Music Monday 5/7/21

Hello everyone. I hope you’ve had a decent couple of weeks since I last posted. I really enjoyed my trip away, which was the first in well over a year. However, I do feel a little bit aimless now that school has finished and university is still a ways off. It’s made it hard to want to write anything, but hopefully it’ll all be fine after writing a few posts.

Due to the all-consuming nature of exams, I haven’t actually discovered that much music recently. Nevertheless, I did hear some of Adele’s work for the first time, and I can definitely see why it’s so popular. She has such an immense voice. My personal favourite is Rolling in the Deep. I also fell in love with 3 Nights by Dominic Fike, which is quite an unusual yet catchy song. Although I do think it is beyond my musical abilities to describe exactly why this is the case. The there is Money, Fame & Fortune by The Goo Goo Dolls. I’ve already written about other songs of there’s that I’ve enjoyed, but I keep finding more that sit well with me. Their brand of soft pop is one that I find extremely compelling. I also rediscovered the band Sugarland, which my parents often played when I was younger. Listening to Settlin’ again was very nostalgic, and the country nature of the song makes it very easy to lose yourself without too much thought. Finally, I’ve discovered One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess. I have no idea how the Spotify algorithm decided to recommend this song to me, but it did a good job. Despite never having heard of the musical before, or knowing what happens in it, I found myself caught up in the beat and the message of the song. Hope you enjoy these as much as I did, and I’ll be back with more next week.

Blog Update: I’m Back (Sort of)

Hello everyone! It certainly has been a while since I’ve last posted. However, my exam’s have been over for a couple weeks now, and I’ve been slowly catching up on everything I missed while I was dealing with them. I feel like I’ve done well, but only time will tell. It feels strange to wake up and have nothing specific that needs to happen, yet I have definitely needed some time to just do nothing to recharge.

Based on the title, you might be wondering why I’m only sort of back. The reason is that I’m going away for the next week to visit some family, so I won’t be posting again for another week, at which point I’ll be back on schedule. I wanted to write this post before I went away though, as I thought it would motivate me to actually get on and write my book reviews when I get back, instead of telling myself I’ll write them and then the day mysteriously vanishing and I’ve still made no progress.

During my time away, I did give a decent amount of thought to my blog, and whether I wanted to change anything. However, I think I’m going to keep my schedule of posts roughly the same, although perhaps writing a little less than before, and just take it from there. I want to make sure it is sustainable when I have other things going on in my life, but I’m not entirely sure how that happens, and if anything even needs changing.

I read a decent number of books while I was absent, although maybe not as many as I would have liked. I’ll probably retroactively review some of them – it might be interesting to see how much of an impression they left on me a few months later on. I think my favourite during this period was probably Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, which I read for a book club. I didn’t know that much going into it, but it was considerably better than I thought it’d be. I was surprised at the depth it managed to access in its themes without sacrificing any of the fantasy elements. I’d strongly recommend taking a look at it if you haven’t before and you like fantasy.

I also read a really excellent non-fiction book called The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge. I like history, but have never been that interested in this time period before. However, this book was written so fluidly and the whole narrative of the Crusades was so easy to follow that I was captivated right from the start. In places, it almost felt like I was reading a piece of fiction, between the author’s accessible writing to the remarkable events he was recounting.

Weekly Preview 21/3/21

Hello everyone. I’ve reached the unfortunate conclusion that I need to focus all my efforts on my exams. I thought I’d be able to continue writing some blog posts alongside, but I’ve just been too exhausted to do it, and I think it’ll just cause too much stress if I continue to try. I’ve still got a review for Something Wicked which I have agreed to write, but apart form that, this’ll be my last post for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back soon-ish, but I don’t know how thing’ll turn out.

Music Monday 15/3/21

I feel like I’ve missed so much music (since I only started listening properly back in March 2020), so I’ve created this recurring post for a dual purpose: to help remind you of songs you might have forgotten (or never heard) while I go on a journey of discovery, and to document what I have been listening to. Please leave any listening recommendations below!

