The year long book challenge

Book lovers! *Fanfare noise* I now announce the start of my 52 week book challenge

First some background

There’s a period of my life I hate, one I wish I could delete forever, when it was over I got rid of as much of the things from it as possible. I sold everything or just gave it away, I wanted nothing left of it that didn’t have to be left. That included most of my books. My life is now perfect, I’ve got everything anyone could ever dream of and so I’ve started to rebuild my library.

I love reading, always have, on a holiday with nothing but time I used to read 5 to 10 books happily now I can’t finish a book a month, my attention span shot from social media and streaming services. I’ve bought all of these books and I never seem to read them so I’m setting myself a challenge.

I’ve chosen 34 books to read in 52 weeks. Hopefully this should work out to almost a whole book a week. Some books will take two weeks, no way I’m finishing Sapiens in a single week, some will take a couple of days, Cat’s Cradle I’m looking at you, so in the end it’ll even out.

The 34 books I’ve chosen are:

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
This is a Call by Paul Brannigan
Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
How I escaped my certain fate by Stewart Lee
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin
Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
Chasing the scream by Johann Hari
Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig
Non-Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Lost in the funhouse by Bill Zehme
Fairyland by Paul J. McAuley
Silent Bob Speaks by Kevin Smith
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Originals by Adam Grant
Globalization and it’s discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
Nudge by Thaler and Substring
The Tiger that Isn’t by Michael Blastland
Power by Naomi Alderman
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers
The Humans by Matt Haig
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I’ve always believed that reading widely and frequently makes you a much better person more capable of dealing with the world we live in, I’m hoping that this challenge will make me feel as good about my mind as I now do about my body.

There’s a couple of rules I’m going to stick to with it

1. If a book is rubbish I’ll stop reading it and sub in another one, no point in wasting time with shit books

2. No starting new books until I’ve finished the current one

3. Post a review of every book

So this is the start of it, some of the books have been bought for me, some I started and forgot to finish, some I found in charity shops with hand written notes in the margin, one is the sequel to an audiobook a lovely comedian bought me and some are brand new, inspired by things other people are reading.

If you want to tell me some of these are rubbish before I get to them do so and I can get rid of them before I waste a week on them.

If you want to join in with me that’d be fantastic

First book is Power by Naomi Alderman, already done three chapters and hooked.

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You realise Parent is just a contraction of “Pay rent” right?

I’m angry at other parents. Not all other parents I should point out just the ones who seem to hate their kids. I should elaborate.

Ok so if you have kids this’ll be easy if not imagine you have some. Your 8 year kid comes over to you and in their hands they have Hostel, that classic horror where there’s more blood and guts flying around than at a butcher’s filleting contest and a blowtorch scene that’ll make you never able to eat creme brulee again, they say “Mum/Dad/Person I love may I watch this movie, it looks like something I’ll enjoy” and because you’re too busy on social media or watching people eat testicles in a jungle you say “yeah sure just stop bothering me” and that makes you a bad parent. Ok stop imagining now.

The same with video games, if you’re letting your kid play games where they beat hookers to death or get tortured and eaten by robotic teddy bears you’re a bad parent. Studies have shown that while these forms of media do not inspire people to act them out, they would do that anyway because they’re psychopaths, what it does do instead is change a child’s brain chemistry so they now have a predisposition to mental health problems and potentially psychopathic tendencies. The reason these things have age limits is because your brain can literally not handle that kind of stuff without changing irrevocably, you’re forcing it to experience things it shouldn’t need to experience so it grows around them instead of building up to them.

People are always saying “nah my kid is mature for his/her age, she can handle it” THAT’S NOT A GOOD THING! Your kid being mature for their age doesn’t mean they should be exposed to murder, what’s wrong with you?! That’s like saying Syrian refugees can handle having missiles fired at them because they’re used to it. THEY SHOULDN’T BE USED TO IT!

Imagine a child’s brain as a tree, I know there’s a lot of imagining here but it’s necessary, normally it grows up towards the sunlight and down into the ground. Imagine adult movies/games/books/music/podcasts/magazines or whatever are a metal fence across the top of it, sure the tree still grows up and around the fence in a cool and interesting way but it’ll always have that thing inside of it and won’t be the tree it could have been. Ok that metaphor wasn’t the strongest but you get my point.

It’s always the same parents who do it too. The ones that think a red bull and a rice krispie square are a suitable breakfast, that shit is proven to cause cancer, increase anxiety and you wonder why your kid has behavioural problems? They don’t have a behavioural problem they have a parenting problem.

Look I get it you’re busy, you have a job, you have a house to clean, a dog to walk, you’ve got friends to keep in touch with and a million other things that need your attention but perhaps if you can’t look after your kids properly just don’t have kids. Either do the job right or don’t do it at all. If you have kids already this could be a problem, again I’m addressing the shitty parents here, so try harder shitty parents or be prepared to wake up in a room covered in sheet plastic while your kid stands over you with a blowtorch screaming “WHERE DID YOU HIDE IT?! WHERE’S MY WINGS?!” over and over.

