Confessions of a Mortician

It’s probably not the most merry thing to read at this time of year, but it’s a fascinating piece. Eric Puchner meets a sixth-generation funeral director, who would like to help everyone understand something uncomfortable: death.

I knew almost nothing about what happens to Americans after they’ve breathed their last. Astonishing, if you think about it: that a person could live half his life without coming face-to-face with the one thing that unites us all.

Read the rest.


We Will Live Again

This fascinating little film is about cryogenics – and therefore dead people on their way to cryopreservation. It’s potentially too grim for some!


The Best & Worst Media Errors in 2013

A fine list of newspaper errors and corrections from last year. I rather liked this one from the Huffington Post:

An earlier version of this story indicated that the Berlin Wall was built by Nazi Germany. In fact, it was built by the Communists during the Cold War.

There’s a serious side to this, of course, in that the apology rarely gets as much coverage as the initial error. That error then becomes considered fact by culture at large. Well, perhaps with the exception of the one quoted above…


Reading Reflections

This year I seem to have discovered more about why I read than good books in particular. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been many good reads – on the contrary.

I think I read for the same reasons I write: to explore. I’m an environmentalist in the text: I like the experience of landscapes, real or otherwise. I like the sense of place. This is partially why I’m drawn so strongly to landscape books: there’s something about a personal interaction with the landscape that appeals to me as a reader and a writer. It is, ultimately, about the world shaping people, after all. Or people shaping an artificial landscape, I never quite know. Inner journeys, at least.

The idea of a ‘increase the number of novels you read’ kind of list doesn’t appeal to me – reading isn’t a race; cramming them in won’t improve me as a reader. Besides, I can still get pleasure from a book if it sits happily on my shelf being a nice edition that I interact with from time to time. With that realisation, I’ll highlight some further areas of exploration for 2014: nature writing that isn’t limited to Britain, although that tends to be my personal escapism these days; history of eras with which I’m not familiar, though I bet I go back to Rome more often than not; more crime novels, though they, too, tend to be strongly connected to settings. For some reason I’d like to try more random biographies, too. There might be the odd SFF book, but writing so much of that genre day and night, I’m not as bedazzled as easily. Or the real world dazzles me more.

A rambling post, this, but I never promised it would go anywhere.


My Reading, Gender Quotas

About a year ago I said I wanted to read more books written by women. This was largely to identify whether or not I was being sexist (unintentionally) in my reading. I tend to interact with books in different ways – some I’ll read parts of some for research, whereas others I’ll blast the whole way through. I had an ambitious “aim for 90% women writers” target for my reading, in which I failed miserably. In my vague record I seriously interacted with just under 50 books for 2013, and ended up with an approximate skewing of 60% male writers to 40% female.


1) For many historical topics (this year’s fascination was on Anglo-Saxons as well as Romans) there are virtually no female writers. It’s so utterly male-dominated you would think it a 19th Century gentlemen’s club, and not publishing in 2013. That’s part of the reason I read more men than women this year.

2) Same goes for British nature writing. It’s absurdly skewed towards men – there are a handful of great female writers (Kathleen Jamie today, Ella Pontefract in yesteryear), but it was hard to find any books not written by men. There are publishers to a great job of bringing back writers of the past, such as Little Toller books. But when their list is 95% men, you get to see the problem isn’t anything new.

3) Sexism is invisible in publishing, for some genres more than others. You might not need to be sexist to reinforce sexism, because it’s such a part of the industry. Perhaps more specifically, women are invisible in some genres of publishing more than others.

4) This is, of course, most certainly not unique to publishing, but many facets of society. Or rather, it is society. Only by making a conscious choice – a quota – could I get close to a balance. But even then some areas of my reading are so dominated by men that it was almost impossible to get balance.

5) Making quotas exposes you to new writers. This is good for so many reasons.

6) Things are just as bad, if not worse, for non-white writers. I dare say that the ethnic diversity of the UK is not reflected in publishing.

7) I’m going to try harder next year. I’m going to actively contact publishers in my own areas of interest and ask them why they aren’t publishing more women writers. Imagine how cool it would be if more people did that?

8) Apologies that this deals with gender in a binary sense.


Comment Reconstruction

Actors Grahame Edwards and Eryl Lloyd Parry recreate a YouTube comment fight in a rather Beckettian manner. This follows up on a previous video. I have to say, I absolutely love this. LOL, and so on. It actually chimes with recent thoughts on Internet culture, how most comments threads and forums just seem so ridiculous when you think about them. YouTube is probably the worst culprit for ridiculous things people say.