Interactive Fiction; The Literature Of The Future?

Interactive Fiction; The Literature Of The Future?

So, I was recently writing about the Human, and the onset of the Post-Human – an idea I intend to write some more on once I’ve properly got my head around it – and it got me thinking about the future of entertainment and literature. It’s obvious that these new, inter-connected creatures will demand something more engaging than traditional novels and books of poetry.

Bookshelf
Traditional literature – you can’t kill what won’t die!

Personally, I don’t think that traditional literature, as we know it, is ever really going to die out. Not only is it a really practical way of experiencing narrative, as well as giving the creator almost unrivalled options in the form and style with which they present it, but it has earned a kind of mysticism over the past few thousand years. A paperback is almost a holy thing, to many people, and they have a charm that can’t be beaten by eReaders or audiobooks.

Still, we’ve already seen the first forays of genuine literature into other mediums; perhaps most effectively qualified by the subversion of other genres, similar to the way that many writers have chosen to subvert and push the capabilities of the written word.

Interactive Fiction – The Future Of Literature?

Now, when I say interactive fiction, I’m not talking about “Choose Your Own Adventure!” books, but narratives that technology allows us to experience. If we feel that our decisions are truly making an impact on the narrative that we are experiencing, then we feel more engaged in the world we’re presented with.

Iain Pears’ Arcadia … And The App That Goes With It!

Now, before I get on to hailing video games as one of the next stages in literary development, I’d like to point out an extremely interesting novel by Iain Pears – Arcadia. Pears, said that he began working on the novel in 2010, just when the ideas of digital narrative were starting to take off in the public eye.Interactive Fiction App Arcadia, Iain Pears

Pears has a reputation for complex narratives; in the past, he has required that his readers remember miniature facts from hundreds of pages previously simply to make sense of a narrative point – similarly, he has forced his reader to jump entire centuries within the space of a few pages.

Anyway, his work isn’t really the kind of thing I would normally gravitate towards, but the fact that it is using technology to make his fairly complex, inter-woven strands of narrative, is extremely interesting, and is a great way to simplify a novel for a reader and ensure that they get a more satisfying a rewarding experience – well, if you’re in to that kind of thing.

Video Games: The Interactive Fiction

Actual Sunlight

One of the biggest problems that I face is that I sometimes have trouble defining things; I’ve previously said that one of my favourite “games” is Actual Sunlight, but is it really a game when:

  • You don’t have any choice as to the outcome;
  • The game itself has no challenge associated with it;
  • There’s no sense of triumph when you complete it;
  • Can’t 360 no-scope some n00bs from across the map;

I’d taken to calling it an experience, rather than a game; but who defines what a video game actually is? Anyway, that’s probably an argument for another day, but I firmly believe that more and more literature will make the most of digital mediums to tell their narrative.Actual Sunlight Cover

Actual Sunlight is essentially literary fiction for the modern era, the kind of fiction that Patrick Hamilton might have written. It deals with issues like depression, society and the miserable joy associated with being human (possibly even in a post-human world).

In AS, you are simply following a few days, over the span of a few years, of the main character’s life; from his menial office job, to his unrequited, unspoken love for his co-worker, to his video game obsession and the nights where his insomnia drives him crazy – if, indeed, he does actually go crazy. It’s emotional, and you really feel with the protagonist, and the creator as well – via the notes he leaves around the game.

It is certainly one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played, or experienced and, like a good book, I’m probably going to download it again tonight so I can experience it all over again.

Kentucky Route Zero Americana Video Game Cover

Another of my favourite games, Kentucky Route Zero is pure Americana; from the distinct artistic style and visuals to the haunting music, strange narrative that each character approaches as normal and the hints of American mythology, KRZ is a perfect example of what I can see a great deal of literature developing into.

Released episodically, it really does feel like a graphic novel series, but far more interactive, far more emotionally appealing and far more engaging.

Stanley_parable_coverThe Stanley Parable

Of course, this might not necessarily be applicable here – and far be it from me to place this weight on the creators’ shoulder – but The Stanley Parable was the first game that really started to make me think that video games could really be an art form – something other than just dry entertainment. It approached video game narrative from the side and tore it apart and really made me feel for the disembodied narrator.

TSP is funny, horrifying, clever, joyous and has been met with fantastic reactions from all over the world. If you’re looking for a starting point to get into these so-called “walking simulators” then you need to start here.

The Beginner’s Guide Video Game Art

The Beginner’s Guide was created by Davey Wreden, one of the minds behind The Stanley Parable and, again, it turns off into something completely different than I expected. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if The Stanley Parable breaks down what a video game is, and how it all relies on the player’s interactivity, then The Beginner’s Guide breaks down what a human being is, what art could be, and what obsession and friendship can do to teat people apart.

The Future Of Literature?

