Animal Farm

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One of the most touching parts of Animal Farm.

To be honest, I have never written a book review before and seeing as Orwell and Animal Farm are so famous I doubt they need me to add to the swathe of blogs/articles that have been written about them. But this is my experience:

The book is written in a refreshingly direct and concise manner. You could liken it to a history textbook except that it is far more interesting. I learned more about political manipulation through this book than I did reading my Stalinist Russia textbook for A Level History! Anyone who has a studied the Russian communist revolution will be struck frequently by the parallels between the two. As a result, it feels as if the plot twists do not seem surprising, although you couldn’t have predicted them.

I am personally bemused by the fact that I found it easier to read about pigs than I did about Stalin when they were in fact engaging in the same activities. Orwell is a master of writing, however I don’t blame the writing style of the textbook author for my lack of interest in the subject. I think it was more to do with my general attitude; Animal Farm is fiction, which is supposed to be fun, but textbooks are just hard work. I think this is a mindset that a lot of people have, and this is where Animal Farm finds a unique power and purpose. The book’s short, snappy account of a communist revolution has the potential to get the not-so-excited-by-history reader past the nausea brought on by the idea of studying modern history and teach them valuable lessons. In today’s world, where people are often apathetic towards politics, this is a vital tool for sparking interest, or at least understanding, around governance. It is important for people to recognise that they can and may be manipulated by their governments and how incremental adjustments in the wrong direction should never be ignored, no matter how minor they seem at the time. This book made me all the more determined to think critically and analyse what I’m told by the media.

In a nutshell: Lacking the “gosh/wow” factor but thought-provoking and worth picking up!

If libraries were made of lightening…

Stuttgart Library, Yi Architects, 2011

Stuttgart Library, Yi Architects, 2011

BOOM! FLASH! Welcome to Stuttgart Library! The place that takes white lightning, mixes it with porcelain and forges a book heaven, the likes of which have never been seen before!

Ok, so it isn’t made out of lightning or porcelain but whether or not it is heaven is debatable. For bibliophiles, like myself, it looks like it is hitting close to the mark. The luminous white gives this library a nice other-worldly or futuristic touch. As an anthropologist, I think this place gives us a rare and unusual insight into the world of The Book Lover in particular their optical capacities. In this scene we can see that the bright white, whilst brilliant, doesn’t detract from the books. In fact, it accents them, creating an effect similar to the visual experience of those manifesting the bibliophilia gene. Around them, all is plain and fairly nondescript, like a blank sheet of paper. Paper that is meant to be drawn upon. Bibliophiles view the world around as not quite real and project all manner of fiction into their environments, making them exciting and risqué. The brightest colours to be seen through their eyes are those displayed on the spines of books.

Speaking of lightening… today’s song is Crying Lightening by the Arctic Monkeys

Collect – Piece #1

Ok, I am dying to share this artwork with the world.

“Stack” by Torbjørn Kvasbø

I found this beautiful ceramic sculpture in the Galleri Format area of Collect 2013 , Saatchi Gallery, London, a couple of weeks ago and I have to say I find it totally captivating.

My experience with Saatchi Gallery consisted of a 14 year old me witnessing a sculpture of men crucified on a tree. I was horrified. But since that tender age, I have actually grown to like art and literature that provokes a feeling of discomfort. As a result, when I encountered Stack my initial thought was “oh grief, the Saatchi Gallery hasn’t got any less weird!” but I was very quickly taken over by my need to confront the repulsive.

I paced around Stack a of times. You can’t see the central point from which those gory red tubes are emanating. The piece also has a great push and pull factor that repulses you a little but curiosity about what is inside also draws you in. You start craning your neck and stooping low to see down the tubes. They’re wide enough for your hand to fit down. You start to visualise you fist reaching tentatively into the darkness and blossoming out in the gloom, trying to discover if there is some secret inner-cavity.

Before you know it an invigilator is telling you not to touch.

Anyway, I get that a lot of people will look at this piece and think “wow, what is this lady on? I don’t get the fascination…” That’s fine. There are people who think rotting cows heads in tanks are art works and I totally disagree. This is the beauty of freedom of opinion. But before you go, here is a mini story I attached to this piece.

