Monday, 30 December 2013

The Best of All Possible Worlds

(December 2013)

A curate’s egg, this one. Despite my generally favourable opinions regarding Ms Lord’s other book, she goes straight ahead and nicks my title (Voltaire? Who he?) and then slaps it on a novel which is one of those best described as ‘interesting but flawed’.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Books That Stay With You

It’s that awkward dead space between Christmas and New Year. No bugger’s going to read this anyway so here’s some unashamed filler to keep thing ticking over, with a grateful nod to Pep at Two Dudes (whose own list is charming and erudite and definitely not filler, I should point out).

Anyway, here are ten books that still stick in my mind, presented in a rough order of personal chronology. It’s noticeable that a lot of these books stay with me due to the circumstances in which I read them, rather than just for the stories themselves. Context is everything, in case there was any remaining doubt.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Friday, 20 December 2013

So This Is Christmas

 Fried Chicken!


Santa on a Cross!

Tacky Commercialization!



Barely Concealed Racism!

I think that’s everything. Please let me know if I’ve missed any of the traditional expat tropes. It is frightfully difficult to keep track.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Empty Space

(December 2013)

More proof, if proof were needed, that M. John Harrison is a phenomenal writer. Further proof also that the breadth and scope of his imagination completely outstrips my ability to say anything intelligent or even coherent about it.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Subtle Hint

About as subtle as Google+ (Available options: 'sign up now', or 'learn more'. Conspicious by its absence: 'do fuck off'), for which apologies, but at least I'm not depriving you of the unmitigated torrent of wisdom and human compassion that is the youtube comments section.

Meanwhile, in my other life as a mild-mannered linguistics student (I wear glasses don't you know. As alter ego disguises go it's utterly foolproof) I've written a couple of longer posts, trying to thrash out some ideas regarding Teacher Talk in the ELT classroom.

This may or (more likely) may not be your thing, but if any of you fancy having a look and offering suggestions or criticism (or even abuse as long as it's funny) I'd be much obliged -

Efficiency and Redundancy in the L2 Classroom

Friday, 13 December 2013

Fingering the Pulse

This could have been so much worse

My ongoing twitter experiment to try and maintain some semblance of a grasp on current events continues to bear mixed fruit. The consensus on recent events appears to be that we’re all going to die in the now inevitable Sino-Japanese pissing contest over a bunch of rocks, but that’s OK because no one is allowed to talk about it anyway.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


(December 2013)

What with the bear as a mascot and the droll spaghetti, our studio anthropologists will have no trouble in postulating an Orient which is exotic in form, while being in reality profoundly similar to the Occident, at least the Occident of spiritualist thought.

Monday, 9 December 2013

We See a Different Frontier

(December 2013)

Right, let’s get this out of the way straight off: that’s a pretty weak cover. I realize it’s probably aiming for some jerry-rigged bioengineering kind of thing, but I doubt “failed experiment to crossbreed a sickly croissant with a camper van” was the effect anyone was after. Never mind, move past it; the stories are what matter and I’m pleased to report that they’re really very good.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Laughing All the Way

We put up the christmas decorations last weekend. Well, I say ‘we’. I put them up while my wife tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to prevent the kids from eating the tinsel. They’ve been shitting glitter for the last five days, which if nothing else makes for a more festive visual experience during nappy changes.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


(November 2013)

I know I’ve riffed on the whole ‘experimental books that are really just kids’ books with bigger words’ angle only recently, but I’m afraid it’s something I must revisit here. For all the comparisons being made between S., House of Leaves, and Pale Fire, I’m afraid it’s most obvious literary antecedent is The Jolly Postman. I fucking loved that book.

Friday, 29 November 2013


I’ve never really been a listy person. You know what I mean by listy people. At least I hope you do; if you think I’m talking about people who always walk about with their bodies a good few degrees out of the perpendicular then perhaps we should start again.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Semiotics: A Graphic Guide
Paul Cobley and Litza Jansz, 1997
Semiotics: The Basics
Daniel Chandler, 2007
(November 2013)

Well, this all strikes me as being terribly significant.

Monday, 25 November 2013

You Better Not Cry

Japanese lawmaker Taro Yamamoto got himself into a bit of hot water not so long ago, following the most ill-advised letter since the Children’s Television Workshop’s dalliance with Cyrillic in 1983 as part of a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous attempt to ease Cold War tensions between East and West (“One! One Mother Russia! AHA HA HA HA!”).