Of course, these are just a few mentions of some of my favourite forms of narrative, “artsy” games, and there are certainly dozens more, but none of them have had the lasting effect on me that these have. I’m not saying that all literature must immediately become interactive or face extinction, and I still like the idea that “this is what I present, take it as you will” without a certain level of interactivity beyond the turning of the page.

Anyway, what do you think? Are there any examples of interactive fiction that have really stuck in your mind? Or do you think it’s just a fad, and that literature will always remain the written word and nothing more?

What Is A Human?

What Is A Human?

It is downright idiotic of me to try and fight change and, to be honest, I really don’t see the point in it. When I was younger, I was always a fan of change – the idea of evolution sounded incredible to me, like it gave us, as a species, some real purpose, even if I didn’t really understand what a species was. The idea of growing, developing, moving on from one thing to another; the idea of getting better. It was irresistibly appealing; in a way, it still is.

Despite that, over the last few years I’ve found myself growing more and more resistant to the idea of the Post-Human; now, we may not have moved on to the Homo Superior as of yet, but every day we are getting closer and closer to the Homo Digitalis – personally, I prefer the term Homo Lentus. I think that title suggests everything that I’m opposed to about the way we’re heading, however; about what technology is turning us into.

Still, logically, if biology has driven us to the point where we can effectively choose our own evolution, why wouldn’t we? Is that really a bad thing?

What Is The Human?

Firstly, in order to understand what the Post-Human is or could be, we really need to identify what the human itself is/was. Unfortunately, that has been a problem which has driven philosophers and psychologists insane for thousands of years, and every time a definitive definition is arrived upon, it is met with a dozen differing theories, interpretations, arguments or just plain disagreements.

Personally, I tend to think of the human as an independent creative who exists in and of themselves, though they still require something else to identify themselves against. For example, for there to be a ‘self’ there must be an ‘other’, and this is one of the obvious truths that most people agree on.Black Iron Statue Liverpool Lime Street

There are dozens of different characteristics which have been said to make people human, from emotions to desires and morals, to more physical and base needs such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion, et cetera. This is a strong theme in many sci-fi franchises, where the indomitable human spirit stands triumphant over advanced technology or supernatural abilities.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

There are dozens of different definitions available, but most of them seem designed to fit into easy, witty remarks; ideal for those who desire to appear intelligent and sophisticated over the dinner table, even when the topics of human definition comes up.

One off phrases like “A human is an animal that laughs” and “Humans are conscious mortals” are all too easy to pass off and sound intelligent, but that’s the way things are. Personally, I lean towards the idea that definitions like these are perfect for the form of humanity that we are ever closer to becoming.

If I had to create a working definition of what I consider a human to be, even though I am aware that this will be a gross, gross oversimplification of the point, I would probably say that humanity is a condition created by an overly-developed brain, with the ability to reason in practical circumstances and apply considerations as to personal morality. With regards to society, I would more lean towards the power of this personality morality, and register those who break with my code of conduct, as it were, to be inhuman.

Of course, this then leads to all manner of problematic definitions, which might eventually lead to racism, sexism, cultural misunderstandings and many, many more issues which all began as a result of misguided morality. Anyway, we don’t really have a working definition of what it means to be human, but that’s what we’re going with for now.

So that I can definitely move this on before I get caught up in pointing out all the flaws in this pretty weak, patronising definition, I’d also point out that we’d also have to accept physical limitations of the solitary human. The pure biology of it, the lack of technology or additional accessories inherent within the living, breathing, moving human. The human has no inherent interconnectivity with the internet but has, instead, remained biologically similar since the days of Alfred the Great.

What Is The Post Human?

Obviously, the post human is the next stage of evolution for the species; the thing that comes after the idea of the human as we know it. It is unlikely that natural evolution will reach the post-human state; at least, not for some time. Evolution is such a slow thing that no generation will really be able to say that it is the first, definitive, post-human state, but one day, people will turn around and laugh at the idea of living without technology of the standards they currently have.

How Will Technology Create The Post Human?

For me, the post human requires technology as a tool for information gathering but, most importantly, as a method of communication. Social media has had a lot to do with this, of course, and all the old arguments about self-realisation and existentialism come crawling out of the wood work. Technology will make everything easier, and you only need to look at some of the latest TED talks to truly see what’s going it be possible in the few years. Already, wearable tech is revolutionising what it means to be human, and the advertising associated is designed to make you feel less human, and increasingly ostracised, if you fail to take advantage of this new technology.

Thanks to the ides of things like Google Glass, we’ll be able to access any information, anywhere with an internet connection. We’ll be able to communicate with anyone, share anything with anyone; the individual human will, essentially, cease to be in favour of this constantly connected creature that is always sharing, communicating and growing.

Of course, I find this repulsive, but I’m really trying not to. I don’t want to be someone who stands in the way of change, or evolution, but what do I do when my entire body is screaming out against these advances in technology? What do I do, as a human, when I am threatened by optional evolution, driven by my own species?

Are We Already At The Post Human State?

