Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More 'meme' madness

I'm not really a fan of this use of the word 'meme' (as I complained when Jeremiah tagged me for one last year), nor of the practice of tagging in general (a non-code virus is still a virus, and our Internet service in China is rickety enough as it is without being inundated with these chain-letter shenanigans), but......

Well, I was just checking out the reliably diverting 'Dave's gone China' (one of the few Sinocentric blogs I have any time for), and he's just been hit with a literary one (he sounds even less enthused about the whole process than I am, heading his post 'More Meme Drudgery') that I thought I might try out. Well, 'literary', but in a bizarrely random kind of way - perhaps really more of a cryptographer's 'meme'?? But, you see, I've just got back from a 2-hour jog, and have nothing better to do with my time while I warm down and soak my feet in hot brine for the next hour. It's either this or watch the lunchtime news on CCTV9 - what's a boy to do?

Anyway, the formula is: You're supposed to pick up the nearest book to hand, turn to page 123, and transcribe sentences 6, 7, and 8 from that page. Oh yes, and then you're supposed to tag 5 other people to do likewise - but the hell with that!

I have piles of books all around me, which gives me a perfect excuse to 'cheat' and compare the results from several different volumes.

Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone (the last book I finished - mental note: must return it to Tulsa, must return it to Tulsa):

He fell on to the ground and blood slowly leaked out of his head. We cheered in admiration of the corporal's fierceness and saluted him as he walked by. Suddenly Lansana, one of the boys, was shot in the chest and head by a rebel hiding in the bushes.

Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads (the book I read before that):

"Stop that crying," said the guard. "And stop calling me 'miss'. Call me 'Guard' or 'Officer', like the others do."

Neil Belton's A Game With Sharpened Knives (which I tried to read a few months ago: one of the very few books I have ever abandoned unfinished):

She had closed herself off again by the time he had joined her in bed. [The next day] She told Anny that she and Ruth were going to the National Gallery, and half an hour later he heard the front door close. He went into the living room and, parting the net curtains slightly, watched the two figures in their black woollen coats, perfectly matched, turn left along the tree-shaded street and walk into the light that waited in the open space before the castle gates.

That's a pretty good example of why I gave up on it. It's certainly well-written, but with no sense of proportion or restraint: everything is described in inordinate detail, but nothing ever actually happens. Here, for example: your mistress is pissed off at you, and takes your child out for a walk without inviting you to join them. OK, we get it. Why does that take over 80 words to describe? Why do we need to know what colour coats they are wearing? And it carries on in this vein for page after page after page - really, quite excruciatingly tedious.

James Shapiro's 1599: A Year In The Life Of William Shakespeare (the last non-fiction book I read):

The master carpenter Peter Street had carefully measured the exact dimensions of the Theatre's foundations after the timber structure had been dismantled. Once the location and centre-point of the Globe had been decided upon, Street took his surveyor's-line and, probably sprinking lime to indicate where the exterior wall would stand, marked off a ring with a diameter of seventy-two feet. The 'charmed circle' stopped there.

Alain de Botton's Essays In Love (the best book I have read recently):

In the typical scenario of betrayal, one partner asks the other, 'How could you have betrayed me with x when you said you loved me?' But there is no inconsistency between a betrayal and a declaration of love if time is taken into the equation. 'I love you' can only ever be taken to mean 'for now'.

Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman (probably my favourite funny book, and one of my favourite books - period):

As they wrangled on about sweets and passed to chocolate bars and sticks of rock, the floor was pressing strongly from underneath. Then there was a change in the pressing, two clicks were heard, and the Sergeant started to undo the doors while explaining to MacCruiskeen his outlook on Ju-jubes and jelly-sweets and Turkish Delights.

With sloped shoulders and a face that was stiff from my dried tears, I stepped wearily out of the lift into the little stone room and waited till they had checked the clocks.

Well, that will give you some flavour of the weirdness of it, I suppose.

Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled (a witty poetry-writing primer I am currently working my way through):

For others rhyme is formulaic, commonplace and conventional: a feeble badge of predictability, symmetry and bourgeois obedience.

There are very few poets I can call to mind who only used rhyme in their work, but I cannot think of a single one, no matter how free-form and experimental, who never rhymed. Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, e e cummings, Crane, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Hughes - not an exception do I know.

And finally.... Kate Teltscher's The High Road To China (a history I just bought and intend to read next):

It would be his home throughout the winter months, until the road down to Bengal was passable once again. Like much of the palace interior, the hall glowed with colour: the walls were plastered green with bands of yellow and blue, the wooden pillars streaked red to appear fluted, and the capitals and ceiling beams 'curiously carved, gilt and ornamented with Festoons of Dragons and Flowers'. The clay floor shone like marble, polished by a young monk who 'every morning gets his Feet upon two woollen Cloths, and exercises himself for three or four hours in Skating about the room'.

An interesting selection of extracts - well representative of the overall tone and content of the books, and mostly quite a good hook for the browsing reader considering a purchase. I wonder if there's some magic about Page 123? I suppose in most cases this is going to be well over a quarter and possibly more like half-way in, so the writer should be hitting his or her stride; and, in a novel or narrative non-fiction, you can expect to be plunged into the middle of a key part of the action at this point.