Diving right in this week, we have Diane by Cam. When I heard this, I instantly thought of Dolly Parton’s famous song, Jolene. To me, it feels like Jolene’s own perspective, made for the modern age. I’m curious to hear if you agree with this unusual take. Then there is Royals by Lorde. I didn’t think much of this alternative hit the first time I heard it, but it’s really grown on me. I’ve also been turned onto the sea shanty, Santiana (by the Longest Johns), by a close friend. I love the richness of the voices. I’ve also, bit by bit, been converted to a Taylor Swift fan. I thought this was the right time to feature her music, given folklore just won best album at the Grammys yesterday. At this moment, betty is probably my favourite song from the album. Finally, I wanted to give a mention to a band I think is highly underrated. I love the music produced by Harpeth Rising, so here is Westbound By Polaris. Hope you enjoying listening to these!

Weekly Preview 14/3/21

Hello everyone. This past week has been a pretty slow one, where I’ve been cramming revision into most of my waking hours. Not exactly glamourous, but it needs to be done. Next week, however, is much more exciting. To start with, I’m going back to school tomorrow, which hasn’t happened in a year. I’m definitely looking forward to it, but there are some nerves too. Then I start the training for my census job on Tuesday. Not really sure what it’s going to be like. Anyway, all this combines to give me a very busy week. Given this, for the foreseeable future I’m going to try to post one or two book reviews a week, as well as my continued analysis of The Grapes Of Wrath, Music Monday, and this weekly catch-up post. I think trying to do any more than that is just setting myself up for failure.

I’m planning to review Lustrum, which I really enjoyed as it tied directly into the topics we cover in my latin lessons, as well as being an exceptional political thriller. I felt like it continued the story of Cicero well, and I plan on reading the final part of Robert Harris’ trilogy soon. Also, I hope to review Something Wicked, which was a surprisingly good indie book about a police investigation of vampires. I’ve also started The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but it is a pretty meaty book.

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 7

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

Chapter 20 seems to be a the culmination of all the bleak foreshadowing thus far. The Joad family have arrived at a Hooverville (a decrepit area filled with the rundown tents of the migrants), and it really is a sorry sight. I just can’t get over the fact that the US, supposedly the land of freedom, treated its citizens this atrociously less than a century ago. Worse though is that I’d never even heard of these events before, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The first thing I want to comment on is the lack of labour protections. Policies of blacklisting and locking up those who lead worker unity movements were widespread. Since there wasn’t a minimum wage, it was easy to do a full days work and still not be able to feed your family. All this build the picture of a time when the rich protected their interests at the expense of the poor very effectively. A picture that looks horribly like today. The US has the worst minimum wage to average wage ratio of all the developed nations that have one, yet there is still significant resistance to raising it. The scariest part, however, is that in the book, the working classes were mostly united against the rich who were feeding off them. This is not the case today. I sometimes wonder if we are too far gone this time, due to changing technologies like social media.

One of the characters bluntly remarks that religion can’t cure hunger. I’ve been seeing the religious themes throughout the book, and haven’t known what to make of them up to this point. Now, it seems to be saying that institutionalized religion cannot provide for you, and might even be a stretch on the money you have (as with the funerals). However, I think there is a place for spirituality in helping keep people grounded during hard times. It gives them something to live for.

There are two more characters who have difficulties adapting this week. One, John, turns to drink, while the other, Connie, abandons his wife and unborn child. I think this is here really to emphasize just how hard this change is. That the manual labourers are so much more worthy often than the those who own the plantations, since so many have such fortitude after surviving in the awful conditions for any amount of time. There isn’t really much to say that I haven’t covered in previous weeks, but I just wanted to draw your attention to the theme reoccurring. I’m sure more of the family will succumb to the conditions before the novel concludes.

There was an incident with stew that really demonstrates just how dire the conditions are. The Joad family turn up and start cooking the remains of the food they brought with them. As soon as the children of the camp smell it, they all crowd around to watch, hoping to get a portion. Ma is heartbroken that she can only give them all the smallest of tastes, and even then she can’t feed the whole family properly. Then one of the kid’s mothers turns up to complain about Ma feeding her child, probably because it makes her feel insecure as a parent. This scene was honestly so hard to read.

