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On fighting, by Jason Lambright

Posted January 29 by John Birmingham

Punchy start to the week, eh? Jason Lambright riffed on my ju jitsu grading essay with a blog post of his own which should be compusory reading for any writer wanting to do more realistic action sequences. Drawing on long combat experience—actual combat, not just faffing around in a dojo—he's written an informed and densely informative post about the subjective experience of extreme violence.

Combat is an ugly word. I still get shivers when I think of it. Combat entails people trying to kill you in the dark, feeling naked and vulnerable beneath the stars above. It is the feeling of recoil against your shoulder, radio calls, falling leaves from trees and bushes. Combat is screaming. Combat means blood, lots of it, sticky pools of spreading black/red.

But before combat is something worse. It’s anticipation. Sudden combat is best, there is no time to think, only time to react. Someone opens up on you, you respond without thinking. While lethal and shocking, it’s better than knowing for long hours that you are going to assault a known enemy position, starting at time X.

Because this is a subjective piece, I can only speak for my reactions. I would smoke cigarette after cigarette, frequently lighting one with the cherry of the previous. I would obsessively go over the plan. Check my gear and the gear of my soldiers, over and over. Jump a little when a vehicle would start, or the word would come down to move out on foot. Felt the frequent need to piss, sometimes I would do it on the move. My hands would be numb. Whether this was physiological or a function of the weight of my equipment (usually about ninety pounds), I don’t know.

The whole post is worth reading and bookmarking if you write in this field.

You can find it here.

6 Responses to ‘On fighting, by Jason Lambright’

jason reckons...

Posted January 30
Read it yesterday and think it is an amazing piece of writing. I wanted to keep reading.

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Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted January 30
Shivers

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted January 30
That was incredible.

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Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted January 31
The anticipation is definitely far worse than when it comes.

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 31
Couldn't agree more.

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jl ducks in to say...

Posted January 31
Thanks, all. I've really been surprised by the response this has gotten.

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Ju Jitsu grading essay #1: Competitive fighting and skill development

Posted January 28 by John Birmingham

As part of my current grading I have to compose written answers to a series of questions. Unsurprisingy I've written too much. I thought I'd share my answers here over the next few weeks. This first essay address the importance of competetive fighting to skills development.