Of course, it doesn't always work. Dialogue tends to make for dull quotations, and can be almost incomprehensible, certainly uninvolving, when stripped of context. I tried this game with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (a book I read some time ago, but was thinking of using for my next review on the Book Book), but hit a piece of dialogue I didn't think was worth repeating (although, in this book, any page taken at random is not going to be representative of the whole because it's such an odd concept - not a single novel but a portmanteau of interlocked but essentially unrelated novellas, in many different genres and narrative styles). And the book I'm currently trying to finish, José Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda (a book I got bogged down in half-way through, and then managed to mislay for 18 months!), is completely resistant to this rule of excerpting: Saramago has a trademark stylistic quirk of severely rationing his use of full stops, so you rarely get more than 4 or 5 'sentences' to a page.

And yes, I have reviewed - or will review - all of these titles over on the Book Book, so please go and check that out if you are curious to learn more about any of them.


Anonymous said...

you do realize HiK tagged you for this meme on Feb. 6th?

Froog said...

No. On her blog? Aren't you supposed to leave a comment on the taggee's blog? I don't recall any comments on here. The posting from Kabul can be a bit sporadic, so I only wander over there 2 or 3 times a month.

Curious coincidence, huh?

Anonymous said...

curious indeed.

it's like we're all cosmically connected or sometin.

Anonymous said...

You have far, far too much time on your hands. Maybe time to get a job....?

Froog said...

Not fair! If you're going to abuse me, you have to leave a name. Which of my three regular 'Anonymouses' can you be? Or perhaps a new one??

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

But you know I'm right, don't you?

Froog said...

Glasgow Ali, I think it's you!

Anonymous said...

I tagged you again, forget the other one.

I didn't realize that I've been tagging you so much. This is the last one, until the next one.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person here who is confused? What is a 'tag'? What the hell is going on?

According to Wikipedia a 'meme' is: "a theoretical unit of cultural information, the building block of culture or cultural evolution which spreads through diffusion propagating from one mind to another analogously to the way in which a gene propagates".

Quite so.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Froog my dear old friend, am I the only person on earth who has noticed that people who keep on telling we interesting folk (during our occasional 'resting ' periods) to "get a job" are usually the most mind-crushingly tedious wankers ever to walk the earth? Usually so totally lacking in wit and imagination that their life revolves around some utterly dead-end 'job' that makes vast amounts of money for some intelligent person who actually knows how to live - and acts as a prop to the labourer's non-existent social life? How much joy do these drudges add to this fleeting and frequently awful life compared to luminaries such as yourself? Has the epithet 'anonymous' ever been more apt?

I am sorry to lower the tone of a select and otherwise notably pleasant bunch of people. To paraphrase another imaginative old friend who also sees no point to tedious labour for its own sake: "I flame so that you don't have to".

Keep up the good work :-)

Anonymous said...

haha, mothman, you're a riot... hope you come back and comment some more.

Anonymous said...

No need to get on your high horse, mothman; as a regular reader of Froog's blogs from the start, I made those comments with my tongue firmly in cheek.

Actually mothman, for the record, having just had a 5-week 'resting period' myself, I have just returned to work, which I enjoy immensely. I am self-employed and line my own pockets with any money I earn, not those of other people.

Also for the record, I am neither a wanker nor tedious. Well, I certainly have never been called a wanker anyway.

Is it possible for a woman to be a wanker anyway?

Froog said...

Please refer to my comment on the Saint Valentin post.

I think I am going to start deleting comments tagged 'anonymous' - I just find them way too fucking annoying (regardless of the content; it's the indistinguishability of authorship that infuriates me).

Anonymous said...

"Is it possible for a woman to be a wanker?" you ask. Get real, 'Ano'... it is merely a matter of the one-fingered widower rather than the five-fingered widow. And lying about it rather more...

Sadly, the distaff version of ipsation is more difficult to mime out of a speeding car window than the male one - and not as universally understood...

By the way, 'Ano', you are damned by your own anonymous keyboard. If you 'enjoy work immensely' you are DEFINITELY a tedious pratt.

Good move to eradicate anonymous posts, Froog. I can't think what sort of a prima donna would indulge in same...talking of tongues firmly in cheeks.

And can somebody PLEASE enlighten me as what the f**k a 'tag' is????

Froog said...

Lighten up, Mothman. I know who this is, and they're actually OK - apart from this maddening inability to remember to tick the 'name' box on the comment form.

And I'd rather not have too much discussion of 'ipsation' (is that reall a word, or did you just make it up?) on here. This is a 'family' blog, you know.

'Tagging' in blogworld is passing on a 'meme' to someone else. It's a chain-letter by another name. I find the concept rather annoying; but sometimes the content of them is quite diverting, so I'll indulge the writing part of the task while omitting the Web-polluting "passing it on to 6 friends" bit.

Anonymous said...

I am now lightened up, Captain Mainwaring :-) The Stakhanovite 'Anonymous' ain't the only one who is of the buccolingual persuasion around here (and, no, neither that nor 'ipsation' are the products of MY fertile imagination - honest).

Thanks for the explanation of 'tagging'. I can't say that I am going to be rushing out to do it myself but it sounds like an amusing and harmless diversion....far more fun than work :-)