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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘books’

The Future Of Things

In which we return to Mario Reading and his inability to admit to his mistakes

Flicking through my viewing figures and my search keywords, I spotted one that caught my eye:

Is it true that nostradamus predicts that George W Bush is going to get assassinated?

Well, no. No, I have to say, it isn’t. It has been claimed that he did, though, by a writer called Mario Reading. As I do try hard to maintain this blog’s position as the top source for Mario Reading information on the internet, I thought I’d better mention it. Mr Reading’s prediction is based on this quatrain by Nostradamus:

The successor will avenge his handsome brother
He will take over the realm under cover of vengeance
The obstacle slain, his dead blood seethes
Britain and France will hold together for a long time

This is Reading’s own translation. He interpreted it as: a powerful world leader, whose main international ally is the British government, undergoes an assassination attempt; and this will lead to Britain aligning itself more with the EU. Oh, and, all this will take place in ’06.* He stepped carefully around the issue of naming the leader in print:

One of many possible targets, of course, might be US President George W Bush

but this is after mentioning that “under cover” in the quatrain, souz umbre in the original, probably means something like “under a bush”. Not to mention, Reading was rather less guarded when, as part of the pre-publication publicity, he went on the telly and said specifically that it was George W Bush that he meant.

Needless to say, none of this has come true, as you might have noticed, and the time for Reading’s prophecy to apply is well past. Nevertheless, he’s since declared that his prophecy did indeed come true! He wrote on his blog that:

I’m very sad to say that the predicted assassination did indeed take place, with the murder, on the 27th December 2007, of Benazir Bhutto. … The prophecy was further vindicated by the fact that both of Benazir Bhutto’s brothers had also died under unnatural circumstances, and that their brother-in-law, Benazir Bhutto’s husband, was elected President of Pakistan. … I rest my case.

Hang on a minute there, Mario! Yes, I know, “handsome brother” might be a mistranslation of “brother-in-law” – but in your prophecy there, it’s the brother who’s been attacked. Benazir Bhutto may well have been assassinated, but she definitely was no man’s brother. Having said, back in 2005, that you thought George W Bush was going to get attacked, it’s a bit misleading of you to go back and say “aah, someone else was assassinated, see, I was right all along”. Particularly as that someone else doesn’t at all fit the prediction you wrote.

I’ve been meaning, for a while, to write a full and proper critique of Reading’s book; something which is only going to get easier over the years as fewer of his prophecies come true. I’ve had more important things to write about, but I’m getting round to it. Once I have, I’m tempted to go on to Peter Lemesurier, who, in the mid-90s, predicted, using Nostradamus and astrology,** that an Islamic army would have invaded Europe from North Africa by now.*** He’s still writing books, and his website is actually pretty useful, despite not acknowledging his past predictive failure. But, on the other hand, there is a whole world of future-predictors to debunk out there. All I can ever do is scratch the surface.

Update, September 2nd 2020: Mario Reading died in 2017 and his website disappeared from the internet, so you will just have to take my word for it that the text above is an accurate quote. Sadly, he won’t be around to see the rest of his predictions fail to come true, as indeed they probably will not.

* Reading has his own dating scheme which links the year to the number of the prophecy; according to that, the prophecy applies to a year ending in 06, although he goes on to link it, because of his interpretation, to the vaguer period “2006-2008″.

** which does make sense in a way, as Nostradamus was basically an astrologer himself. Le Mesurier sets the dates of his predictions by looking at repeating astrological cycles.

*** This is why, as I wrote a while back, the work of people like Reading and Le Mesurier really needs a Ron Howard voiceover, to say things like “It hasn’t”.

Road Trips

In which we discuss similarities between books and blogging

Last week, in the last Book I Haven’t Read post, I mentioned By Hook Or By Crook by David Crystal, and predicted that – in contrast to the book I was actually writing about – I’d have By Hook Or By Crook rattled through and quickly finished off.

Well, indeed, I have: it’s read, finished, and back on the bookshelf now. Prediction correct. And, as I said before, I think it was easy to read precisely because it mirrors the way I think. To recap: it’s written as a road trip, during which the writer muses on anything, really, that he finds of interest as he passes. A nearby manor house reminds him of a railway engine named after it, which prompts him to muse on railway engine names in general. The journey from Anglesey to the mainland prompts him to recount the history of the Menai bridges,* and a trip to Hay-on-Wye leads to the history of inn signs, coats-of-arms, and many other things besides.