Saying that, is there anyone who can imagine living without the technology we already have? Could you live without an iPad, a laptop, a mobile phone – are we already so connected to our technology that we are so different, mentally, from the first people that we would recognise as humans? I probably could, but how far back does technology threatening a definition of humanity go? The mobile phone? The printing press? The wheel?

If technology and tools are so integral to our definition of human, technology that is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, then what is the technology of the future but more of the same? More technology that gives us more options and opportunities in life, that allows us to communicate more effectively or from further distances, more toys to entertain us or tools to make our lives easier? Perhaps human, then, is so hard to define because it is entirely fluid; because it changes with every moment, because it is an ideal that constantly drives us into the arms of new technology which may, or may not, prove beneficial.

Suffice to say, we are constantly looking for ways to make our lives easier (or, rather, much smarter people are making these steps for us) and if that is human, then we should all embrace technology of all kinds with open palms – and by denying myself access to the latest technologies, I am effectively relinquishing part of my humanity; something which I happen to pride myself on.Rosi Briadotti

Anyway, I’ll continue this soon; see, the Post Human is an idea that I’m really interested in, even if I’m currently trying to wrap my head around all the possible arguments and decide which side, if any, I’m actually on. I’ve recently started reading Rosi Braidotti’s, The Post Human, which has offered me a few insights, but I’ve yet to find the time to sit down and really get to grips with it. If you’ve got any ideas on the Post Human, or even if you’ve got a personal definition of humanity, then I’d love to hear it!

Why Is Most Poetry Shit?

Why Is Most Poetry Shit?

I think we need to accept that most poetry is shit.

There; strong opening, potentially confrontational opinion on the state of something that, for hundreds of years, has been a severe cornerstone of the literary world. Perhaps I’ll get the hang of this social media/blogging thing yet! Anyway, that’s a statement I’ll stand by and, I think (perhaps foolishly) that most people will agree with me. Now, I know a few people who instantly react to statements like that, and many would immediately retort with the argument that most poetry is fantastic.

So anyway, here’re my reasons for believing in the above; if you agree, or disagree, let me know and we can have a proper literary argument about it – doesn’t that sound like fun?

Why Is Poetry Shit?

Obviously, I want to clarify before I get started that not all poetry is shit, just like all video games aren’t terrible, not all music is horrible and not all art is a waste of time. I’m also not saying that the Wigan poetry I write, or the fragments which occasionally stray into the poetic, are exempt from this rule; it isn’t like I’m putting myself above it all as the God of Poetry and, to be honest, that sounds like a horrible title anyway.

Poetry Is Supremely Personal

A lot of poets have done their very best to make their poetry easily accessible and understandable by a wide audience and, occasionally, this is done successfully. The only problem I have with it is that poetry, in my opinion, needs to be far more personal than literature – it is someone trying to pass on a message, express something, in the best way possible for them.Ginsberg Poetry Book Cover

Poetry then isn’t necessarily the ideal tool for connecting with a supreme mass audience, and the best poetry that I’ve read is hugely personal – for all that I’ve gone on about the Nemzeti Dal in the past few weeks, I wouldn’t say that is a particularly personal work; nor is it necessarily a poem that I would say is one of the best ever written.

Poetry needs to strike a chord, right in the soul, a perfect power chord that rattles the heart and the brain and makes the lungs wheeze in breathlessness. There aren’t many poems that have done it to me, even though I’ve been searching for them.

Unfortunately, thanks to the diverse readership, the same poems don’t appeal to everyone. In fact, those that truly love poetry seem to find the poems that appeal to them and, when they’re talking about the world of poetry, they focus on them and forget that there is a wide world of literature out there which is, for the most part, not something that would appeal to them.

Everyone Thinks They Can Write Poetry

I mean, this isn’t a bad thing, of course – Hell, if not anyone could write it then I definitely wouldn’t be able to – but this means that a lot of people with really nothing to say, no message to impart or no sense of stylisation take to their keyboards and hammer out any old drivel so long as it rhymes.

This is probably a symptom of a much wider ideology, that anyone can write – again, I support the idea in notion (it isn’t like I have a choice) but not when people write who have nothing to say and can’t even express the fact that they nothing to say.

It’s A Bit Emotional At Times

I like emotion, don’t get me wrong, but when you read a poem from a fourteen-year-old, middle class, white girl explaining how horrifying her life is, it’s easy to lose sympathy and malign all poetry as the same. Misery, it seems, is all too easy to express in literature (believe me, I know – a lot of my stuff turns out pretty Nihilistic as well), and too much misery can make a person lose sympathy in a very short piece of time.

Another issue is that people tend to associate the idea of ‘depth’ with poetry, like the writer must be concerned with subject of great import, and they must be intellectual and honest and able to plumb the depths of their own soul; the only problem with that is, it’s bullshit.