The American novelist Norman Mailer often wrote about the sport of boxing, which he covered professionally for magazines such as Esquire and Playboy, and which he practised as an amateur at a gym near his home in New York. Mailer was a bad boxer, but a mean and determined fighter. He thought deeply about the sport and why ancient combat arts persisted in a civilised society. Of sparring he once wrote that stepping into a boxing ring evoked two of the greatest fears men could know. The very obvious fear of being hit and hurt, but also the much less obvious and unacknowledged fear of hitting and hurting others.
Most of us live for the most part in this very civilised world. Children are taught from a young age to ‘keep their hands to themselves’ and ‘not to hit others’. It is a truism almost never questioned that ‘violence never solves anything’. To argue otherwise with a normal, well meaning person is to risk being thought of as a brute.
But of course violence can and does frequently ‘solve’ a very particular type of problem; the threat of aggression and violence arising from the actions of others. Their aggression can come from any number of sources, but ultimately it presents a problem to be solved by the target and potential victim of any attack.
To train in any fighting art is to accept this unpleasant truth.
Of course not all combat arts double as fighting sports. Some like Krav Maga are purely focussed on practical self defence. Others, like certain schools of aikido are as much philosophical pursuits of balance and flow in all areas of life as they are physical disciplines. Jujitsu shares with arts such as karate and boxing, a dual nature. Tracing its origins to the battlefields of medieval Japan, jujitsu offeres simple, practical and undeniably brutal answers to enemies who are presumed to be better armed, armoured and attacking with lethal intent. This raises legal and ethical problems. It is not simply that these particular techniques have no place in a sporting context. They are not suitable for use in any encounter, anywhere, other than a genuinely life threatening assault. And yet, the modern history of mixed martial arts tournaments, which has grown from an experimental oddity on an obscure Pay TV service, to a massive multibillion global industry, is a story of sports jujitsu winning out over other, better known and more popular striking arts. The adaptation of those earlier battle-tested techniques into less dangerous, non lethal and non-crippling waza, provided MMA fighters with an arsenal of throws, holds, strangles, chokes and generalised grappling methods that the demands of competition forced them to learn and perfect.
Jujitsu proved itself a crucial skill in battle. It has evolved into a crucial skillset in competitive fighting.
What then does fighting for sport offer the jujitsu practitioner? It is possible after all to progress through the ranks and never to fight competitively. Nonetheless a requirement of grading to shodan is to demonstrate at a minimum some skill and capacity in sparring.
There are, naturally, benefits.
Some are immediately apparent as soon as the supervising instructor calls hajime during a bout.
For instance, in training a good uke is compliant, especially at the lower belt ranks. (This also marks them as a smart uke, because flowing with the energy of the technique means that the applied force does not suddenly increase to a point of critical failure, such as a broken wrist from kote gaeshi). An opponent in a street confrontation, however, is not going to be compliant. Not at first, anyway. They will resist. They will move. They will counterattack. They will alter the line, the nature and intensity of their attack and defence as the confrontation evolves.
To fight competitively is to experience a noncompliant adversary in one of the most extreme ways possible without actually walking into a bar and picking a fight. Organised tournaments provide this intensity at a very high level, but simple dojo sparring and ground fighting can be immensely valuable too.
To fight a resisting opponent, especially one with some skill, is to learn quickly that the elegant, machine tooled technique you polished to a high sheen in practice, fails more often than it succeeds in a live confrontation. No plan survives contact with the enemy, as the military aphorism goes.
But to fight a resisting opponent under competition rules is also to learn that plans evolve. As do contests between fighters. If one plan fails, if one or two or three moves do nothing, you haven’t ‘lost’. You’re still fighting.
Eventually all students of the art learn that even in the controlled chaos of a sparring round or a ground fight, there can be time and space enough to plan and strategise. There can even be opportunities to slow the pace of the contest long enough to recover your breath, your balance, your ability to think and deploy another technique or string of techniques that might have more chance of success.
When facing an opponent in an open competition, the traditional jujitsu fighter will also learn to draw on the uncommonly broad range of skills learned in his or her art as opposed to, say, a striking art such as Tae Kwan Do, or a school more determinedly focussed on coming to grips, such as Judo or even Brazilian jujitsu. Competition thus teaches the jujitsu student to hone and select those techniques best adapted to counter the strengths of a particular opponent. In the same way that we do not answer hard, linear attacks with even harder linear responses, we do not trade punches with the boxer, or kicks with the karateka.
While this psychological battle rages, the student also learns that they will not die or collapse from shock the first time somebody hits or even hurts them. One of the benefits of having an autonomic nervous system that triggers a flight-or-flight reflex in a confrontation, is that the human body has evolved physical and biochemical responses to assist survival under duress.
Flooded with hormones and neurotransmitters, the body experiences, among other symptoms, accelerated heart rate, the inhibition of digestion, which can be experienced as ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or even nausea, the paling or flushing of the skin, the constriction of blood vessels, the drying of the mouth, the dumping of metabolic energy sources for fast muscular action, the flooding of major muscle groups with blood and oxygen, loss of hearing, tunnel vision and more. These responses can be so acute as to incapacitate somebody who is unfamiliar with them—after all, we do live in a civilised society—or unprepared to deal with them. In mild forms, most people would recognise these symptoms as nervousness or anxiety. In severe instances they manifest as physical terror.
Sparring for the first time will occasion anxiety. Probably many times afterward too. But eventually the student adapts. Fighting competitively also elicits autonomic alarm. But again, in time the body habituates.
As much as there are practical benefits to honing and polishing particular skillsets in supervised fighting, there are these psychological and emotional advantages to be had as well. Returning to Mailer, one of the principle, unrecognised virtues might well be teaching the new student that under certain circumstances it is actually all right to hit someone.

5 Responses to ‘Ju Jitsu grading essay #1: Competitive fighting and skill development’

jl ducks in to say...

Posted January 28
Pretty good piece. My father taught me not to pick a fight, but not to run from one, either. Learned this the hard way as a boy. And the anticipation of a fight is worse than the fight itself. Later on, when things were lethal, these lessons came to the fore.

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 31
I loved this, your last sentence is key - I think the hardest part of learning any martial art is overcoming the deeply ingrained conditioning that tells us not to hit someone (this may be more so if you're female). The first time you land an actual proper blow is deeply shocking and weirdly exhilarating.

I met a couple of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) practitioners at GirlClumsy's Raven On premiere, and now I'm amped to go learn medieval knife fighting. I've never felt so much like I've found my people when they gave me their flyer and business card; I've wanted to learn how to swordfight since I was a tween and couldn't conceive that there was a club that trained in this very thing!

jl mumbles...

Posted January 31
A weird talent my old boss in Afghanistan had was he was a semi-professional fencer. I'm still jealous- so pursue your sword thing. If you wanna know a good website to buy one, go to kultofathena.com.

she_jedi mutters...

