What’s the point of beautiful books?

Beautiful books — IMHO — are more likely to be read. Which could well be a brill thing if the book is a good’un.

I’ve long appreciated the Penguin series, Clothbound Classics. The Snufferjog bought us Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray which was beautifully produced, and the footnotes added interest. That whetted the appetite.

A few years down the line, my Father-in-Law generously gave me a bit of dosh for Xmas, so I decided to treat myself to another.

But which one to buy!?

I’d noticed that this series were numbered, (our Dorian was number ten, por ejemplo). So I began my internet hunt for which book was number one in the series, a task you might think was very easy, but oh no. No reference on any Penguin affiliated website of any sort of enumeration.

Hope came in the form of Google Image Search which showed me a wealthy woman’s full collection. In numerical order. And the first in the series is… Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.


“Didn’t do it in school so ‘aven’t ‘eard of it.”

Well, uninitiated. It’s French. That’s all you need to know.

I bought it and I read it. That’s an achievement. (This was an English translation, so not that much of an achievement).

One minor issue though, the edition I bought was not numbered, so there was no real reason to buy that particular book. Oh well.

But I’m hooked anyway. So what to buy next is the question?

Well, let’s stick with the French theme he says, buy a book written around the same period he says. And by the following Thursday Les Miserables is on my doormat.

Wow. 1,231 pages… ABRIDGED.

So that’s that phase over. Although I did see that next month, Augustine’s Confessions is being released in the series. A two birds one stone killing asking to be made if ever I saw one, I’m only studying ruddy theology. So that’s getting pre-ordered. Maybe.


One more thing. I feel I need to explain to the ethereal head-shrinker why I have a desire in the first place to buy the number one in a series of somethings.

It all began in Brent Cross Shopping Centre, Disney Store, 1994. I’ve got some Christmas money to spend (sounds familiar) and I’m keen to get me a VHS of Sing-Along-Songs, fronted by the inimitable Jiminy Cricket. The one I wanted to get was the one with Peter Pan on the front because I liked the one with Peter Pan on the front. But Dad jumps in.

“Heyheyheyheyheyhey, don’t be so rash there son. Think about it. What you’re gonna wanna do is get Volume One and work your way up to Peter Pan which is Volume Seven. Think about it.”

“But Volume One has Bagheera on the front and he’s got more tough love than my four year old brain can handle”

“You’re getting volume one.”

“Um… okay.”


And from that day forth, I was PROGRAMMED to seek-out the first in the series of stuff.

Right, I’m off back to my Hugo. Only 1,147 pages to go!


Spoiler Risks in Postmodern Films and Postmodern Sermons

I have a new proposal for the BBFC. Usually they say something like: ‘contains scenes of mild peril’ or ‘contains infrequent strong language and moderate bloody threat’. But I think that some of them should say: ‘contains clips from other films you may have not yet seen’ or easier yet: ‘contains spoilers’.

I was enraged to see that the Japatow film This is 40 shows the final episode of Lost multiple times. On top of that — I cannot confirm this due to the fact that by this point, my wife and I were shouting over the scene so as not to hear anything the blasted characters were saying — but they as far as I could see, they also discussed these crucial scenes extensively. This sort of writing, directing, producing — whoever’s to blame — is irresponsible, not funny and not cool!

Spoilers are inevitable in real life. For example I heard a Harry Potter spoiler in the toilet next door to me once, why there were two men in a cubicle discussing Hogwarts, I don’t know, but it happened. My brother once accidentally told me a Ryan Gosling spoiler, the stupid thing is that this was while he was complaining about people who have no regard for spoilers! But fine, these things can’t be helped in the hustle and bustle of real life, but in films!? Premeditated works of art!?

Look at 50 First Dates. In this film, they give away the ending of Shyamalan’s seminal, twist laden Sixth Sense. Bridesmaids shows important clips from Castaway in it. And I’m sure you can all come up with other examples. This is rife. Filmmakers, have some respect!

I will leave you with the story of a dear friend of mine who loves the book The Picture of Dorian Grey. He loves it so much that he has not read the ending, he thinks that by not reading the end, the pleasure he gains from the book will never end for him, that he will remain in the world of the book and that he won’t be closing the door on it by reading the resolution (I don’t really get the logic, but I respect the sentiment). He lives in a constant flurry of fear, knowing that his life could be ruined at any point by someone blurting out Wilde’s expertly crafted denouement.

I found this self-generated ignorance cave an especially humorous one to inhabit, especially when one day, along came a hip young Christian youth speaker, giving a hip young evangelistic talk. This guy wanted to reach his hip young audience by making references to the hip young author Oscar Wilde (I know, has he not heard of Jane Austen?), but as he did this, he described — in full — the ending of Dorian! It was not pretty.

Yes, due to the masses’ modern penchant for intermediality, I do believe that spoiler warnings need to be given by the relevant authorities, but must we also ask for these warnings from preachers too!? I do hope not.

A sick product?

I read three books today, one about childrens’ picture books, one about advertising and one about sustainable living. I have come to the conclusion that I am very driven by the visual, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m especially different, especially artistically minded, or if I’m a sick product of this image-obsessed generation. Probably somewhere in-between.