The Bukowski Effect

I’ve heard a lot of ‘highly intellectual’ people malign the poetry of Bukowski in the past. In the New Yorker, a journalist once referred to Bukowski’s poetry as “a highly coloured, morally uncomplicated cartoon of the real thing”. Bukowski’s poetry had this simple, brutality to it that was reminiscent of the man himself, brooding and drunk and so often penniless – Bukowski’s life certainly became one of the new archetypes of the writer, moving on from elegant, upper-class people swanning around Europe and so forth.

Even The Best Poets Produce Crap

Speaking of Bukowski, I know many writers are ashamed to admit that he was an influence on them, but he was responsible for some truly breath-taking work – Bluebird, for example. One thing I tend not to understand, however, is how so many people tend to say that they love a poet’s work when the fact of the matter is, most poetry produced by even the greats, is shit.Poetry Book

I recently bought a collection of T.S. Elliot poems (go charity stores where you can buy books for a pound!). I already liked Wasteland, I already loved The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock and so, like many people, I assumed that the rest of his work would speak to me so strongly. Christ, was I wrong! Half of the collection is sheer drivel, with little point to it even though there is the occasionally pretty term or turn of phrase. Even then, in those poems that I did like, it normally came down to a few lines redeeming the entire thing! (I’m talking about the bit about the Street Piano.)

For further evidence, we’ll move onto one of my favourite poets of all time – Mr. Allen Ginsberg! Howl, of course, is a masterpiece, as is Kaddish, but I think it was Death To Van Gogh’s Ear which stuck with me after reading the poems I didn’t already know. Even then, of course, it was in the Ginsbergian style and very similar to the latter parts of Howl. Much of the rest of the collection I, simply, forgot.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with me that most poetry is shit, or is all poetry amazing simply by virtue of being poetry? I’m really interested in what other people think about this, and if you’ve got any poets to recommend as being exceptions to the rule, or if you write poetry yourself, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading; let me know what you think!

What Is Inspiration?

What Is Inspiration?

I’ve been having to think a lot, recently, about inspiration; about the different kinds of inspiration, about those little moments, those sparks, that stay with you and grow into something else entirely. I hear it a lot at work, when I’m reading an article about “Great Ways To Keep Your Blogs Unique!” and all that kind of crap – inspiration makes an appearance almost everywhere in the content marketing world, and I still find it revolting.

Wigan,
Might not seem like much, but when I realised that his was the name of a street in Wigan, my hometown, it definitely sat with me – particularly because the sign had been blocked up by a donut van for a very long time – read what you will into that.

It seems that, out of all the thousands of articles I’ve read in my day-to-day life as a copywriter, everyone seems to be taking inspiration from brands, from still-shot images, from things their children said over breakfast. Well, I don’t find things like pictures all that inspiring, with a few obvious exceptions; just as I don’t find beautifully presented quotes about enduring, struggling on, or working hard all that inspiring either.

There have been a few examples of literary fiction providing me with some inspiration in the past, but I’d certainly say that most of my inspiration, however weak and substandard that inspiration might be, comes from seeing things, comes from my day to day life – not as a copywriter, but as me.

What Is Inspiration?

Luca Giordano Painting
Might not seem like much, but a lot of Greek mythology has sat with me over the years. When I took a picture of Luca Giordano’s Prometheus, and saw that I was reflected in it, that really had an impact on me for a long time; it still does stir something in my soul, to be honest..

I’ve heard inspiration described most commonly as a flash, or a spark – even I used the idiom a moment ago – and for many people I see that that is the kind moment they’ll count as inspiring. The epiphany, or realisation, of a certain aspect of the world which then goes on to act as the driving force for some creative action.

Inspiration, then, is an action or thought which encourages change, action, thought, creativity – personal evolution. Everyone gets inspired now and again. Some of us, like the late Thin White Duke, seemed to be inspired by anything and everything, or seemed to have this ingrained sense of creativity which made inspiration unnecessary.

Mainly, thanks to the immediacy of the modern world and the sheer spontaneity of social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to be inspired. Anything, from a quote against a beautiful picture to a song, a work of art or even just a photograph of something you’ve never seen before, can be inspiring.

What Are The Problems With Inspiration?

Now, I’ve heard of people being inspired by social media, conversations and a whole heap of other stuff, but it’s incredibly rare, in my experience, to actually see anything develop out of this inspiration. The culture of inspiration that reigns supreme over a great deal of modern creativity seems, to me, to be more harmful than it actually is beneficial. For example, modern inspiration:

  • Makes Us Complacent – If we’re so easily inspired by something on social media or over the internet, and it’s real inspiration, then it’s like firecrackers down the spine. We can be so easily and quickly inspired that we expect to find inspiration in the same old places, which ends up not being inspiration.

    Or, perhaps it is inspiration, but it is not the kind of inspiration that we desire, because it’s an experience that we’ve already had. If you’re going to regularly find yourself inspired by, say, a Nietzsche quote or something that Thoreau once said, then you’re never going to move beyond that.