It’s a book of associations, and a celebration of associative thought. I’m sure that it didn’t actually take place as a single trip, and that when Crystal sat down to write the book he didn’t just muse on whatever came to mind; it’s too carefully structured and crafted for that. But it does read as if that’s what he’s doing. It made me think, moreover, of the way I write this blog, which isn’t at all carefully structured and crafted. But, as I move through the world, I see things which spark my brain alight and give me something to think about; and this blog is the result. It’s full of rambling and digression, but, rambling and digression with a common thread behind it, the thread being the things I encounter.**

I was thinking about this as I got towards the end of By Hook Or By Crook. So, I was quite amused when I reached Crystal’s thoughts on blogging.

[Blogging] is writing which is totally spontaneous, put up on a screen without the intervention of an editor or proof-reader, so it is much more like ‘speaking in print’ than anything before. And it shows many of the properties of spoken language, such as loosely constructed sentences and unexpected changes of direction. Bit like this book, really…

David Crystal has a blog. He started writing it at the end of 2006; he said, as a sort of FAQ page. Given that By Hook Or By Crook was published in ’07, though, I’d assume that he started blogging either a few months after the book had been written or when it was in the final stages of completion. I’m wondering if writing that book was one of the other things, though, that prompted him to start writing a blog. Because, really, they’re often exercises in a similar sort of vein. Spotting something that interests you, and telling other people about it.

* from building up to burning down, you could say

** Which is all a bit of a longwinded and pretentious way of saying: I write about whatever’s on my mind.

Books I Haven’t Read (I’ve lost count which part)

In which we compare two David Crystal books with the inside of my head

Yesterday’s post, about how we can’t stop ourselves buying books, segues quite nicely into today’s. We didn’t just buy books on Saturday; we bought more on Sunday, from the weekend bookstall outside the Watershed that I remember mentioning not that long ago. I picked up a copy of By Hook Or By Crook by David Crystal; and then, thought to myself, should I really be buying a David Crystal book when I already have a book of his on the shelves that I haven’t yet read? I didn’t pause for long, because “you’ve already got one by him” is hardly a very good reason for not buying a book, but it’s true that the one Crystal book already on our shelves is one that I’ve never been able to get very far with. It is: The Stories Of English.

I find the language fascinating: both in use and in history. It’s such a playful thing, can be twisted and swerved, can be squeezed and stretched, and can be bent into truly awful puns. I love playing with it, I love its richness and I love its history, its constantly fluctuating and mercurial history. And so, I thought – rightly – that The Stories Of English would be an extremely interesting book. Crystal, moreover, is a very engaging and lighthearted writer. He’s very easy to read, very interesting, and clearly knows what he’s writing about very thoroughly.

So why, then, is it that I’ve never managed to get past the Middle English chapters? I’ve tried to read it several times, I’ve always enjoyed the sections I have read immensely, but I’ve never been able to get through Middle English. Every time, my enthusiam’s petered out somewhere in the fourteenth century, I’ve not come back to the book, and its later chapters have remained untouched. And so – given the number of times I’ve made an effort to read it – it definitely counts as a Book I Haven’t Read, even though it’s actually very good.

There’s one thing, only one thing, I can put my finger on. It’s quite a non-linear book. There are excurses and diversions. There are lots of box-outs. This is understandable. All histories can be highly non-linear, and The Stories Of English is deliberately written in a non-linear way, to take account of the parallel histories of different dialects of the language. I’m used to reading non-linear texts, or in a non-linear manner when I’m online and going down a Wikipedia hole, or when I’m researching something: flipping between tabs in my web browser, or shuffling through several open books on my desk, comparing pages and stopping to take notes. Only the other week, for example, I was sitting in the city reference library comparing passages in several books of railway history and taking notes on the development of Great Western Railway Wagon handbrakes. When I sit down to read a book for pleasure, by contrast, I’m not used to doing that. I expect my books to have a beginning, middle and end; a linear structure if not a linear narrative; flipping back and forth, both physically and mentally, needs more concentration. Crystal’s straightforward writing style, in this context, is deceptively easy to read. Especially when you reach the Middle English period, and the stories of English really start to get complex, purely because the amount of evidence available on the history of the language becomes much, much more comprehensive, it needs a lot more mental effort to keep track of things than you might think you’d need when you open the book.

By Hook Or By Crook, by contrast, is structured in a linear way, but one that’s orthagonal to its linguistics. It’s a road-trip book, essentially, with Crystal musing on anything of linguistic interest – or of any interest to him at all – which he comes across on the way. And it’s ideal for me to read, particularly because that’s the way my own brain works. Like him, I’m exactly the sort of person who would do an emergency stop and jump out of my car to photograph a misspelled sign at a level crossing. I’m racing through it, and I’ll probably have read it by the weekend; and I’ll probably read it again and again over the years. Its mode of writing complements my own favourite mode of reading, and my own favourite mode of thinking. It must also help that I know some of the places he writes about: for example, when I first opened the book at a random page I saw a photo of the Boston Lodge toll house apparently taken from a passing train.