There have been many mentions of families being torn apart forever up to this point. Since the internet obviously doesn’t exist, there is a very good chance that if a family split up, they will never see each other again. The frequency of this happening, and the casualness with which it’s discussed, is deeply saddening. While I’ve often focused on the economic costs of the migration, this clearly shows there are social, specifically familial, ones too. It’s so easy to overlook an individual person’s life being ripped apart when we look back in history, and this book does an excellent job of bringing individual pain to the fore.

Another thing that’s barely changed since the novel was written: police abuse of power. I might not be as blatant as falsifying evidence and setting Hooverville ablaze, but it is still very prevalent in our current society. The treatment of economic migrants in the book is very reminiscent of the treatment of ethnic minorities today. Once again, Steinbeck’s masterpiece is extremely relevant still.

When John tries to share his pain, it seems to be taboo. There is a ‘speak no evil’ culture, where a positive mindset should be maintained at all costs, and you shouldn’t burden others with your own problems. This was a pretty forward thinking criticism by Steinbeck, as far as I’m aware. I’m happy to say that, as a society, we are much better when it comes to mental health issues, and sharing our emotions without stigma, although we still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant reminder of the progress we’ve made, as it can be easy to lose sight of that.

The family has a rebellious streak when it comes to authority. They are a proud people, like so many of the migrants, and so, rightly or wrongly, are stubborn about bowing to those in positions of power. This sometimes means that they ignore or resent good advice that is given to them by people who have already experienced the horrors. This example of the confirmation bias is not surprising, as human have been doing it for centuries, but certainly doesn’t serve them well. Again, this parallels our modern society, with the rise of post-truthism and the anti-intellectual sentiment. However, it does enable them to stand up to those who abuse their power. As long as they keep fighting, they haven’t lost, as the thought goes. My personal worry is that they will be broken by the system before long.

I’m reading chapters 21 & 22 next week. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my analysis and how it relates to the modern world.

Book Review: The Empire Of Gold

The Empire Of Gold is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy. It sets itself apart in the high fantasy genre by effectively using the setting of Ottoman-empire-age Persia. This setting adds a richness and novelty to the trilogy, alongside having excellent political intrigue. I’m not really sure how to write this review without spoilers for the first two books, so if you’re interested in the series as a whole, I’d suggest reading my reviews for The City Of Brass and The Kingdom Of Copper instead. You’ve been warned.

At the end of the last book, Ghassan was dead, Manizheh had succeeded in taking the city of Daevabad, and Nahri had fled the city with Ali. Also, the magic of the world seems to be broken. This book follows the attempt by Nahri and Ali to regain control of the city, and restore magic to the world. We also see how Dara copes with the guilt of being part of another slaughter.

Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the plot of this book. There was much less of the intrigue I’d come to expect from the series, and instead it felt like a haphazard series of events that pushed the characters across the world and built towards a climactic final battle. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, but it felt a little bit cookie cutter for the final book of the trilogy, like it had lost the elements that made the first two novels shine so brightly.

The characters were also a mixed bag. It’s no secret I didn’t like Dara in the past, and I still was not a big fan overall, but I did like his character arc in this book. I felt like he drove forward the political intrigue elements. I also thought that Jamshid got decent character development, and the final parts of Nahri and Ali’s arcs were satisfying. I did like the interaction between the ifrits, and how distinguished they all were.

However, I thought there was a wasted opportunity in Zaynab. It would have been really easy to see what was going on in other parts of the city through her. I feel she underwent character development somewhere throughout the trilogy, but it was not written. Honestly, I could see her getting her own spin-off novel in the future if Chakraborty wants to return to the world. Also, Kartir didn’t really get any development, which was a shame. We never really got to see how he was affected by his part in the slaughter at the end of the previous book. I was not a fan of Manizheh either, as she was just too evil. I guess an effort was made to give her some redeeming qualities, but it wasn’t enough for me. I preferred the grey areas that Ghassan gave us.