    Inspiring stuff tends to lodge itself in your mind; it tends to make this big black void of consciousness and it sucks everything else into it and you aren’t open to new inspiration anymore, because you’re already inspired, already pre-occupied with what someone else thought, or said, or did.

  • Dies – Thankfully, inspiration dies. This opens up your mind to new inspiration, allows you to actually grow as both a person and a creative. Unfortunately, in my experience, the inspiration that I picked up quickly doesn’t tend to last very long. I’ve got a dozen different pieces of writing sitting on my desktop, all fired by different forms of inspiration, and I don’t think I’ll ever finish them.

    The inspiration behind them has gone, vanished into the ether, curled into a ball and I can look back, dispassionately, and criticise the inspiration. I can see where it fails, why I found it inspiring in the first place and it dies.

  • Doesn’t Build On Itself – Now, because things are so instant, because we’re inspired by the slightest quote on a social profile, when we’re inspired that’s it – it’s over. Without time to develop, to sit in your mind like a leaden weight as the waters of your thought wash against and around it, you’ll never go beyond it.

    Spontaneity and instantaneousness are fantastic for a range of things; not for achieving inspiration in the long-term.

The Modern-Day Industry Of Inspiration

Okay, so that might be a little over the top, but a lot of the time it does feel like inspiration is a business; people pose against sunsets and hold hands in cornfields and are recorded as having these perfect lives and they howl out the message that “Oh, if only you could be here too, think how much better that would be! Look at how our lives are better than yours! (Oh, and while you’re here, if you could also give us your PayPal info, that’d be great)”. I mean, look at the image below – I don’t think it’s anywhere near as enjoyable as the full piece of writing; I tried this with a lot of my Fragments category, and I very, very quickly came to hate it. Explode(1)

That’s one of the major reasons that, as far as I can see, the spark of inspiration is becoming less and less useful for creativity. I tend to prefer the kind of inspiration that smoulders, that sits at the back of your head and drives you forward; those song lyrics that just don’t leave you, that piece of graffiti that no one can be bothered to clear up.

Your inspiration doesn’t need to be unique to you, of course it doesn’t! But there’s a difference between an entire poem, or song, or even a piece of artwork, and a self-contained image amongst thousands of others on a Facebook Feed with a few words standing out.

What Is Personal Inspiration?

My advice then, if we pretend for a moment that I’m any kind of authority on, well, anything, is that you need to find your own inspiration around you. Don’t go looking for it, don’t go chasing inspiration across the world, don’t look for epiphanies in African sunsets, American cities or British countryside – live your life as you want, as you need to, and let your life be your inspiration.

If you’re miserable, if you hate where you come from, let that inspire you. If you’re in love, or someone loves you, let that be inspiring. Create what you know, through your own filter, because nobody’s filter will be the same as yours.

In the end, take inspiration from fuckin’ everywhere and everything, cos’ what else is there, really?

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Just a quick reminder, everything on the left (under the Things I’ve Written title) is completely free and they’re probably going to stay that way. So, you know, if you’re looking for something to read, maybe give them a try, or not, of course.

What Role Do “Good Books” Have To Play In Modern Life?

What Role Do “Good Books” Have To Play In Modern Life?

I recently sat down to write the obligatory “The Future of Literature” post that everyone seems to be rolling out now that we’ve crashed into the new year with reborn opinions and increased senses of self-worth and optimism. However, as I was doing so, this one phrase kept cropping up again and again; even when I realised it, and actively tried to avoid it, I still found it heavy in my thoughts with my fingertips desperately looking for synonyms in order to maintain my sentence structure.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take a little break from my other writing and try to nail down my own ideas of what this phrase really means, if it has any kind of objective meaning at all.

What Is A “Good Book”?

You see, it may seem like a simple question, but I really had trouble defining it to myself. What, after all, are the actual qualities of a “good book”; does it have any? If it doesn’t, then are these novels, so often described in this manner, really anything more than an illusion or, at the least, an ideal that we constantly strive towards – not as writers but, instead, as readers?

The obvious idea is that a creative work described as good is down to personal opinion – “curling up with a good book” just basically means that someone is going to read a book that they think is enjoyable, right?

But there are thousands of other factors to be taken into consideration when describing a book, including; the narrative, the tone, the style, the setting, the characters and their development, any political, philosophical or sociological thought behind the premise; what kind of an impact the book has on the reader, on the world, how other people react to the book, its value for money, what’s going on in your life at the time you come to read it, or any one of numberless other features can go into the experience of reading.

Logically then, the definition is entirely subjective; but does subjectivity really mean anything?

The “Good Book” As A Patronising Term?

To me, even the phrase itself sounds extremely patronising. “Good” doesn’t indicate any kind of growth, meaning, change, literary evolution; to me, a good book doesn’t have any value aside from the enjoyment to be gained during the read. Good work isn’t a work of art, it doesn’t have any redeeming quality, it won’t last forever, it won’t be held as a standard of fantastic literature to inspire people for a thousand years or more.