Friday, 22 November 2013

Bookmark Two

And so, somewhat improbably, we come to the second annual retrospective of the This Is How She Fight Start Blog About Everything I Read Project, more casually referred to as the TIHSFSBAEIRP, which has a much nicer ring to it I feel. You may, if you wish, view this as nothing more than a contrarily early forerunner of the tide of annual roundup posts heading our way in a month or so.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Boys Vol. 9 and 10

Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, 2011-12
(November 2013)

This continues to be puerile and slightly guilty fun. In isolation any one of these arcs is everything you’d expect and want it to be, but still. We’re almost at the end of the run here and it’d be nice if things moved forward a bit. Very much marking time until the inevitable final showdown. Get a move on, will you boys?

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Shadowed Sun

N. K. Jemisin, 2012
(November 2013)

The second book in the Dreamblood duology, and I think it might be better than the first.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Conversation Contest 3

Part Three - Execution

This is where we got to last time. The key thing to remember is that we’re trying to place as few constraints on the students as possible. Everything we give them ourselves is something they don’t have to work out for themselves and real communication can't be atomised like that. There is no such thing as ‘context-free’; if it looks like something really doesn’t have context, than you just need to work harder at finding it.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Conversation Contest 2

Part Two - Planning Considerations
So finally we come to the meat of it. Once more, this is tailored to my specific situation; your mileage will definitely vary, and that is as it should be.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Conversation Contest

Wherein I riff gratefully and unashamedly on Chris’ outstanding concept of a Conversation Contest. This is the first iteration. It will not be perfect and there will be flaws, but given the source of the idea going through the process out loud and in public seems like the right thing to do; it might be useful, or at least interesting (or at least amusing), for people to see exactly what kind of considerations can go into a lesson before its actual execution. Putting my money where my mouth is, that kind of thing...

Because money talks etc etc and other cliches.

Friday, 8 November 2013

How The Dead Dream

(November 2013)

Obviously metaphorical, and satirical bordering on the polemical. Also quite strange.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Desperate Measures

So I joined twitter. I was going to write a blog post about joining twitter, but then I remembered that I still have some pride. Not much, admittedly, but I’m better than that. So this isn’t about twitter; it’s about choices.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Fifty Year Sword

(October 2013)

Did you ever read
The House of Leaves?
A story strange,
of drunks and thieves.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Verbal Hygiene

(October 2013)

…grammar drills present pupils with an apparently trivial and pointless task which must nevertheless be performed precisely on command. The point is not to teach the task in and for itself, but to teach discipline – obedience and punctiliousness – in all tasks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Age Atomic

(October 2013)

The sequel to Empire State which, you may remember, did a lot of stuff well but never quite recaptured the same WHIZZBANGWOW scale of imagination that marked its opening few pages. This is quite a different beast (and you should probably be aware there’ll be spoilers ahead).

Monday, 21 October 2013

There is no 'try'

One of the boys got sick and, as is now traditional, that means we all got sick. Sitting round the breakfast table this morning with everyone wheezing and rattling it felt like a particularly mucus-filled Darth Vader convention.

Which is good, because it means I can post this. I've got nothing else as I've spent all week trying to wipe snot of the faces of people who fight and scream and whine every time you try to do them a favour, even though if they just let you sort things out it'd be over in half the time. I've also been cleaning up after the boys.


Friday, 18 October 2013

The Book of the Dead

(October 2013)

Well now. An unsolicited ARC*. This, I don’t mind admitting, is something of a first (OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD). The fact that it’s coming from a publishing house/enterprise/concern I’ve previously been quite enthusiastic about is very nice, but I’m aware that this is the first step down the fraught and slippery path towards Industry Blogger. In an effort to keep my Fandom credentials intact as best as possible, I shall of course try to ensure my comments here are as (un)fair and impartial as they are for everything else. Professional detachment is, somewhat ironically, very much the name of the game (OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD).

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Choc n' Nut

A little crispy on top, but there are worse ways of using up all those nuts and chocolate bars. Afternoon tea is just so civilized, don't you think?

Monday, 14 October 2013

A Tale for the Time Being

(October 2013)

This isn’t really one book. This is two books, one interleaved with the other. And while one of these books is really very, very good, the other isn’t. The other’s quite bad, actually.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Too Shocking Even for Channel 4

Bright lights, big city.

Growing up in rural Middle-England it’s fair to say I didn’t have much exposure to the seedier aspects of the human experience. I mean, sure, there was the village tramp who everyone viewed with a sort of tolerant condescension and the church committee would give a hamper to at christmas.* Looking back, the guy was clearly suffering from at least one sort of mental illness, but talking about these things isn’t done so the fact his lifestyle choices included living under an upturned bath in a cave was publicly attributed to nothing more than good old-fashioned English eccentricity.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Art of Rhetoric

(October 2013)

The purpose, then, of democracy is freedom, that of oligarchy is wealth, that of aristocracy has to do with education and customs, and that of tyranny is security.