International men’s day

And the Internet groans with the same “but when’s international men’s day?” joke, like an overweight cat trying to get to milk, social media is bloated and incapable of moving beyond the living room threshold.

But really why the hell is there an international men’s day? What’s the point of it? What exactly are we celebrating? The fact that one gender has successfully repressed all other genders throughout history? Partition of humanity? The objectification of women and the glorifying of misogyny? Penises ? What does it accomplish?

I mean there’s not even a special card like with mother’s day. I’d love to get an international men’s day card with two dudes on the front cover and one’s saying to the other “smell my fingers”, that’s exactly the world I want my daughters to grow up in. I mean we’re already saying that sexism is fine, see Trump getting elected, misogeny is ok, again Trump, and sexual assault is something you can get away with as long as you’re a man, aka Trump, why not go the whole hog and just force women to wear Slave Leia outfits in every workplace? Anyone who disagrees is a crazy feminazi, it is all just locker room talk after all. Boys will be boys. 

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think there should be any “international … days” men, women, children should be treated equally and fantastically all year round. You shouldn’t need a special day where you’re saying to yourself “well I’ll make a special effort today, I won’t call anyone a slut, it’ll be tough but people will appreciate the effort”. I think mothers and fathers days are bullshit, a day when terrible children can assuage their guilt by buying shitty cards and crap flowers rather than just doing it off their own backs on random days occasionally. 

Can’t we all just be nice to each other every day? Is it so hard to walk through a crowd of people and smile at someone occasionally? Can’t we just remember all the great things all genders have done for this world all the time and not have to be reminded to not act like an asshole? 

I’ve got a suggestion, instead of these bullshit days celebrating one specific gender to remind us that we are all separate and the world is a lonely place how about we replace them with “don’t be a dick year” where we all don’t be dicks, how does that sound?

Except international talk like a Pirate day. That can stay.

I’m an adult (and the one in the pink shellsuit)

“What’s for dinner?” my kids ask and I think “Yeah what is for dinner, oh shit I’m the adult, I’m meant to decide that!” that and a hundred other moments are when you realise that you’re the one people are looking up to now.  I haven’t quite got the habit of buying a week’s worth of shopping all in one go, instead going to the shop every day on the school run to pick up stuff we need for dinner, that way we waste less but mostly it’s because I don’t have the same attitude to shopping that my mum did, which was similar to someone competing on extreme shoppers angry at retail staff edition. 

When I was growing up my mum would take me and my brother to the shop. We’d either be in the trolley (shopping cart to non UK readers) or I’d be pushing my brother along in the pushchair (take a guess non UK readers). One time I hid my then 18 month old brother behind a bunch of plants, still securely strapped into his chair, and assured my mother he was gone now and we shouldn’t worry about him. She’d fill the trolley with food and we’d pay for a week’s worth, normally around £100, then take it home and unpack. That seems crazy to me now. £100 a week?! There’s a whole person more in our family and we spend half that! I know families spend that much these days but with inflation that’s an equivalent spend of £259.33 today. My mum was spending an equivalent of £260 a week on 3 of us and a dog!

Lets get some background going here. My mum was a single mother, my brother and I were looked after a lot by childminders and babysitters just so she could go out and earn enough for us to have a good life as well as childminders and babysitters. We had a nice house, clothes, holidays etc but it never once occurred to me to ask my mum why she would always wear the same clothes or never buy herself anything not absolutely necessary. Only now as a parent myself do I understand and I want to go back in time, grab my tiny 11 year old shoulders and scream “MAKE HER A BETTER MOTHER’S DAY CARD YOU SPOILT PRICK! SHE DESERVES AT LEAST A PARAGRAPH OF YOUR RESPECT AND LOVE!” because no matter what you say kids are selfish little things that don’t understand what their parents go through and nor should they.

So the fact that she would make sure we had that food in the house and we never wanted for anything made me complacent, I’m not going to say lazy because I’ve always been a hard working guy it’s just that maybe I didn’t used to understand how things really worked in life. Like when I got to my uni I had to guess how a washing machine worked (with coins) and how much powder to put in (not half the box), plus I learned that people will steal any food they find in a communal kitchen no matter how many pubes you put on top of it. I thought I was self sufficient, I had a part time job with full time hours that I did as well as my degree so I thought I was doing ok. Then I ate nothing but bread and beans for 3 months and called my mum to come and do some shopping because I didn’t have £100 a week to spend on nice food, hell I didn’t have £100 all in one place until I was well into my 20s.