Posted January 31
I considered fencing for a time but never quite managed to get started, and the HEMA guys said that a lot of people start in sport fencing because they were searching for what the HEMA lunatics train in, and I was all "OMG YES THAT'S ME!"

And thank you for the website recommendation! I'm going to go marvel at pointy things now :D

jl reckons...

Posted January 31
Hey, no prob. If you buy one, make sure you get it sharpened for a small fee. Trying to do it yourself is a chore.

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Book review. SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton

Posted January 27 into Books by John Birmingham

I didn't finish Hamilton's last door stopper, Night Without Stars. It was set within his 'Commonwealth' story world, which I hugely enjoyed, but this particular narrative side quest simply didn't appeal. I came to SALVATION then, with some misgivings. Thankfully, they were unfounded.
SALVATION isn't the pure space opera of the early Commonwealth Saga or the even earlier Night's Dawn trilogy, but it does offer a satisfying buffet of devious space aliens, big honking space guns, and futuristic world building. There's even a pretty decent terraforming/terrorism sub plot set in Australia.
Most of Hamilton's vividly imagined creations tend to revolve around one central technological conceit. In Night's Dawn its encoded consciousness (don't argue with me, it just is). In SALVATION it's portal technology. Stargates, if you like, but prosaic, almost banal stargates. Sure, they can let you walk between the stars, but they're also used for getting around locally on now defunct bus routes.
The portals are not the point of the story. They're the enabling architecture. They channel the stories of the main narrators towards a surprise ending that sets up a conventional—but for me quite exciting—sequel promising lots of devious space aliens getting splattered by big honking space guns.
Like Night Without Stars, SALVATION proceeds in two time periods, inviting the reader to speculate how one led to the other. In the earlier period, an ensemble cast of characters recalling some of the great Hollywood anthology films of the 1940s travel to a far-flung world in search of an alien artefact. One of them is an alien spy, and Hamilton's deft handling of the whodunnitry recalls some of the best Paula Myo cases from the Commonwealth.
The second seemingly self contained story arc is set hundreds of years later and could be thought of as a reimagined Ender's Game, as we follow a small cohort of children through ten years of education and training in preparation for battle with the above mentioned but unnamed devious alien threat. By the end of SALVATION Hamilton has threaded the two timelines together and pulled off a pretty decent surprise when revealing the identity of the spy.
I read this book while we travelled around Vietnam, usually getting through thirty or forty pages a night before crashing out, and finishing it on the plane as we flew home. It was compelling and ocasionally quite stunning as an imaginative tour de force. I enjoyed it so much that I feel like I should go back and give Night Without Stars another chance.

9 Responses to ‘Book review. SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton’

thetick mutters...

Posted January 27
I really enjoyed Salvation.

Hamilton's been a bit hit and miss with his Commonwealth saga (which overall I enjoy). I really enjoyed Great North Road as well.

Genuinely looking forward to the rest of the books.

Have you read Brian Mcclellan's Powder Mage novels?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted January 27
I was listening to it on Audible. Oddly, I recognised that it was a great piece of work, but for some reason I just couldn't get into it.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted January 29
i find the same with Audible, and it all depends on the reader. Doing a good rendition seems to be bloody hard. Storytellers who use their voice to maximum effect should be once again kings of the world.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted January 27
Excellent, keep the recommendations coming. You had me at 'Big hoinking space guns'. I shall commence it once I have finished "Will to battle" book 3 in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series.

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted January 27
Did you see Charles Stross recommending Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone on the Twits the other day? It looks epic, I have it on pre-order with iBooks, but I thought it would be up your alley when I read the blurb for it

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted January 27
Added to my stack!

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jason ducks in to say...

Posted January 28
Breville BRC460
Panasonic SR-DF181WST

These are the two top ranked units by Choice Magazine Australia.

I used to use the stove top in my quest for a real Asian feel and then went to Asia where rice cookers are everywhere.

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jl mutters...

Posted January 28
I'll have to look this up. Currently finished a bunch of reading for a research project, now I'm into a book called "Bloodlands" about the violence in Eastern Europe 1933-1945. Starts with the famine in Soviet Ukraine 1933. Not exactly light reading.

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Oldy mumbles...

Posted January 29
Sold.

I'll check it out :)

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WTF went wrong with rice cookers?

