Cheeseburger Gothic

Reading again

Posted January 3 into Books by John Birmingham

I don’t know that anybody actually makes New Year's resolutions. And if they do, it’s a righteous certainty they don’t keep to them. So I did not resolve to read more novels this year. I just thought I would try. Because it’s a good idea.

Jo Tovey wrote a beautiful piece in the Grauniad a few weeks ago about losing her ability to read novels:

It was early September and I had only just finished a novel I began in April. In the same amount of time the first Gulf war was almost over.
For months the novel sat atop a mounting pile of other, unread books on my bedside table, a stack that started as aspirational but grew into a tower of shame.
It wasn’t that I disliked what I was reading (Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room). But almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing.

Reading books was something Jo once did willingly and joyfully. But she confessed that as she spent more of her life online, reading books became harder.

Testify wordsister. I read enormous volumes every day. A lot of it consists of my own raw first drafts, waiting for the firm slap of editorial correction, but even more is the huge piles of reading matter I have to get through for research.

Fiction gets squeezed out on that end, but also as JT admitted, by the constant, distracting screech of the online. And especially of worthless social media. I’ve been pretty good at cutting back on that, mostly to preserve time and attention for work. I’ve also been more consciously diligent about posting here, rather than wasting time with blipverts like Facebook posts or tweets.

But reading fiction really is the gold standard for taking a true break from the world. I like TV. I love that we’re in a golden age right now. I hope to do some work there. But streaming an hour or two of The Witcher is not as relaxing as removing myself from this veil of fire and tears by reading an hour of, say, The Legacy of Ghosts; Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s follow up to The Blood of Heirs.

I did this last night, sitting in the library, running a timer, thinking I’d make myself read for an hour before firing up Netflix. I startled a little when the timer went off because I’d become lost in the story again. (I read it quickly, late last year to provide a cover quote). A small band of adventurers was adventurin’ through a frozen wilderness beset by doubts about their quest and the tyranny of bitey monsters.

It was vividly written and so far removed from the sorrows of the real day (with the land on fire and Smoko playing at crippled King Théoden) that I found that hour to be genuinely therapeutic. It was, as Jo Tovey attested, a literal joy to read and to be reading.

Anyway, long story short, I’m going to try read for an hour a day. Actually read. Audiobooks, which I listen to in the car, don’t count. Fiction only. And not necessarily literature. There’s no need to go wild here. Because I would inevitably fail at this if I didn’t approach it mindfully, I’m going to time track my reading, the same way I do writing. We’ll see how that works.

In line my renewed commitment to longer form blogging I’ll also try to post reviews as I finish.

Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas Book 1)

9 Responses to ‘Reading again’

Vovchara asserts...

Posted January 3
I have a different problem, I spend way too much time reading. Reading on the train on my way to work, and on the way back, reading during the break. Reading on weekends sitting in the park, going to sleep with the kindle falling on my face... this hurts :)
It gets increasingly difficult to find something to read, without a half-naked guy on the cover.

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted January 4
'too much time reading' That's not a problem, that's a solution.

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jl asserts...

Posted January 3
Ditto. Been struggling as of late with reading, too. And high on that list? Close to Number One? Legacy of Ghosts, which I need to read and review. Soon.

AuntyLou swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 3
Just what I have been doing today. Legacy of Ghosts is so engaging that my usually gadfly mind has been entranced. I will however admit to sloping off to the twitterverse a couple of times to get suitably enraged by pathetic pollies & creepy minders. Getting back to rotting, knife bearing semi-corpses becomes a welcome relief...

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 3
Yeah, some life issues have my attention at the moment. I need to beta a friend's book, and review Alicia's and I'm having trouble reading. This is a first. Even in the mountains I read (until my trusty Sony e-reader died). Hopefully this strange ennui passes soon.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted January 4
I found the goodreads site a useful tool to track just how many books I read, (short answer not enough). I travel a lot on public transport everyday so I do burn through the books, but I am unsure if it's as immersive in the way that you describe "I startled a little when the timer went off because I’d become lost in the story again" so I try to read for the 30minutes before bed see if I can evaluate the different quality of reading.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 4
I do read before bed, but I find I don't last long. Usually just a couple of pages, so I try to find at least half an hour earlier.

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jason mutters...

Posted January 6
I have just discovered (too late sadly) Andrew McGahan and am having trouble finding enough time to read.

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she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted January 8
I too have struggled with reading this year. I’m reading A LOT, but like JB the proportion of fiction books is suffering in the face of the tsunami of current affairs, university readings and politics that I keep getting distracted by. For Christmas my parents and I went on a cruise to New Zealand, and I had a total of 5 days without wifi as we were at sea. And lo! I read. I burned through an actual analogue book my BFF gave me for Christmas, and then a reread of The Hogfather, because Christmas. And I feel like i’ve reconnected with something vital again, particularly the pleasure of actual pages in the hand.