The Stories Of English, by comparison, is something I have to concentrate on to get my head around. That, I suspect, is why it’s a Book I Haven’t Read. Yet.

Library

In which we go to the seaside

We should be banned from second-hand bookshops. They’re far too tempting. Even though we have hundreds of books, many many books we’ve never read, we still can’t resist popping into a second-hand bookshop and buying more. It’s not like going in a normal bookshop, where you have a good chance the same books will be on the shelf the following week. If you’re in a town you don’t know, and you visit a second-hand bookshop, there’s a good chance you might come across a book that you’ll never, ever see again anywhere else.

All this is making us sound very middle-aged. A weekend out for us: tea rooms and second-hand bookshops. It makes us sound like fifty-somethings. Oh well.

We’re still trying to find the Ideal Seaside Town, you see. So we went out on Saturday, to a potential one, and found a quiet (but windy) prom, a quiet (but very windy pier), a nice second-hand bookshop and a shortage of tea rooms. We did find more books for our library, though, squeezing into the bookshop. “Sorry about all the boxes everywhere”, said the proprietor. “You can’t get to all of our shelves at the moment”. Which is no doubt a good thing, because otherwise we’d only have bought more than we did.

On the pier, we got chatting to some fishermen who were leaning back and waiting for a bite. “You look a bit like Cliff Richard,” one of them said. Unfortunately I didn’t have a seagull on my head at the time, so there goes that joke. I can’t see the resemblance myself.

Reading list

In which we discuss books and the French Revolution

One thing about yesterday’s post: it gives you a good look at the state of one of our bookshelves. Not a good enough look to make out what most of the books are, though, unless they’re books with distinctive spines that you’re already familiar with – like Peter Ackroyds’s London, for example.

Over on top of that pile on the left, though, is a book I mentioned here a few months ago. Shortly after restarting the regular blogging cycle, I mused aloud as to whether I should restart the Books I Haven’t Read reviews, and predicted one book that might fall victim: Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. It’s there on top of the pile, in the blue cover. And, I have to say, so far the prediction’s been right. But not because of the book itself; because there’s been too much else to read. Below it on the pile there’s Graves’ White Goddess, also mentioned as a potential Book I Haven’t Read. I still haven’t read it. Further up, though, there’s a biography of Robert Graves, which I picked up on a bookstall outside the Watershed cinema. I thought: if I’m going to write about The White Goddess, I need to know more about him to do it justice. Coming across the biography by chance, I bought it. I started to read it. I still haven’t finished it.

Elsewhere in the house there are many more books I haven’t finished reading. Amazingly, though, yesterday, I finished one, and it was a book I only made a start on a few weeks ago.* Fatal Purity, a biography of Maximilien “The Incorruptible” Robespierre, by Ruth Scurr. A shy, fastidious man, who I find very intriguing; someone who found himself trying to impose morals by whatever means necessary, because his cause was justified. He was shortsighted both literally and figuratively, and was a logical man who became trapped in his own logic. He was willing to execute his oldest friends, because he thought his cause, the Revolution, was more important.

I’m not sure I read the book properly, because it left me feeling I’d stepped through a lacuna at one point: I wasn’t sure at all how he went from being the people’s leader, to giving a speech that he apparently could see was to try to save his own life. One thing I definitely learned about, though, was Robespierre’s inability to ever, at all, admit that he had been wrong, even after his stance had changed, or when condemning people he had earlier supported. I’m still not entirely sure whether, for that, he should be applauded, or condemned himself.

* Because it was a Christmas present from K’s brother.

All Quiet On The Reading Front

In which we ask Mario Reading why he refuses to admit he was wrong

If you’ve been reading regularly, you might remember my post from last week about noted Nostradamus-interpreter Mario Reading, in which I idly wondered aloud if he plans to correct some of the predictions he published a few years ago which have, amazingly, failed to come true. I wrote him an open letter, asking if he’ll be issuing errata for his book Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future, in which Mr Reading – sorry, Nostradamus’s – predictions have turned out to be rather wrong.