Not because I didn’t have a decent job or anything like that but just because between the time my mother was buying that level of shopping and me having my own kids, prices went through the roof and wages went through the floor. My mum got into a pretty high up IT position because she had a qualification in French, nowadays you can’t even get into an entry level French interpreter’s job with a qualification in French, you can’t even get a job selling French bread with a qualification in French. We used to give people who couldn’t do anything else the trolley (shopping cart) pusher jobs and nowadays we have people with master’s degrees doing it, there are middle aged men and women with a masters in molecular biology pushing trolleys to supplement their zero hours university teaching job which means you now need a degree to get those jobs so we’re about two years away from there being degrees in trolley pushing and vomit cleaning. Bachelor of Grocery Container studies, BGC hons.

Even now, aged 34, I can’t spend over £1000 a month on food and groceries! Who can?! I mean who can that doesn’t own their own newspaper or tax haven based online shop? When does it get to the point where an adult can just drop that kind of money on weekly shopping? Does the fact that I can’t do that mean I’m not an adult yet? I feel like an adult. I pay taxes and bills that seem extraordinarily high for things that regularly fall from the sky. When there’s a noise outside that could potentially be a murderer, demon or Jehovah’s Witness I’m the one that goes to check. I feel like an adult but maybe not as much of an adult as my mum was. I say was because the other day she made a cake filled with smarties and another that had fudge pieces in the mix and really that kind of behaviour isn’t very adult at all.

 

How do you know you’re a good person

Because no one ever tells you. I used to think I was a good person. When I was younger I tried to do things for people, make life a bit easier for them etc but as I’ve got older I’ve thought “Fuck that! What did those dicks ever do for me?!” and that makes me think I’m a bad person. I mean I voted thinking I was against racism, I give to charity, love my family, try not to gossip about others, pay all my bills but I don’t think those things make me a good person. Fred West loved his family, Josef Fritzl really loved his family.

Here’s the problem. You could be a lovely person, help out at your church, bake for your kids’ schools, volunteer at the soup kitchen and read to old people but at the same time you could think gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married because it’s an abomination. Does that make you a bad person? You don’t think so. I think you’re a piece of shit but the old people you read to would defend you and kids would pelt me with freshly baked muffins if I confronted you at their fete, repeatedly asking why your cupcakes had the word “fags” with a big red line through it on them. All of those people will repeatedly tell you that you’re a good person and you’ll believe them.

It’s bothering me a lot. I don’t have a lot of friends so when I do or say something a bit controversial I don’t have a bunch of people backing me up with baked goods or old war stories. I have my family who say “you’re fine, you’re doing a good job, none of us are dead and that’s a big part of being a good dad/husband” but then Hitler had a girlfriend and Trump has his weird family so that can’t be a good measure. I’m not saying I’m pulling on a white hood, burning a cross and getting confused when people aren’t on board I’m just saying that I don’t have a large echo chamber of people who have known me for a while telling me I’m a good person and silencing that little voice in my head, in a weird cockney accent strangely, telling me I’m wrong.

Strangers are worse as a reference point, they don’t know where you’re coming from, they don’t know you’re being ironically racist or you’re sharing a sexist in-joke with your wife. Strangers will take everything at face value and immediately call you on it, especially online. They’ll make you feel like you’re an awful person just for liking cat photos or Christmas so who do we use to measure ourselves against? When did it become a crime to want Christmas to come early? I just love bright knitwear.

If you look to historical examples you’ve got people like Ghandi who took a stand for his country’s freedom but then it turns out he might have been a paedophile, Mother Theresa turned out to be an atheist, Winston Churchill invented concentration camps, Roald Dahl hated Jews. All of these people are seen as being ideological leaders in their fields and yet are so fatally flawed that you couldn’t take them as an example. Did those flaws also make them the great people they were? Were they great because they were hypocrites?

I’m overthinking it all but really at no point in school and through your development is there a moment where someone takes you aside, hands you a list of qualities and says “Just do these things and don’t do these other things and you’ll be a good person, ignore what anyone else says these are the definitive qualities that a good person needs to adhere to”. Hell they don’t even teach you how to raise a child, fix a leaky sink or how to hold a meaningful conversation and those things are the key skills to life. I would have given anything to have had a lesson in school called “How not to fuck up” I can tell you now that would have been so much more useful than how to play the recorder or any amount of trigonometry.

If we had that, just that assurance, maybe we wouldn’t have people gathering to march against people of a different race or sexuality. Maybe we’d have enough space for refugees and enough money for the homeless. Maybe we could have a standard two week holiday for Christmas for everyone? That’s the dream right there.

 I think I’m a good person. Maybe.