I liked how we finally got much more of the magical parts of the world that were teased in the previous novel, but the rules still didn’t feel very clear by the end. There were a handful of occasions where it wasn’t quite clear to me how the rules worked, and why something could happen within their confines, or why they could be broken at a specific point.

The writing really made the book come alive, as it did in the previous ones, and continued to drive forward my desire to continue reading. The dialogue was excellent, and, as I’ve often remarked, good dialogue goes a very long way. 
Overall, I’d give the book 5.5 out of 7. It was a relatively satisfying conclusion to the whole trilogy, although I do think it was the weakest book of the three. However, the series is worth reading as a whole, and so is this novel if you’ve already read the first two.

Music Monday 8/3/21

I feel like I’ve missed so much music (since I only started listening properly back in March 2020), so I’ve created this recurring post for a dual purpose: to help remind you of songs you might have forgotten (or never heard) while I go on a journey of discovery, and to document what I have been listening to. Please leave any listening recommendations below!

I have a story to tell before I get to my picks for the week. I was playing a song guessing game with friends (link is here for anyone whose interested – it was actually really fun and casual) which we found a few days ago. In the past, I’ve been dreadful at these sort of things, because I just didn’t know any music, and for the most part, I still wasn’t very good. However, I was actually pretty good at the alternative music category. This was significant to me for two reasons. First, it shows just how far I’ve come in just a year of actively trying to expose myself to as much music as possible. Second, I’ve always struggled to define what sort of music I like, as I thought it was quite a diverse selection. However, according to this game, most of the stuff I like comes under alternative, and that makes sense to me. Not that it really matters that much, as it’s just a label, but it will probably make my life easier in future.

Anyway, enough of that. The first song I’ve chosen is Little Bird by Annie Lennox. I really like Sweet Dreams, but I hadn’t really discovered anything else of hers that resonated with me until this song. But it’s electropop, so I’m not really surprised that I enjoy it so much. Secondly, Smoke And Mirrors by Gotye. Somebody That I Used To Know is by far his biggest hit, but I actually think I prefer this song. What really surprises me is that it’s been almost ten years since he released any music, despite being wildly successful. If anyone knows why, please tell me, because I want more.

Next, Read My Mind by The Killers. I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with this band. I think some parts of their songs are excellent, but then they’ll be a section of the same song that I can’t stand. Obviously, this makes for a strange listening experience. Nevertheless, this is one of their tracks that I enjoy the whole way through. Then there is Jenny Don’t Be Hasty by Paolo Nutini. I was turned onto this by a friend, and it’s really good, although not what I usually listen to. I’m really glad they suggested this, because I likely wouldn’t have found it on my own. Finally, Ghost by Gerry Cinnamon, which I actually found through the music quiz game. I definitely look forward to hearing more my Cinnamon, but I haven’t had time to explore yet.

Hopefully you enjoy my selection this week!

Weekly Preview 7/3/21

Hi everyone. You might remember that I said I was going through a period of demotivation last week. Well, I’ve come out the other end, and everything seems to be looking up (even if I’m still not happy about the exams situation). I think part of the reason for this is that I now have a lot on my plate. Alongside near constant revision, and the possibility of returning to school, I’m also starting my job in just under a week and a half. I find having a lot going on helps me stay focused. The downside of this is that I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to write blog posts, but I’m hoping it won’t be affected too much.

Bookwise, I’ve read a lot this week. I reviewed two indie books, both of which were very good, Realms and Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt. I also finished reading The Empire Of Gold, which is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy (reviews for the first two here and here). I thought it was a pretty satisfying conclusion, although I think I enjoyed it a bit less than the previous two. My full review will be coming soon.

This week I’ll be reading another indie book, Her Mad Song. I’ve read the first few chapters and I can’t say I’ve been particularly captivated, but there is still plenty of time for that to change. I’m also just over halfway through Lustrum, and I’m loving it. The politics of ancient Rome is absolutely my thing. I’ll probably be reviewing one of these this week as well, although which one depends on my mood at the time, as well as how quickly I finish them.

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 6

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

I was warned that this book was heart-wrenching, but clearly I was not prepared. The desperation that people are facing is so strong I can practically smell it. The way the migrants are treated fills me with such rage at the unjust ways of the world. I’d better get on to my comments before I get too worked up.