Cup of tea and Levi
I don’t think I’m designed to make my life look amazing and artistic. I need to invest in some filters.

When I think of a good book, I think of trashy literature – the kind of stuff that we could throw away and it wouldn’t matter. For all the effect that good books have on our personal enjoyment, I can’t really imagine someone leaning back after finishing the novel and resolving to change their life; resolving to commit to some new ideal, resolving to be a better human being.

Good books, you could say, do not really encourage resolution in the real world because they intrinsically feature their own resolution; the beginning and the end of a thing. How could they inspire change, when you lean back, happy and satisfied – perhaps a little sad that the experience is over?

The “Good Book”, Personal Marketing and Social Media

It seems to me, that the major role of these novels in modern society is something for people to be seen reading, or something that they can claim to read. It’s absolutely ideal for social media, for example, simply because it is an ideal. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the others are absolutely fantastic when it comes to perpetuating ideals like these, when it comes to sharing moments that you control in order to present such a perfect existence.

We’ve all seen the pictures that people pose, with a coffee or a glass of wine sat next to candles and expensive chocolate and a quasi-romantic novel, normally with a cartoonified image of the protagonist on the front cover. These same images are often represented through some nostalgic looking filter, as though to suggest that the simple act of sitting down and reading is something noble and honest in a world of digital fakery.

Good books, then, could be considered a form of advertising; content for a personal marketing strategy to suggest a particular identity – a brand, as it were. Of course, this is a technique which actually works as well, simply because people live within their own crazy, ragged lives and they want to believe that a better life is possible.

Who Reads “Good Books”?

Now, this is extremely sexist, but I tend to think of “good books” and a certain type of woman. I am hugely aware that I am straying into dangerous, offensive territory here, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male post a filtered picture on social media with the phrase “good book” attached – I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said by a man either.

Perhaps this is because these kinds of novels tend to be fictional romances, and there is something hovering in the back of the reader’s mind which suggests that the thing they are reading isn’t a “good” piece of writing at all, but something enjoyable to read that passes the time, allows them to relax, and encourages them to escape from the day-to-day existence they find themselves in.

Bookshelf
Would you describe the books you read as “good books”, or is there an alternative definition that you prefer?

Good books often go hand-in-hand with peace and quiet, and perhaps it is simply part of the pressure that modern digital communication places on gender. Just like men are pressured by the demands of the digital age to show off their masculinity, perhaps women are encouraged to show off their femininity.

I’ve started to see the “good book” as something as a plague on the possibility of many readers, simply because something is saying that this is what the person should be reading. But, then, maybe these readers are just looking for something positive in their life, as an alternative to mainstream network television in which every problem needs to be resolved in an hour or so.

Honestly, I can’t be angry at those who choose to read these books that I would not really feel guilty in calling pointless – not simply because I have no right to, but because they are reading; they are connecting with another human being’s narrative through the written word; and I love that.

The Writers of “Good Books”?

I tend to think that no writer starts out with the idea of writing a “good book” – I mean, no writer worth a damn anyway. Any novel, poetry, non-fiction, script, whatever; if it starts out with the definition of being good then what’s the point? Anyone can walk into any book store in the world, and find a dozen “good books”, normally on some kind of BOGOF offer as well.

Personally, I’ve never really been concerned with writing something that is, simply, good. I mean, I’ve still got years left to try and create something good, if I ever become so desperate, but should creating something that the reader will enjoy be our primary concern?

If you’re a writer, and you want to create a “good book” that people will enjoy, is that enough? I’m hugely interested in the different motivations which turns people into writers, and I really think that the motivation behind the creative act is often just as important as the creation itself.

Anyway; what do you think? Do you have a working definition of a “good book”? Do you think that they have a part to play in the history of literature (if we believe that literature in of itself has some redeeming quality) or are they for personal enjoyment and nothing else? But then again, is personal enjoyment enough to qualify as great literature?

What Is The Left Book Club, And Why Does It Matter?

What Is The Left Book Club, And Why Does It Matter?

Widely unknown in modern Britain (I was aware that it had existed at some point, but it was only the news that it was being brought back that encouraged me to actually read up on the subject), the Left Book Club was a publishing group with (as you might be able guess from the title) a strong politic bias leaning towards the Left. In fact, it was widely believed that the LBC was one of the major reasons that the Labour Party managed to swing its way into power in 1945, following on from a landslide victory.

The Left Book Club was, for a time, one of the most powerful groups of literary-minded people in the country. Membership of the club peaked at somewhere around 57,000, and only members were allowed to receive a copy of the monthly book choice, along with a newsletter which, essentially, became a political magazine in support of the Left.

The Origins Of The Left Book Club

Founded in May, 1936, the LBC was one of the most important left-wing institutions of the 30s and 40s all across the country. The book club itself was set up by Victor Gollancz, John Strachey and Stafford Cripps as a dynamic means of educating and revitalising the flagging British Left. Ostensibly, the Club’s mission was to “help in the struggle for world peace and against fascism”, two notions which were, at the time, practically seen as the same thing.