Posted January 26 into Food & Drink by John Birmingham

Seriously, after long using a basic model Sunbeam and replacing it only every 3-4 years, I've had to buy six rice cookers in the past twelve months. They keep burning out.
Granted, a couple of the replacements I bought were cheap no-name units from Woolies. I got everything I deserved dropping any money on them.
But even the Sunbeam, and most recently a Russell Hobbs unit all burned out after one or two uses.
I really don't want to go back to cooking rice on the stove top. I've had to relearn that arcane skill recently and there is nothing to recommend it. I'll happily check out any model anybody reading this is happy with.

15 Responses to ‘WTF went wrong with rice cookers?’

w from brisbane mutters...

Posted January 26
You've had bad luck, I think. My rice cooker packed it in after about 7 years but I haven't replaced it yet.
Of the rice cookers Choice reviewed, 4 of the top 6 were Breville.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted January 27
I’m also looking at a Panasonic.

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted January 27
have you checked if you have recently desecrated a shrine, or committed an offence against Inari Okami, the Shinto Godess of rice? inari-zushi is a packaged shusi roll of fried tofu used as an offering, though I doubt I could bring myself to offer that to anything.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted January 27
Fried tofu? Are you trying to get me cursed?

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Murphy_of_Missouri asserts...

Posted January 27
If I want rice I just order take out.

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Brad ducks in to say...

Posted January 27
Zojirushi is where it's at... the 230V models seem to be a bit more expensive than the 115V ones, and in other news I'm shocked to find gambling in this establishment.

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insomniac mutters...

Posted January 27
Rice on the stovetop is not that hard. What's the problem? I have two ways of doing it. One taught to me by my Malaysian ex-MIL, and one forced upon me by ms insomniac when it was a WTF-are-you-doing-with-the-rice moment.

Dave W reckons...

Posted January 29
Is it heresy to also talk about microwave rice?

1 cup of rice. 2 cups of water. 14 minutes on high. Done.

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Ceramic is gonna tell you...

Posted January 27
Ugh, bl***y every thing is designed to self-destruct these days. Its awful and such a waste of money. I have about ten headphones that I want to get fixed/ fix one day when I can work out how.

Re: rice, cooker, got no idea. Might getting an industrial restaurant quality one help?

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted January 28
That’s not a bad idea. I might ask around a few restaurants

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Bangar asserts...

Posted January 28
Any idea of what your supply voltage is? Your inverter should display it. Being above 230V could be the problem.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted January 29
i can't help in this regard - due to limited cupboard space i put a ban on electrical goods that could be replicated by a saucepan or frying pan. I use the Kylie Kwong method (which i'm pretty sure is bog standard) and it has never failed me.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 29
WHAT IS THE KYLIE KWONG METHOD????

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted January 30
Stove top. 1 part rice to 2 parts water. On high uncovered till it starts boiling. Turn down to low, lid on for 10mins. Take off heat and let sit for 10mins (do not under any circumstance take lid off). Draw back is this requires a small amount of attention whereas with a rice cooker you turn on and walk away.

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spankee mumbles...

Posted January 31
I'm a +1 for the Breville. On our 2nd one in 14 years. Bonus is that there is a 2nds shop in Tinglapa.

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Under the knife

Posted January 25 by John Birmingham

Not much work done today. I went into surgery this morning to have a bunch of BCCs cut out of my back and chest. Seven in all, although some weren't deep enough to warrant the full Jack the Ripper treatment so they got burned into craters with lasers or some shit.

Anyway, I've got an afternoon of codeine and beer ahead of me, I reckon, which almost makes it all worthwhile. I might even catch up on my Netflix stack.

7 Responses to ‘Under the knife’

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 25
The removal of the skin cancers is timely given the ABC story from last years National Sunscreen Summit recommends we apply sunscreen daily.

Look forward to hearing what gems you unearth on Netflix for me to watch, no lets be honest, add to my steadily growing 'to watch list'.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted January 25
I'm watching The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It's pretty full on.

Nocturnalist swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 27
Loved that film. Which was your favourite?

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Ceramic asserts...

Posted January 25
Get well soon mate.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted January 25
Cheers mate

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted January 25
Ouch, enjoy your beer, codeine and Netflix, I think you've earned it!

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted January 25
I really have.

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Raw vegan dirt

Posted January 24 into Books by John Birmingham

From the Orbital Operations newsletter by Mr Warren Ellis: "I personally enjoy the 21st Century consumer affordance of carrying a small slate that contains a couple of hundred books and can quickly and wirelessly grab more. Slave of platform capitalism, yes yes, go and live on the fucking land and raise your memes on bespoke raw vegan dirt. Living in the future has had many disappointments, but my electric books are a personal positive."