The World’s paper bag

Well hasn’t 2016 been one massive panic attack. Everytime I get a “Breaking News” notification on my phone I panic that David Attenborough has died and we’re now living in a post Attenborough world. That’s a bit fucked up isn’t it? That I’m more worried that David Attenborough has died than nuclear war has been declared, I think I’m more prepared for Nuclear War like it’s been coming for so long now that I’ve watched so many doomsday prepper videos and bought so much bottled water that it could happen tomorrow and I’d just be glad I was using real skills for a change and making cupboard space.

But it has been. Ever since 2016 started the collective reaction has been one long horror movie jump scare waiting to happen, the most recent one being everyone waking up and Donald Trump’s face being an inch away from our own. Life is terrifying enough without knowing that at any moment you could be assaulted from your TV screen by Trump’s tiny mouth and hands.

However that’s not what this blog is about. I was pretty sick last week, you know that already, and I didn’t have much access to technology while I was being a human cream eclair. Looking at my phone meant stabbing pains behind my eyes and you know what I discovered? Happiness. I spend my life being one mean internet comment away from tearing all my clothes off and screaming at vegetables in a supermarket so imagine my surprise when, after turning myself inside out, I felt relaxed. I spent the rest of last week smiling and laughing, making jokes, writing loads and generally being a much more pleasant person to be around. This on the week Trump won.

Then gradually it’s crept back in. Every time my phone goes I get chest pains, reading the news makes me sweat, shortness of breath when I log into Facebook and I’m not the only one that gets this. People all over the world are on the knife’s edge of panic. This is the reason we voted for Trump and Brexit, this all pervading fear that gets into the corners of our lives like the smell when a cat shits in it’s litter tray while you’re eating breakfast and you know that’s all you’ll be tasting the whole day. That fear is what’s made people do crazy things most people didn’t think would happen because they want something to change and would do anything just to feel anything other than terrified. It’s hard not to reference Hitler when mentioning what’s going on in the world and you guys get it so Hitler, it’s all Hitler.

The important thing to remember that the one thing Hitler did do was kill Hitler and we’ve got a president elect who might be the first world leader to accidentally assassinate himself. The upside to Trump is that this will be an end to all state secrets, anything important happening will immediately be announced on Twitter then denied on live TV and confirmed again in secret filming during him judging a porn film award ceremony. Also he might be the first president to take back 100% of their campaign promises which at least makes him consistent.

I want you to understand that in order to feel better I bought myself a knitted jumper. That’s where I’m at right now.

The Trump/Clinton paradox

I’ve wanted to write this blog for a couple of days but I’ve been sick, like really really sick. When I say sick I mean from both ends while screaming sick, both ends while screaming and drafting my will sick. It’s been horrendous, graphic and emotionally haunting for all of my family and friends that had to use the bathroom after me. I thought it was a stomach virus but turns out it was an allergic reaction, I’m bullshit intolerant and there has been a lot of bullshit this year.

First David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood died. Bullshit.

Then we had Brexit where the main politicians behind it lied about what it would do for us as a country then quit the moment they won because they never expected to win. They even had the gaul to claim they’d never lied about any of it even though there were pictures of them in front of buses with the lies printed on them. Recently half of them have said we shouldn’t even have had Brexit. So much bullshit.

And now we have the US election where the choices are between a candidate who is qualified but has shown a tendency for warmongering and the host of a reality TV show who’s biggest quote of his entire campaign is “grab them by the pussy” which sounds like the quote from a made up reality TV show on another TV show mocking reality TV shows. Ultimate bullshit!

No wonder I’ve been so sick. I checked the label for 2016 and it doesn’t even mention bullshit on the packaging, not even a “this has been prepared in an area where we also manufacture bullshit”. No wonder I was so ill.

Look if you’re American vote for Hillary, even if you’re doing it as a joke because what won’t be funny is if Trump wins by one vote and you have to turn to your friends and say “I was only kidding” just as the nukes start to burn the flesh from your bones. I get that Hillary has had some problems but really her biggest problem has been “doing things presidents have to do” rather than “avoiding cases of rape against you from minors”. She’s qualified to do the job.

I get it Trump is funny and he’s a comedian’s wet dream. The guy writes other people’s jokes about him, what isn’t to love? I mean other than the racism, classism, fascism, misogeny, sexism and a total lack of regard for reality what’s not to love?

If you were hiring a new IT manager for your company and the choices were between a boring IT grad who’d worked in a couple of other companies and had had to purge an email server once to keep her company safe and a live tiger you’d take the IT grad. Sure the tiger would be exciting for a day or two but soon you’d have a problem and someone would have to go in there to ask for help and then the company is fucked. If this was a small company no one would care but this company is the World’s biggest company who just so happens to have several buttons that make a lot of other companies explode and turn the populace into mutants. I’m not saying that’s what the tiger would want to do but while it’s tearing apart it’s own IT staff and hunting anything with a vagina it might accidentally hit one of those buttons.

So I’m saying vote Hillary because otherwise you’re the one that has to go and ask the tiger to fix your email.