Friday, 4 October 2013

From the Mouth of the Whale

(September 2013)

Difficult to pigeonhole, this one. That’s good; books that are difficult to pigeonhole generally promise to be much more interesting than those that neatly slot in the middle of your main genres. But convention demands some sort of slotting should occur, so let’s say magical realism and move on, shall we?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

American Elsewhere

(September 2013)

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
And add some extra, just for you.

Monday, 30 September 2013

There It Is

2.    And you give yourself away

I’m talking about class, of course. We can dress it up in words like ‘socio-economic group’ or ABC1s or whatever, but that’s what it basically boils down to. My parents were both teachers, her dad was a civil engineer, we both have post-graduate degrees and this fact is, to our families and immediate circle of acquaintances, nothing special. Dual-income, 2.4 children, nice house with a garden and foreign holidays on a fairly regular basis. We are quite definitely, smugly, appallingly, middle class. The mothers yelling at their kids in the supermarket are not.

Friday, 27 September 2013

There It Is

1.    Only to be with you.

I think I may have finally found one. Or at least had one found for me.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


(September 2013)

I don’t quite know what’s going on here. Not with the book so much, but in trying to get my thoughts on it down on paper (or the screen. You know what I mean).

Monday, 23 September 2013


My reading plans for the recent flights didn’t really pan out. Hard to stay too immersed in something if your kids start freaking out whenever there’s a bit of turbulence, and refuse to wear their seatbelts to boot. So the books got canned in favour of more disposable distractions on the iphone, with the result that I spent much of the summer being slightly obsessed with Mirror’s Edge speed runs. This is all the excuse I need to share this video.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Of Diplomats, Footballers, Jokes, and Cake

There’s something called Paris Syndrome, which is like Stockholm Syndrome except with less cross-country skiing and more museums. That’s actually a lie. The happy truth is that Stockholm Syndrome, where a group of hostages will come to agree with and support their captors, is in many ways the polar opposite of its Gallic counterpart.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


(September 2013)

Here, in its entirety, is the opening paragraph of Angelmaker

Monday, 16 September 2013

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

(September 2013)

Wow. I read the same author’s The Vagrants a couple of years back, and that was very good in a well-crafted, interesting sort of way, but this is a whole other level. This is truly outstanding.

Friday, 13 September 2013


It's like Tiffany never died*

Looks like we got back just in time to experience the last few days of summer. Just in time to experience a little bit of what we’d missed and be oh-so glad that we’d missed it. And then it started raining. And continued raining. And kept raining some more after that.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Servant of the Underworld

(September 2013)

Historical fantasy, wherein our hero is an Aztec priest investigating a murder he believes his brother is wrongly accused of. A Mesoamerican In the Name of the Rose, if you will. It certainly gets points for originality

Monday, 9 September 2013

That's The Way The Money Goes

'Dense and moist' claimed the recipe. The finished item is a bit more than that, though. It wouldn't be stretching things too far to claim the finished cake, as a whole, could be used to repair tractor tyres or as a very effective cosh.

Sliced up though, it's pretty nice. I'd say something about experimenting next time with more baking powder and different oil, but given that treacle in Japan is a good deal more than tuppenny that could be quite a while in coming. All together now...

Friday, 6 September 2013

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig, 1974
(September 2013)

One of things I find myself doing, as a result of blogging about every book I read, is picking out quotations I think I could use here. It’s not obsessive, but every so often something will jump out at me as illustrative, or just interesting, and I’ll put it in the final post. After about five pages of Zen… I noticed one. Then after a few more pages another presented itself, then after a few more pages another, and another, and another.

Quite a quotable book then, and definitely relevant to our (by which I mean my) areas of interest. But there are just too many of the damn things. It’s packed too tight to unwrap in a single blogpost and the connections to other stuff I think and have thought shoot out like a web spun by a spider on speed. So I’m not going to quote anything from the book at all. No. I’m going to quote Donald Rumsfeld instead.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Boys Vol. 7 and 8

Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson 2010-2011
(August 2013)

More obvious references to stuff I clearly don’t get. Anyone know what’s going on with the priest in Highland Laddie? He’s blatantly a parody of something or other, but I’ve no idea what.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Big Reap

(August 2013)

Say what you like about the Collector books, they rattle along at a fair old click. I don’t think I’ve read anything so urgently plot-driven since, well, the last one. There are a few holes in said plot, but they flash by so fast that you don’t really get time to dwell on them. It opens with our hero Sam getting an assignment to kill Hitler and it just escalates from there.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Crossing the Same River

Day One
Incheon Airport – Starbucks refusing to either give or sell us hot water for the baby’s milk because, “Environmental,” despite my observation that it’s just an Americano coffee without the coffee, and thus less work for them. This does nothing to improve my general mood. Shortly after this Son #1 pisses on the play area floor, to similar effect.