This is no longer an art piece made of ceramic, it is a heart. It’s gruesome and mutated; instead of having two main arteries it’s erupting left, right and centre with them. The heart was one of three belonging to a giant beast, as big as a dinosaur but stranger; not something that walks this planet or those nearby. When beasts are big, you assume they might be vicious. But this was a gentle giant, beloved by all, which was struck down with a terrible affliction that choked its heart out. In an attempt to stop the contagion from spreading, a master surgeon cut out the vicissitudinous mass and the people of the realm prayed that the beast’s remaining two hearts would be enough to sustain it. We are never to know, but here it’s gory red shine is captured forever in salute of a benevolent guardian.

“This moment is your life.” Omar Khayyum

I’m going to briefly explain why I love this quote and why I really badly needed to hear it today and will undoubtedly need to remember it in future.

Consider the “this moment” part. This moment is right now, this very instant. It is The Present Moment. If time froze right now, “this moment” would be exactly where you are; all of your possessions and wealth suspended and unchanging. All the friends and family you have can could change in an instant but not right now, not in this instance. Where you are sitting, you may have a roof over your head, or at least own one somewhere, you might have food, even if it is little of it, the same with money.

Right now I’m experiencing the usual end-of-month panic: “URGH I have no money! I am sick of working for minimum wage! I’m sick of barely having enough money to feed myself without worrying about what I’m spending!”

But, I am ok. I have family and friends that love me and whilst I am dicing with what feels like death, it isn’t really that bad. I’ve got everything I need for this moment and there are reachable solutions. As usual I am being reminded to be wiser with my money. There are a lot of little things I’ve spent money on that I could have dispensed with or bought a cheaper version of. If you’re in a similar situation, try not to beat yourself up about it; it’s just extra stress. No-one is born into life knowing exactly how to get it right and for all the advice we receive we are bound to make mistakes. We’re human. And some of us are still undergoing brain development which makes us impulsive and a bit silly (see fascinating Ted.com talk by  Sarah Jayne Blakemore about the adolescent brain)!

Ultimately, there is always a lot of peace to be found in the present moment. Yes, it might feel like the world around me is caving in, but I am still alive, mostly independent and not on the red line just yet. I’m definitely that little bit wiser and that has to count for something.

Bookish – The Outdoor Library and Ocean Sound

Probably not a very good title for a post seeing as a lot of things I write about will be book-related. I will be more creative in future! Anyway, a couple of days ago I discovered a stunning library (actually, I discovered several, but I am holding back in case you are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of awesomeness). Today’s library of interest is Huntington Beach Library, CA.

Huntington Beach Library

Huntingdon Beach Library – Photo by Vuphatt on Flickr.

Beautiful, right?

What I love about this space is that it’s trying to let in as much nature as possible! The façade is almost entirely glass which lets in a wonderful amount of natural light, you’ve got water running right up to the windows and there are plants everywhere!

It’s generally agreed that nature relaxes people. If you would like a little bit of science to back that up then check out Kuo and Taylor’s (2004) study which suggests that spending time in more natural surroundings can reduce the symptoms of ADD in children. I am coming at this design from a recent graduate perspective; the library was where I spent some of the most stressful hours of my life and there was the occasional pot plant around but definitely not enough to diffuse my dissertation stress.

What this building made me realise is that for most of my life studying has been a very “indoors” affair. I’m sure many of my friends will remember being told for the umpteenth time in secondary school “yes, the weather is very nice but, no, we are not going to have classes outdoors”. You learned to lump it. Then, before you knew what had happened, you were a teenager and bits of grass are a pain and dirt is to be avoided outside of sports classes. This is a shame. I don’t understand why it is important to stimulate children and let them study outdoors and read books with pictures and sound effects, but with adults the attitude is generally “cut them off from all stimuli lest they get distracted!” What is this hogwash?!  I like picture books as much as the next 3-year-old! I also had a strange revelation last summer; I couldn’t remember the last time I got my hands really dirty. That afternoon I did some extensive gardening with my dad without protective gloves (rebel) and I rubbed some soil on my face for good measure; I was so sick of the feeling of being sanitised.

What I like about this library is that it blurs the boundaries.  This library lets you connect with the outside world but the environment is regulated so don’t have to worry about fleeing from bees or wasps. And, personally, I don’t like silent study sections; they make me feel guilty for breathing a lot of the time and I don’t have noisy nasal passages! So the sound of water flowing would be a wonderful addition to any library. Perhaps it will make you thirsty too which is a good thing; one of the key afflictions that students suffer from on long study stints is dehydration.

And because this building is right next to the ocean, that makes today’s Song of the Day rather appropriate!