The one about kids books is a new one released this year, it is written by the heads of an MA you can do on children’s picture books, they give you a history of them, tell you about the industry, tell you about what themes are suitable to explore with kids, where the words should be on the page, if there should be words, what colours to use, all of them or none of them or two of them. There’s also lots of nice pictures in it. The book costs twenty two pounds so I can really only afford to read the library’s copy, sad that.

The one about advertising is by John Hegarty, he’s an English (m)adman. He talks about stories and creativity and Levis (a lot) and irreverence and how the Catholic church are the most successful brand of all time. The main thing he says is that at his company they ‘worship ideas’. Obviously there’s a bit of hyperbole at work there, but that’s what’s quite attractive to me about the world of advertising, it’s all about good ideas. However I don’t know if I want to work in that world, it’s all about profits, manipulation, lying, irreverence (as mentioned above) and general capitalist nastiness, I will have to have a think about whether it is possible to be an ethical advertiser.

The one about sustainable living says that everything is terrible, it tells me that I need to stop creating so much waste, it tells me that I must not ever never use a fossil fuel again, it tells me to stop eating so much meat, it tells me that shopping local isn’t the only answer and it teaches me the words Locavore and Flexitarian.

Harry Potter and the Mitten of Wool

Yesterday morning was a lovely start to the holiday as I relaxed with my wife. We watched The Goblet of Fire and ate Coco Pops. When Sibyl was working she found that she needed audiobooks to quell the arduousness of repetitive microscopy. One such audiobook was kindly donated to us from our friend Christopher who is a big audiobook fan, Harry Potter and the Forest of Embarrassment (I think that’s what it was called). Anyway, she fell in love with the series and insisted we bought the films. They are very reasonable online and we’ve been going through them since. They’re rather good! I like them. Dewi (Bradyboy No. III) has been undergoing a similar obsession in recent months and has just received a mahoosive book chronicling the visuals of the film. I also bought him an HP action figure, with wand and ruck-sack.

I’ve always found reading books difficult but that series did open up possibilities for me. I wish it had been Dickens or Hemingway, but it was Rowling who cracked the seemingly impenetrable reading shield that had formed around my pre-pubescent brain. The first three books were already out when I started reading them and then when the fourth one was being prepared I remember how excited I was to receive it. We pre-ordered it from Amazon which seemed like a good idea at the time but it actually meant that it would only be posted on the day it came out and so the tragedy befell me… the book was out but I did not own it. I, being a vile and petulant little ten year old started to strancio like Veruca Salt. My parents have spent money on buying me a book, but I want it now. Horrible. Anyway, in one of his ingeniously patient moments, Father calmly Googled (or would it have been Alta Vista in those days?) the book and found the first chapter was available to read online, free of charge. I was a happy young rabbit.

Then The Order of the Phoenix came out and we turned into one of those families who went to the shop at midnight to get the book! And we bought two copies! That was the first time that Dylan (Bradyboy II) read the book faster than I did. I think it was something like three days and I felt that I had outgrown the series a little. Come 2005, I didn’t even finish The Half-Blood Prince. And I have never read the final book, (so the film was really exciting to watch!) You see, Rowling was a bit slow in writing them. There was a stage when the books wonderfully corresponded to my age, I was at the same stage in Hampstead School as Harry was in Hogwarts School. But she rested on those laurels (whatever they are) and while I grew up, Potter became Peter Pan for a couple of years.

I don’t think Sibyl reads this blog faithfully enough, so I can tell all of you if you promise to keep the secret that as it is our wedding anniversary tomorrow, I have bought her CDs of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter and the Stick of Wood (or whatever it’s called). What a good husband I am, don’t tell her ’til tomorrow!

The most enduring movie musical

They were talking about the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the radio this morning. Something that strikes me about that film is that the original book was written by Ian Flemming, writer of James Bond, that always excited me, what sort of magical human was able to come up with such grown-up stories yet in the same breath develop such a fantastic tale for kids!? The other most notable thing about that film was that the version I watched on VHS when I was little (taped from a Bank Holiday airing on ITV no doubt) mysteriously included none of the child-catcher moments! But I have now found out what happened in those early years, and my brother reminded me of it the other day; my mother would fast forward through all the bits where that evil fiend would appear. Well played, he’s scary. However, I feel it may have backfired, because Mam was not always so quick with her trigger! There was an occassion when I did see the child-catcher, and boy is he the scariest, most evil, malicious, out and out demoniacal being that ever entered the movie stage. Every baddie in every nightmare was him! He vindictively penetrated my REM for many years.

I see Sound of Music and Chitty as sisters either side of Mary Poppins. When I watched S.O.M. I always saw her as Mary Poppins, she was not Maria, likewise Caractus will always be Bert. I have only ever seen those two actors (Julie & Dick) in those three films, at least in their younger years (one must discount Princess Diaries and Night at The Museum), they are the three movie musicals which seem to be most universally loved still today. But maybe I’m missing out on other classics like a little film called The Wizard of Oz or Singing in The Rain.

But Mary Poppins is the best. It’s just so good. So original. We all forgive George Banks for his austere approach and celebrate with him as he is reformed. We love Jane for her sweetness. Michael for his face. Bert for his merrymaking. And everyone fancies Mary Poppins (especially the four year-old me). So I declare it the best, any contenders, fight me.