016|Monthly archive page

#1 Elements of Style

In Books, Non-Fiction on 30/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

1-elements-of-styleWriting is a skill and good writing takes time. Like reading, listening, speaking, playing and all things that result in learning, writing needs to be practiced.Good writers know the rules and practice them; great writers know when to break them. Elements of Style is a textbook for anyone who wants to learn the rules and write well. Referred to as the “little book”, it was initially self-published by William Strunk Jr. for a course called English 8, which run at the close of the First World War. In 1957, one of his students, the writer W. B. White, reexamined his English professor’s work and got it published. More recently, Roger Angell updated the book, modestly changing one or two of White’s references.

I purchased my copy, published by Pearson Education Limited in 2014, from Waterstones on Camden High Street. Controversially, Waterstones have changed their company name by removing the apostrophe; thus breaking Strunk’s elementary rule of usage no. 1: ‘Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.’ Waterstones’s CEO, James Daunt, is responsible for this awful decision.

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52: Complete Prose by Woody Allen

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 23/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

complete-prose-by-woody-allenWoody Allen is arguably one of the greatest wits of our time, and his Complete Prose is the perfect book to make giggle over the festive season. Between its pages, a rich tapestry of odd-ball philosophy, jokes that make fun of life’s most serious subjects — e.g. religion and death — and a myriad of ingeniously incongruous ideas await. Pick up this book almost anywhere in the world, at almost any point in time, to find yourself near prostrate with laughter.

Merry Christmas everyone and thanks for reading — four years and counting!

51: Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Short Stories on 16/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

heart-of-darkness-other-stories-by-joseph-conradWhen I was as an English undergraduate, Joseph Conrad was hurled at me — poor young thing. Apparently, Conrad was the grandfather of something called modernism, and, therefore, he was a very important man. Sadly, as fate would have it, I opted for an essay about James Joyce’s Ulysses. It wasn’t until a decade later, at an interview, that Conrad and I would get to know each other better.

I had turned up on time, despite having miss-navigated. The first thing I was ordered to do was sit in a room and write an essay about a Derek Walcott poem — something to do with slavery. Then I was called into a room, where I was to present a lesson plan, one-to-one, to a kind and intelligent man. Afterwards, he asked me questions about what my father did. I said my father had been an academic, but that he was now retired. In return, he said that his son was learning to play the guitar. It was a nice meeting, which inevitably led to a discussion about books, but, more unexpectedly, ended with a short tutorial on English grammar and the novels of Joseph Conrad. He seemed to pity me for failing, time and time again, to get onto a course.

As it turned out, he had only been allocated a small number of places, all of which he had already offered to previous candidates. I thought about the long and arduous journey that had led me to this room. I saw myself, stupidly dressed in an M & S suit, of which, in future, would only be used at weddings and funerals.  Lastly, I gave him my observational report, which he gracefully accepted, as our meeting — and my failed venture towards a conventional career — came to a long awaited close.

There was nothing left but Conrad.

50: Spook Country by William Gibson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy on 09/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

spook-country-by-william-gibsonThree inter-connected stories weave into one, in this fast-paced and prescient novel set in 2006. Hollis is hired to write a 7,000 word piece about locative art, a new form of art involving a virtual reality helmet, allowing the user to view images overlying real rooms — pictures of death scenes, places of cultural interest. Tito runs precarious and covert errands for his Cuban family, dropping off iPods to a mysterious old man without knowing anything about what is stored on them — it is probably not a hard rock playlist. Milgrim is being held under threat by a scary ex-military type, who feeds his drug addiction to Rize and gets him to translate messages coded in a language called Volpek. All three characters are unknowingly entangled in a web of complexity, playing their roles as stooges in game of life and death.

As soon as you begin a William Gibson novel, you are thrown into the world in which the characters live and breve. There is no time to gather your thoughts, the pages turn and you do your best to puzzle out what the hell might be going on. This requires concentration, which is rewarded when the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Gibson, famed in history for coining the term cyberspace, is able to depict our advanced technological age with great skill and a predicative sense of future. His characters move through the urban and cyber jungle as outsiders, wired up to a global system of communications and international flights. The post-millennial world is shown as the huge, looming and uncontrollable beast that it arguably is. A vast series of nodes whose points are too vast to number yet somehow describable, like a blanket of stars in a clear sky. Creatives are always in danger of being sucked in, chewed up and spat out; as the black leather gloves of shady organizations reach out to insinuate control over our lives. As a reader, it is your job to enjoy the ride and unveil the links between the nodes, which gravitate towards the massive and more powerful.

Highly recommended fun.

49: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Poetry on 02/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

sir-gawain-and-the-green-knight-by-simon-armitageAt a Christmas banquet, King Arthur’s nephew Sir Gawain accepts a wager given by a green-coloured knight riding a green horse. Before the passing of one year, Gawain must seek the green knight and fulfill his promise to receive a blow in return for decapitating the green knight — who, incidentally, walks off holding his head in his hand. On his adventure, Gawain comes across a fine castle run by a noble lord who offers Gawain another deal. Each day, the lord will go out hunting and give Gawain whatever he gathers. In return, the noble knight promises to exchange anything that he wins whilst the lord is absent. An amusing love scene ensues before Gawain must travel to meet his fate, and rendezvous with the mysterious green knight at New Year.

In his introduction, the poet and broadcaster Simon Armitage makes it that Old English is probably closer to German than English. Thanks to Armitage’s translation, which can be seen as an original poem in its own right, the modern reader can once again enjoy this Arthurian legend anew. The metre of the poem has the regularity of music, an inert tempo which leads without rhyme from line to line, until the final lines close off each stanza with four shorter rhymed lines. This is best shown by example, as the following opening lines, which give the poem an appropriately epic context: –

Once the siege and assault of Troy had ceased
with the city a smoke-heap of cinders and ash,
the turncoat whose tongue had tricked his own men
was tried for his treason – the truest crime on earth.
Then noble Aeneas and his noble lords
went conquering abroad, laying claim to the crowns
of the wealthiest kingdoms in the western world.
Mighty Romulus quickly careered towards Rome
and conceived a city in magnificent style
which from then until now has been known by his name.
Ticius constructed townships in Tuscany
and Langobard did likewise, building homes in Lombardy.
And further afield, over the Sea of  France,
on Britain’s broad hill-tops, Felix Brutus made
his stand
And wonder, dread and war
have lingered in that land
where loss and love turn
have held the upper hand. (I. 1, 1-19)