Having had no response, though, I thought I’d drop him a line, to make sure he’d seen what I wrote. After all: if someone was writing about me, I’d want to know. He’d written a blog post about searching the web to see what people were writing about him; so this is what I wrote:

Funnily enough, I posted something on my own blog about one of your books the other day. I’d been planning to write to you directly, but given the lack of direct contact details on your website – entirely understandable, I’ve had email addresses become completely unusable due to junk mail – I decided to write it as an open letter to you instead. I wonder if you’ve come across it yet.

Which was all quite respectable and polite, I thought. He doesn’t get many comments, so I thought he’d appreciate one.**

It was held for moderation, which is normal. However: it never appeared. He’s had another comment since, which has passed moderation;*** mine has disappeared. I can only assume that Mario Reading doesn’t want his blog readers to see my post, for some reason. And that he doesn’t particularly feel like answering my letter to him.

Now, Mario Reading’s blog and mine are both driven by the same software, WordPress. And I know, from using it, that when you log in to a WordPress blog’s admin pages, you get taken to a page called the Dashboard. Which, among other things, gives you a little list of other blogs that have recently linked to your own site.*

I’m in the habit of checking my site logs regularly; so, when someone clicks on a link that takes them to me, I notice it. So I know that: someone who has access to Mario Reading’s blog admin pages saw that link on his Dashboard page, on the 17th. So presumably, he’s aware of what I wrote, but can’t be bothered to answer me.

Mr Reading, if you’re reading, which I assume you will do eventually: I’d appreciate an answer to my questions. Do you intend to keep Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future on sale even though many of the things predicted in it haven’t happened? Do you intend to issue errata for it? You could do that on your blog easily enough, after all.

Meanwhile: if I’m going to be so critical, I may as well have more to go on than a vague memory of Reading being interviewed on the telly a few years ago. So his book’s on order from the local library; so we can see exactly what Mario Reading – sorry, Nostradamus – predicted would happen in the world over the past couple of years, and whether he was right about it.

* It pulls the data from Google Blog Search, although older versions of WordPress used Technorati.

** Because he uses WordPress, you can tell how many comments he’s had submitted; it gives every comment a number, and the number gets put in the URL. My comment on his website was number 3.

*** The first one to appear on his blog, in fact! And the fourth to be submitted – the first after mine.

Update, 1st September 2020: As now mentioned at the bottom of the post I linked to at the start, Mario Reading died in 2017, and his website and blog were taken offline, so I’ve removed the now-dead links.

I can see the future…

In which we confront Mario Reading, an author who got things wrong

No news on the Bristol guided busway (“Bus Rapid Transit”) scheme today, you’ll be relieved to hear.

Today, though, I thought it would be time to revisit something I wrote, back in the mists of time, when this blog was (relatively) newly-minted - insert wavy dissolve effect here. I spotted, on the telly, a chap called Mario Reading, who had just published a book claiming that according to Nostradamus, George W Bush would suffer an assassination attempt before the end of his presidency.

Lots of people have, of course, interpreted what Nostradamus wrote in different ways; and they have, consistently, been entirely and completely wrong when they produce predictions for events which haven’t happened yet. The recent US Election reminded me of Mr Reading: it reminded me that there’s not very long left for his prediction – sorry, Nostradamus’s prediction to come true – in any case, according to the table of contents of his book, it was due to have happened already by now.

I have a vague recollection at the time of Reading stating, on the telly, that he hoped that his book would be a warning to the US Secret Service, and that they would be able to use his book to foil any such assassination attempt. So maybe he’ll just say “ahh, well, clearly he would have been assassinated if it wasn’t for me.” Which begs an interesting question: what, then, for Nostradamus’s role in it all? If you publish a book that says “Nostradamus predicted that X will happen, but if you read this book you can stop it!” then does that mean Nostradamus was right or wrong? I dreamt the other night that I was going to bake myself a cheesecake for tea. I told my girlfriend – so she made us pasta instead. Clearly, this means I can see the future!

Reading’s book – Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future – is still available on Amazon. Indeed, at a discount, which seems reasonable enough considering that now a good three years of the book’s future is our past; so we can easily judge for ourselves how accurate Mr Reading’s – sorry, Nostradamus’s future-prophesying skill is. He also has another book: Nostradamus: The Good News – all the cheerful bits. Its first prediction of the future isn’t due to occur (or not) until 2021, sadly. It turns out, too, that Reading has recently started writing a blog.* He’s got a Nostradamus-themed thriller coming out next year, and a third non-fiction Nostradamus book. How you’re meant to tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction in this context, I’m not entirely sure, but he’s clearly found a vein and is mining it for all he’s worth. Unfortunately, his blog doesn’t seem to have private contact details on it, which is a shame, because I wanted to get in touch with him. Ah, well. I’ll have to put an open letter here instead:

Dear Mr Reading,
I notice your book Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future is still on sale, and apparently selling well according to your website. However, I note that it’s now 3 years since it was written; and that many of the events which it predicted to occur between its publication date and the present day have not, in fact, happened as you – sorry, Nostradamus predicted. Do you intend to keep the book on sale even though it contains information you now know to be wrong? Will your forthcoming Nostradamus book contain revised versions of these prophecies, and will you acknowledge the mistakes, or be issuing errata for, The Complete Prophecies For The Future?
Yours, etc…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go into a trance to try to predict whether or not I’ll get a reply.