I’ve read that the original goal was to break even with 2,500 members, the LBC actually attracted as many as 40,000 of its members within the first year alone. It was in 1939 that the organisation reached its peak, with around 57,000 people registered as members of the LBC. This is, in part, said to have been as a result of the immense popularity that the first half of George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier (a book which is, for obvious reasons, fairly near and dear to me) enjoyed.

Gollancz, John Strachey and Harold Laski were the panel in charge of supplying a book to its readers every month. These books were never sold to the public, and many of these titles were only available as part of the LBC edition. Typically, the books provided ranges from fictional novels, to history, science and a variety of all topics.

In fact, the only overarching theme of the entire LBC was that its books, essentially, all presented a left-leaning view of the world. Surprisingly, the owners of the Club kept themselves distanced from communism and the then powerful Communist Party of Great Britain.

The Road To Wigan Pier, With Gollancz

Wigan Pier Orwell Cover
The Road To Wigan Pier is one of the most enduring books to have emerged from the Left Book Club.

Victor Gollancz, as the main name behind the LBC, was a notoriously involved editor, often removing entire paragraphs and sections from the books he chose, in case they offended their readership. For an ostensibly forward-thinking leftist organisation, with a focus on “education for the masses” as it were, Gollancz was careful to keep many of the chosen books’ views as inoffensive to the Leftist, Trotskyite, Stalinist, communist, socialist and fairly-liberal audience as possible.

Although he published Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier, he insisted on prefacing the books with an introduction disowning its, often quite scathing, criticisms of the middle-class socialists who did not understand the men and women they claimed to hold fraternity with. In fact, he later republished the book with the second half taken out, just in case Orwell’s scolding polemic offended any of the Club’s middle-class members.

The Lasting Influence Of The Left Book Club

Alongside a few other socialist/leftist organisations, the LBC had a major effect on much of the Labour Party, particularly during the socialist ideologies of 1945. Many members would later become known as visionary socialists, campaigning for the Club’s ideas, including full employment, socialised medicine, equality and even town-planning.

After the Left’s immense success with the Book Club, it didn’t take long for the Tories to follow suit, establishing a Right Book Club; these were soon followed by the Liberal Book Club and the Peace Book Club, amongst several others.

The LBC In My Lifetime

Over the past few years, there have been several attempts to bring the LBC back to life, after it died off in 1948. In 2006, Ed Miliband (yeah, the one who didn’t become PM because he ate a sandwich weirdly and didn’t come across as greasy enough) launched the Left Book Club Online as a digitalised successor to the original. This site didn’t publish any work and, in fact, appears to be abandoned.

The Left Book Club And The 2015 Relaunch!

Recently launched as a non-profit organisation, the LBC is dedicated to encouraging debate on left-wing topics, or one wider-reaching topics from a leftist point of view. The goal is for the LBC to publish four books a year and remain funded by subscriptions and voluntary contributions. The Lord Thy Leftist God, Jeremy Corbyn, has already come out in support of the idea, saying:

The relaunch of the Left Book Club is a terrific and timely idea, and will give intellectual ballast to the wave of political change sweeping Britain and beyond, encouraging informed and compassionate debate. I have a large collection of Left Book Club publications collected by my late parents and me. The works will open minds and inspire. I support the new LBC wholeheartedly.”

Some of the first books to be published include Syriza: Inside The Labyrinth, by Kevin Ovenden, and Ken Livingstone’s Being Red: A Politics For The Future.

Why Does The Left Book Club Matter?

Essentially, it doesn’t. The issue I have with this leftist organisation is that it will no doubt fall into the same trap as its predecessor; creating socialist content for a middle-class audience. I come from Wigan, I spend my days surrounded by people dressed in dirty tracksuits and wearing jeans when it comes to a sense of formality; most of these people vaguely support Labour, but that is only because of some twisted perception of them as being for the people, and the only real alternative to the pompous, arrogant posturing of the Conservatives, with their seat-shining faces and their greased hair and their severe, formal intonations, like the ringing of Big Ben in the throat.

Swastika Night
Swastika Night was another novel to emerge from the LBC during its first iteration, and is definitely one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

The reason that socialist philosophy, true socialist philosophy, doesn’t really matter up here anymore is that everyone is on the make, everyone is trying to be something and nobody with the education or the inclination to spend their days reading dry books on politics by Ken Livingstone cares about the people spitting into the street and drinking Stella Artois and smoking weed outside the Dog & Partridge pub (which used to be known as the Last Orders).

Still, as I’m ostensibly a member of the middle-class – even the bastardised version of the middle-class we have these days – I’m hoping for something to emerge from this latest not-for-profit experiment which will encourage me to believe in something like socialism. I think the philosophies supported by Corbyn, and to a certain extent, Orwell himself, could be something of a consolation when a shivering woman sees me staggering home above the blue LEDs embedded in the floor outside the train station and ask me for change. Maybe, instead of a couple of quid, I could hand her a copy of a new Road to Wigan Pier, and tell her that better times are a-coming.