I forget what Ellis was talking about, other than his unnatural physcial love for his Kindle, but I am down with him for this. I took my fancy Kindle on my recent travels; the funny shaped one with the removable battery case. You take that case/cover off and it's both incredibly light and pleasing to hold because of the odd, ergonomic design. I also took my iPad, loaded with Season 3 of Travelers, but I didn't fire up the Netflix app once while I was away. That's not a humblebrag. I just didnt find myself in the mood.

I did, however, finish reading Peter F. Hamilton's latest space opera, Salvation. I'll post a review separately, but long story short, it was enough to keep me entertained along with Steve Stirling's finale to the Change series, The Sky Blue Wolves.

I tended bed down with Salvation at the end of the day and read for half an hour or so. With Steve's book, in which I get a cameo, I chose to do most of my reading on my phone while we were out and about and I found myself with, say, five or six minutes to spare and no scenery or adventures to distract me.

Under those circumstances I'd normally fire up Twitter, or in really desperate straits Facebook, but I made a conscious decision to stay the fuck away from social media while we travelled.

It helped. There's an obsessive-compulsive neediness engineered into those networks that really gets the hooks in. It was the reason I deleted their apps from my phone a year or so back. But even the terrible web interfaces can be addictive. So instead, whenever I found myself at a loose end I'd open up the Kindle app and just read for a few pages.

I honestly think it improved my mood as much as being away for a few weeks. It's why I'm trying to blog more since I got back. Rather than wasting time in Twitter's burning cesspit, I'd prefer to waste it here.

And that's also three books I've read in the last month, (including Alicia WB's Blood of Heirs) a real turn around after a long fallow period. I'm finding it restful to read, in a way I dont find it relaxing at all to contemplate my nearly infinite unwatched stack o' streaming TV. Hence Tuesday's Blunty. One of the things I'd forgotten about books is the way you can pick them up and put them down after just a minute or two if you need to do something else. There's none of the same sense of frustration I feel when I have to stop and start video. Not sure why, but that difference is a real thing.

Next I'm going to move on to Dan Moren's The Bayern Agenda. (I have a sneaky pre-release copy)

And then, after that, I might even attempt a non genre title!

9 Responses to ‘Raw vegan dirt’

Rob would have you know...

Posted January 24
argh the Twitters. Where everyone's voice is as loud as everyone elses. Where that voice seems as important as the President of the United States. And where that voice is one of a 14 year old boy who listened to his first anarcho-punk record from the 80s , decides he doesn't need to learn anything because he knows it all and decides to shout what ever woke crap comes out of his head. Or its Karen.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted January 24
Ugh. Karen.

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Oldy mutters...

Posted January 24
Travelers Season 3 is pretty good, with some clever writing to tie up some of those things that I thought got a little out of control in Season 2.

And the finale was pretty darn neat. I'm hoping for Season 4, but if it doesn't happen, they didn't leave us hanging.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted January 24
good to welcome you back to the league of readers. With a couple of hours a day on public transport I find plenty of opportunities to read, a task enhanced by you outstanding tips, eg Blood of Heirs so grateful if you can keep reading and maing recommendations.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted January 24
I have more.

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she_jedi reckons...

Posted January 24
iBooks now has a funky "want to read" bucket where you can either add titles you've already got in there, or add stuff that you will purchase and read later, and it's great but also turning into a long list of to-be-read-shame that I keep adding to. In addition to the to-be-read-pile-of-shame of analogue books on my bedside table, which thankfully hasn't grown since I added Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall to it so I looked intellectual to my real estate agent when she does my rent inspections.

I've remained committed to reading every night in bed before sleep, but the last couple of months I've found that I fall asleep before any real reading happens, and then I wake up in the middle of the night, turn my light off and go back to sleep. When once I was smashing through a couple of books a week, now I've been trying to finish Alice Isn't Dead for at least a month. Is this what middle age is? Does crossing the year 40 threshold eliminate your ability to consume fiction? Asking for me :(

The third season of Travellers was excellent, and the ending was both a WTAF moment and immensely satisfying. You should definitely get around to it JB :)

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted January 24
OMG. I have so many unread copies of Wolf Hall I could start one of those pop up Japanese bookstores that only stock one title. Plus the audiobook.

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 25
I remember your post on Wolf Hall and how Mantel’s incredible prose broke your brain and you couldn’t finish it, and I was reading Wolf Hall at the time and I had a moment going “OMG JB’s right,” and I persevered a bit longer and then I gave up on it too. And it sits reproachfully on my bedside table in the laughable illusion that I will go back to it one day and try to finish it...

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jason mumbles...

Posted January 25
A writer who didn't read. I've been looking for a definition for irony and i think i found it.

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