Update, September 1st 2020: I’ve removed the link, because following Mario Reading’s death in 2017 his blog and indeed his entire website was taken offline. At the time of his death, he’d written a total of five allegedly-non-fiction books about Nostradamus, three Nostradamus-related novels, and three more novels apparently about the Templars (because who doesn’t love novels about Templar-related conspiracies). As I haven’t read the last three “non-fiction” books, I have no idea whether or not they did address the things he’d predicted in his first book that already hadn’t happened. Clearly, though, he found a good income-generator and milked it.

Scenery

In which we discuss “Halting State” by Charles Stross

This month I have mostly been reading: Halting State by Charles Stross, a near-future techno-thriller set in an independent Scotland, ten years or so from now. It’s a very good book; I recommend it; full of where-tech-might-be-going extrapolations. When reading it, though, I couldn’t help thinking: I have a bit of an advantage on the average reader.

It’s set in Edinburgh, you see, where Stross lives and where I used to live; and just about all the locations in the book are real locations. There’s the city mortuary, for example; an inconspicuous 1970s flat-roofed building built of dark shiny engineering brick, at one end of the Cowgate. I can picture it exactly in my head, because I spent four years in the university buildings which overlook it. The characters retreat to the pub over the road from the mortuary: when I was a first year, we’d go in there every Friday afternoon.* A few years later, on my way to work, I used to walk past a flat that gets raided by the police near the start of the book; and I always wanted one of the little houses in the Colonies where one of Stross’s protagonists lives.

I’m sure it’s a very good book even if you don’t know all this; but if you don’t, you probably won’t realise just how well-researched it is. Every location is realistic, because every location is real; and the science fiction becomes real too.

* all Edinburgh residents will have noticed a small geographical mistake in that section, actually: he gets one of the street names wrong.

Bookshelves

In which we muse on J K Rowling’s favourite books

The Mother, for Christmas, received the final Harry Potter book. Being a sensible, serious grown-up person, she received the sensible, serious grown-up edition of the book. Its back cover consists entirely of the author’s portrait, standing in front of her bookshelves.

What intrigued me, though, was J K Rowling’s choice of books. Particularly, the choice of books she was photographed in front of. I’ve been poring over the portrait. So far, I’ve managed to identify:

  • Adrian Mole: The Cappucino Years
  • Several Agatha Christie novels
  • Nabokov’s Pale Fire
  • The Way We Live Now by Trollope
  • Something called The Ladies Of Llangollen – I’ve not heard of it and I can’t make out the author.
  • Joyce’s Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
  • The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

And lots of other things whose spines I can’t read, whose spines are very worn, or aren’t quite in focus in the picture. It’s a mysterious selection. Presumably, it’s a collection of books she’s built up over years; some of them look very well-read. I’m a bit puzzled by her filing system, though. Is there a reason why Agatha Christie is next to Freud, or why Nabokov is next-door-but-one to Radclyffe Hall? I’m sure each book must mean something to her; what are the connections between them?

Update, August 30th 2020: The Ladies of Llangollen were Eleanor Butler (d. 1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (d. 1831), two Irish women who lived together at Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The book in question is potentially by Elizabeth Mavor.

Romance

In which we wonder what happened to the romance of IT

A quick news story from last week: A chap called Dr Brendan Kelly has analysed 20 random medical romance novels and spotted that they are all written to a very similar template. If you’re a romance novelist and want to bash out another, all you apparently have to do is change your characters’ names, and you’re set.

Dr Kelly noted that the heroes of these novels are generally handsome, arrogant surgeons with a traumatic past; you don’t tend to get handsome, arrogant psychiatrists popping up, for some reason. Never mind about psychiatrists, though. Where are the handsome, arrogant IT technicians? Never mind saving the lives of patients with mysterious illnesses just when you thought all was lost – where are the romance novels about data rescue and mysterious ARP caching? The world needs, clearly, an IT romance novel. I’ll let you know when I manage to get a couple of scenes down on paper.