Archive for November, 2009

Pip Bin reading a how to write a novel book that washed up on the banks of the Thames near his feet, along with a pen and a waterproof bag containing thousands of sheets of paper.

Source: Bleak Expectations, series 3, episode the fourth, ‘A Horrible Life Un-Ruined And Then Re-Ruinated A Lot’.

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Stephen Donaldson, Gradual Interview, 12 November 2009.

Actually, the full quote is, in response to a question speculating that both the Creator and Lord Foul had to agree in order to summon someone from the ‘real’ world to the world of the Land:

On the other hand, I hope it’s obvious that LF and the Creator don’t both “pick” the same people by accident or coincidence. (This is just one more of the paradoxes in which I take such delight.) Ultimately they both pick Covenant and Linden for the same reason: *potential*. Covenant has it in him to be LF’s perfect tool. As does Linden. And perhaps Jeremiah. In the moral universe of “The Chronicles,” the potential for damnation is indistinguishable from the potential for redemption.

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Dust of DreamsI was looking forward to reading this penultimate volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but, to be honest, it didn’t really live up to expectations. Perhaps it was merely a combination of not being up to speed with the multi-threaded story (no easy task with about a billion sub-plots and googolplex characters) and the fact that it took me a good couple of months to finish the nine-hundred-page breezeblock of a book.

The story is set around the Wastelands some distance from Letheras, and all the various character and sub-plots in this volume slowly converge there. Perhaps the most important aspect of the story is the march of the supposedly renegade Malazan army into the Wastelands to meet their allies, the Perish and the Khundryl.

Unfortunately, other powers are abroad, including a small party of dinosaur-like K’Chain Che’Malle, who, with their puny, unwilling human Destriant (military leader) are looking for a Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil to lead them to some ambiguous future battle. Also loose on the barren plain is a mysterious, devastating force. When it finally arrives, the battle that results from this convergence of powers is riveting, moving, gutting.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of reading to do in the meantime, lots of bitty section with this character or other. It’s very difficult to keep track of them all, especially in view of all the stuff that’s happened in the previous eight books that I’ve now forgotten.

I think that when the last book comes out, probably next year, I’ll try to make an effort to read the whole series. Which will probably take about a year … which means I’ll have to start now. Sigh.

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Titus GroanAbout twelve years about, maybe longer, the BBC did a dramatisation of the Gormenghast trilogy. I watched the first three of the four episodes, and I didn’t regret missing the last. If memory serves, it was strangely manic, too colorful, too luvvy-ish (like the first Harry Potter film), and it just didn’t do much for me. Having now read the first of the books, I think I was probably partly correct and maybe a little wrong.

The most noticeable things about Titus Groan are the writing and the characters.

The writing is dense, verbose, descriptive, poetic. Long passages describe the castle at the heart of the story and the lands surrounding it. It’s a place of shadows and tired light, secret and decrepit halls, forboding heights and strange behaviour.

The people are all self-centred and self-serving. There’s the cold and ambitious Steerpike, the lonely old earl, his massive reclusive wife, their childish daughter, Fuchsia, her nagging nanny, Mrs Slagg, the smug Doctor Prunesquallor and his neurotic sister Irma, the lugubrious first servant, Flay, the corpulent chef, Swelter, and a few others besides. In summing up their characters, there’s little good to be said about any of them.

These two dimensions, writing and character, give the novel its gothic darkness. Not only is the fabric of Gormenghast Castle decaying and fading away, but the people who inhabit it are likewise slowly dying, although none of them have an inkling of it, set in their ways as they are.

Life in the castle is a grotesque dance of ritual, loneliness and despite. It’s not exactly a fun read, but its dark poetry is captivating. Having not written any reviews for a while, I’m now partway through the second book in the trilogy, Gormenghast (having spent about three years reading Dust of Dreams).

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How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleSelf-improvement has been somewhat on my mind of late – as it often is, in fact. So, despite the fact that I have a load of books on my shelf still to read (not to mention the scores of unread books I have back in Britain), I bought this famous self-help manual a little while ago.

Dale Carnegie explains in his introduction how the book evolved out of course literature for the enormously successful public speaking seminar he began running in 1912. It was also written to fill a gap in the market – there were no other books like this at the time. The fact that How to Win Friends and Influence People is still selling well (enough to be stocked in the limited English language sections of Korean bookstores) over seventy years after its publication is a testament to the strength of the adivce it contains.

And it does indeed contain a lot of strong, simple, sensible advice. One theme that Carnegie returns to several times is the idea of avoiding criticism and conflict and instead using praise and encouragment. The advice ranges from ideas like trying to empathise with the other person’s point of view and making them feel as your idea is theirs, to the utterly simple smile.

The book is full of little stories that add into Carnegie’s message. For instance, he recounts how Lincoln, as a young man, used to write critical anonymous letters to a newspaper. After one particularly excoriating missive, the person on the receiving end of the criticism discovered the author’s identity and challenged him to a duel. The duel never happened, but, according to Carnegie, Lincoln never once criticised anyone after that. (Carnegie was also a biographer of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.)

Reading the book straight through, as one would read a novel, is less than ideal, as the advice quickly becomes repetitive. Even the interesting anecdotes and digressions begin to pall. Nevertheless, the advice remains well worth keeping in mind at all times. Easier said than done.

Below is a list of all the principles of winning friends and influencing people in the book.

Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

Principle 1: Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.
Principle 3: Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You

Principle 1: Become genuinely interested in other people.
Principle 2: Smile.
Principle 3: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Principle 4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Principle 5: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
Principle 6: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

Principle 1: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
Principle 2: Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
Principle 3: If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
Principle 4: Begin in a friendly way.
Principle 5: Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
Principle 6: Let the other person do a great deal fo the talking.
Principle 7: Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
Principle 8: Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
Principle 9: Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
Principle 10: Appeal to the nobler motives.
Principle 11: Dramatize your ideas.
Principle 12: Throw down a challenge.

Part Four: Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

Principle 1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
Principle 2: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
Principle 3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
Principle 4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
Principle 5: Let the other person save face.
Principle 6: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
Principle 7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
Principle 8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
Principle 9: Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

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