The most visible theme this week was migration, and it wasn’t even close. It was hard to go five pages without some native Californian looking down upon the people who had been driven off their own land and were fleeing west to find work. The way these people are treated is absolutely disgusting, being dehumanized and thought of as lesser – something that minorities have had to face since time immemorial. They are even derogatorily labelled ‘Okies’. I guess that was what surprised me so much initially: that these migrants came from the same country, and looked the same as the Californians, yet were discriminated against regardless. Although, know that I give it more thought, it makes sense. Even today, people in different geographical regions in the same country are looked down upon, and seen as less intelligent.

The whole situation mirrors are own today. In the book, the average California resents the migrants for coming and taking their jobs and lowering wages. However, they miss the big picture, in which the rich get richer through unfair means, and everyone else suffers. The migrants and natives should be a united front against exploitation, but instead a wedge has been driven between them. Similarly, today inequality is growing, not because migrants are coming and stealing jobs, but because the richest in society don’t do enough to help the average citizen. Yet the migrants have taken the blame again. Honestly, I cannot believe just how relevant this book is today, given it was written 1938.

The final piece of this puzzle is that, according to the book, if you keep citizens hungry and oppressed, they will rise up against you. This seems to be where the novel is trending, and, once again, it mirrors current society. In the past year, we’ve seen mass BLM protests, due to the mistreatment of an oppressed group, as well as the capitol insurrection riots, partly because another section of the population is poorly paid and feel mistreated. While these actions were taken by vastly different groups, with vastly different beliefs, it does feel like we are heading to some kind of revolution in the US.

There is also a link between greed and not properly living life. The richest people have a million acres, yet they drive around in bulletproof cars, scared of dying. I think this is true to some extent today, but it manifests itself in materialism. Those who have little find happiness in the little things, while the richest try to fill the hole in their souls with expensive stuff. Nevertheless, I don’t think this link is anywhere near as strong now as it is in the book. While I’m not convinced that rich people who can solve any problem by throwing money at it are likely to be truly, deeply happy, I don’t think they’ll be scared to live either.

There is a return to ignorance is bliss theme from last week. Here, people wonder in several places if they should withhold important information form others, simply because it is upsetting. Once again, my instinct is that this obscuring of information is what got them here in the first place. It seems like the compulsive need to shield themselves and everyone around them from the harsh reality of the world puts them at a disadvantage when dealing with the unscrupulous businessmen. The same is still true today. Potentially the reason we get so many unfit people in government.

With this next point, I have no idea what to make of it. One of the characters, Noah, upon arriving in the desert in California, left the family to live in the wilderness. The best I can make of it is that he couldn’t handle all the change, so he returned to his roots. Let me know if you have any suggestions as to why someone would abandon their family, likely forever, to make a life scavenging in a foreign land.

Next, we come to Uncle John – the man who can’t forgive himself. His entire life is dedicated to trying to make up for a mistake he made which led to his wife’s death. He carries the burden around with him, and it has meant he no longer really lives. He should definitely feel guilty, but when that guilt has completely and utterly destroyed his life, I think he has gone too far. This is a stark contrast to Tom, who killed a man, admittedly in self-defense, and feels not an iota of remorse about it. I guess this places John firmly in the past, while Tom is squarely in the present (and is likely better off for it). I hope John finds it in himself to forgive, but I don’t think it’s likely. I think he’ll end up another causality of the march of progress, just as Granpa was.

Speaking of which, Granma was also a causality of the journey. She lasted a lot longer than Granpa, but in the end, she too wasn’t well enough to make such an arduous trek. Once again, this signals a culling of those stuck in the past, and those unable to adapt to a new way of life. However, I’m not sure this theme holds true anymore nowadays. Technology has rapidly evolved in the past decades, and while it probably hasn’t been easy for the older generations, they have adapted and haven’t died.

Next week will be chapter 20. As always, I’m curious to hear what you think about these point, both in relation to the book, but also how they relate to our world now. Specifically, do you think that the older generations have adapted well to the changing technological landscape over the years?