What Is “Good”?

What Is “Good”?

So, the other day, I wrote a little bit about humanism, what humanism means to me, blah blah blah, whatever, if you want to read it go right ahead. Anyway, through the course of it I made several references to “good” – now, the idea of good has had tens, if not hundreds, of perceptions over the years and I won’t even begin to cover them all, even if I was capable of thinking about them all.

Anyway, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk a little bit about good, the different perceptions of good that I’m aware of, and try and see if any of you have any different understanding of good then I do – for this post, I’m mainly going to chat a bit about societal good and personal good; seems like a good starting point to me!

Good In Society

Obviously, the major, modern definition of good is an attitude which focuses on a few different things which, here in human society, we have decided are laudable actions, attributes, et cetera. The idea of “good” and, inversely, “evil” are some of the most volatile ideologies ever to appear in the human mind, similar to the idea of “us” and “them”.

The modern “good” is widely regarded as being a lack of selfishness, self-centeredness or narcissism. This is an extremely common idea and has much to do with the preachings, if not the practice, of religions like Christianity, Judaism and other. However, due to the major impact that these religions have had on our societies, they are also societal beliefs.

In fact, there are even links that could be quite easily drawn between the religious idea of good and the socialist idea of good – what is good for the whole, at the expense of selfish desire. The greater good is a phrase that easily springs to mind – the sacrifice of your own wellbeing for the sake of others’.

Good, ideally, is often regarded as benevolence, altruism or selflessness. Good, in fact, has been regarded as the expense of the self in favour of a greater cause, which is typically achieved via empathy – one of the major characteristics of good.

The Saint In Society

Dedication to an idea which we would consider good, or that any human we would attribute the description of good would consider as good – such as equality, liberty, freedom, et cetera – is often regarded as a saintly quality. It is easy to think of famous figures like Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, as “good” figures, as they dedicated themselves so fully to their causes.

It is worth pointing out that the “saint” in the definition that I use it has no links to religion, but rather to personal or societal presentation. The societal saint is a figure which shows exceptional degrees of compassion and empathy, often at the cost of their own well-being or their own ambitions.

However, there are issues with this definition – if someone wants to be seen as a good person, or their ambition is the same as their cause, if their actions can offer any direct or indirect benefit to them, then could they ever really be called good? The idea of a saint is, in a way, impossible, but there are those who will still clamour to fight on behalf of modern “saints” and attempt to raise them as ideals.

The Fluidity Of Goodness

There is the idea that goodness is fluid, and that it can be educated into someone or the inverse of good, “bad”, can be taught, terrified or starved out of someone. This is the major idea behind a great deal of the modern educational system, particularly in religious schools (if I had to sit through one more ridiculous Catholic “Values For Living” lesson, I think I’d burn that goddamn college down), the idea of the law (another completely made up thing used to keep people on the side of “good” or, at least, societal good) and the idea of prison.

The Impossibility Of Societal Goodness

So, here’s the thing, societal goodness is technically impossible. It requires selflessness, sure, but thanks to the levels of education and influence that modern culture has provided with regards to good, we tend to feel a little thrill when we do something good. The only way we could possibly engage with something approaching the idea of the “good” is to gain no personal satisfaction from it, along with no other form of benefit.

When we undertake a good action, it mustn’t affect our lives in anyway, we mustn’t remember it, and we mustn’t use it to tell ourselves or to engender anyone else to think of us as good people, for that is then applying a benefit to ourselves and making our good “societal” act ultimately selfish.

This is also why it is impossible to be good if you’re part of religion which believes there will be some reward for living a good life. No spiritual, religious or mystic person is, by our very definition of a societal good, a good person.

(I actually wrote quite a bit about this topic in a short little eBook available on Amazon, which you can read the review of here! Sorry about the shameless self-promotion – or am I, who knows?)

Personal Goodness – Is Selfishness Good?

Now, personal goodness can be hard to nail down because, in a way, you could say that the term actually refers to the personal understanding of goodness rather any other uniform ideology, but it’s just the term I’m using here.

Essentially, this school of thought focuses on the idea that, as a personal definition, whatever is good for you is, uniformly, good. As you’ll only ever really be able to see the universe through your own eyes, anything which makes your life better is good for your personal universe, and by good I mean it benefits you in some way.

Under these circumstances, selfishness can be good, just as selflessness can be good. The major issue is that goodness is, essentially, a relative term. I remember hearing an analogy once, which said that fire is good and bad – good when it warms your, bad when it destroys your home. In the same way, water is bad as it can slake your thirst or drown you.

As it is entirely relative, no matter what people with dogmatic beliefs of good and evil may want you to believe, there is no definitive good, there is no real evil – there just is, and we’ve all got to live with it.