Day Two
Heathrow Airport Arrivals Hall – standing in the queue to buy the necessary sugar and caffeine loaded beverage, observe magazine promising “Exclusive: Kate’s Post-Baby Weight Loss Regime” This adds a piquant dash of novelty to the standard post-flight loathing for all humanity. (That’s right, Fucknuts, close as you can. The nearer you stand to the conveyer, the quicker your bags will arrive. It’s magic like that).

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Melancholy of Mechagirl

Catherynne M. Valente, 2013
(August 2013)

Following my last encounter with Ms Valente, which I found luscious but a touch indigestible, I was advised that her short stories might be more to my taste. I’m happy to report that my advisers were correct. This is yet another wonderful collection of short stories and the odd poem, all linked to a greater or lesser extent to Japan. Some of those links are fairly slight, as with my favourite Fade to White, and the apparently very popular Silently, and Very Fast. There’s also a very strong autobiographical thread running through much of this, which is evident even without the author’s explanatory afterword and gives many stories an added emotional hold.

Start from here and see how it goes, I would.

The Idea of English in Japan

Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language
Philip Seargeant, 2009
(August 2013)

[B]y absorbing English into the Japanese language, by managing shifts in semantics and co-opting it for purely ornamental purposes, the language is, in effect, made foreign to the global community, and could thus be said to act as a further boundary between Japan and the outside world.

Yeah. ‘S well fucked up.


Julya Rabinowich, 2008 [Tess Lewis, 2011]
(August 2013)

Odd little book, this. It’s a roman a clef, as far as I can tell, about Russian émigrés in Vienna towards the end of the cold war. As is now traditional for books by writers of Russian origin the prose is beautifully fluid, but the plotting is very clearly secondary. Narrative points of view and timescales jump all over the place and each new section demands considerable patience before you realize who is being referred to, and when. This is, possibly, a fairly accurate representation of the dislocation felt by an immigrant child and teenager, but it’s not all that engaging for the reader. Not a bad book, for sure, but if it were much longer I’m not sure I would have found the effort justified by the reward.


Project Itoh, 2008 [Alexander O. Smith, 2010]
(July 2013)

Satire. And, it must be said, not particularly sharp satire, either. No scalpel here, it’s not even sledge-hammer blunt – this is a massive wrecking ball sent crashing through Japanese notions of conformity and, unsurprisingly, harmony. As it’s being aimed at a target I wholly approve of I found it all rather thrilling, in it’s own way. Nothing like an angry diatribe every once in a while to shake things up and knock them down.

The author apparently wrote this whilst receiving palliative treatment for cancer and as ways to leave this world go, it’s a pretty impressive effort.

From the Ruins of Empire

The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
Pankaj Mishra, 2012
(July 2013)

Very persuasive argument against anyone who may still be clinging to outmoded notions of the benefits of empire and the supposedly more benign repercussions of the White Man’s Burden. A fair few little points to quibble with, but should still be required reading for every white, English-speaking adult.

It’s also very readable, which is a minor thing in comparison but worth noting. I’m increasingly reading my non-fiction in parallel with other stuff, just to give my head a break, but that was completely unnecessary this time. Good stuff.

Monday, 26 August 2013


Having kids makes it worse, I think. It's a cliché to say that "they grow up so fast," but it's true, and that can't help but emphasise the passage of time and the long absences it entails. These are the choices we make though.

I'll get over it. Back to the schedule and everyday mini-challenges. The trick is to watch the saplings grow and also keep half an eye on the forest stretching out all around you. Anyway, here's a slightly too trite song that still manages to make my throat catch a little every time.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Little Pause

See what I did there?

They say it’s better to travel than to arrive. Whoever ‘they’ were obviously never attempted a 16 hour intercontinental flight with children under the age of three. Doing it with just the one was bad enough, so I can’t say I’m exactly cock-a-hoop about the prospect of trying it with two. At least last time all he did was eat and sleep and cry, and one of the first two of those usually sorted out the third. This time he can actually walk, and that doesn’t bode well.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Nova Swing

(July 2013)
       Three women and one man were picked up two miles from the Café Surf, in the back lot of another bar, where they were apparently trying to have sex with one another. There was some sense they didn’t know how to progress with this but were willing to learn.