Also Legacy of Ghosts is the absolute GOAT (present authors excepted of course), and was one of the few books of 2019 that held back the tide of distraction and demanded it be read before all else, which in this world of shattered concentration is the highest praise imaginable. Everyone should read it if you haven’t already.

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Posted December 24 by John Birmingham

I followed a link from Murph's facebook page to this lovely piece of writing by a former special forces soldier who had gone back to college, at Yale, at the age of 52. He expected snowflakes. The snowflakes surprised him.

My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was so for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak english as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.

The whole piece, at Medium, is one of the best essays I've read this year. Totally worth a few minutes.

6 Responses to ‘Snowflakes’

insomniac would have you know...

Posted December 24
I see some of that with my kids and ms insomniac's also where they say or do something, and it makes you think, "wow, you have all your shit together". Other times not so much.
As for tuning into other news sources, I know it's important but it's so hard. There's so much dumb and it's impossible to deal with that for any length of time. It's dreadful to think it, but perhaps it will take half the state burning to get through to enough of these people for public sentiment to impact upon certain politicians, particularly Smoko, our very own King Cnut (I may not have the spelling right).
Anyhoo, Merry Christmas.

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WarDog swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 24
What Insomniac said. The rivers of dumb are deep, swift and wide. It will need lots of bridge builders to navigate past them.

How do we get the whole planet to have that come to Yale moment?

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jason swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 24
I went back to school at 40 and again at 50. The kids in my class were younger than my kids. And they made me very comfortable that the world is in good hands. All we really need to do is get out of their way.

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Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted December 25
The main thing I do take issue with, and it is probably due to a difference in experience, is that the writer has never had to sit through professors who preach instead of teach, which is what the preponderance of my undergraduate experience was like.

Students, conversely, tend to be pretty cynical when it comes to this type of professor, perhaps as cynical as our former Navy Seal Writer here. So it is probably easier for him to find common ground with the students, his age notwithstanding.

What did surprise me was that he had a generally positive experience with his professors. The professors in my English Literature courses did tend to spend more time actually doing the job of teaching, well enough that I got a minor in the field. I suspect that if one goes to someplace like Yale you probably get a higher grade of professor.

In any case, his reflections on his fellow students is in line with what I have seen in my own classrooms. I still do not care much for, "space space," though. I feel that college is meant to be an abrasive, uncomfortable experience, designed to take a bit of forty grit to preconceived notions.

That is not a bad thing, especially as it sounds as if this guy is getting a fair bit of that.

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Barnesm would have you know...

Posted December 25
At least the opportunity to experience this kind of community and scholarship was something a greater percentage of the population has had in the last few decades than ever before in human history. I hope this chance will be offered to more, but I fear it may face a reduction in the future and humanity as a whole will be poorer for it.

Murphy_of_Missouri ducks in to say...

Posted December 25
Post 9-11 GI Bill. The rest of us had to go somewhere, umm, else.

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Dear Santa

Posted December 24 into Blunty by John Birmingham

I'm not allowed to write about politics for Ninefax anymore, but occasionally I sneak one through.

Dear Santa,

I know this is a bit late, Big Fella, and that you’ve been busy with the toy factory that fell into the mile-deep crevice when the polar ice sheet melted underneath it, but I’m really hoping you’ll bring some of that jingle-bell magic to the job this year, because we need it.

Our exhausted heroes could use a little Christmas cheer.
Our exhausted heroes could use a little Christmas cheer.Brett Hemmings/Getty
I have a list of things we need you to pack into the sleigh, and sorry, but it is a long list. Before you go getting your own list out and adding me to the naughty column for being so greedy, I should point out that none of this is for me. Or not directly.

First up we need about 20,000 bright-orange coveralls. It’s for some friends. They’ve been wearing theirs for more than a month now because they only had one set to begin with, and, while you’ve been rescuing elves and reindeer from that disintegrating glacier, they’ve been trying to save the world...

At Blunty.

1 Responses to ‘Dear Santa’

Halwes swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 24
Not allowed to write about politics for ninefax anymore? Since the nine takeover of the Sydney Morning Herald? All the best to you and yours for the Christmas break John. There is still a bed and boat in Gove for you if you ever make it to Arnhem Land. Don't come for at least 6 months though. It is punishingly hot like I've never seen it and not even a trace of any rain yet. Record temperatures forecast again tomorrow. Thanks and best wishes to the people on Cheeseburger. You never fail to amuse and inform me. Dave

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Yes Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas Movie

Posted December 23 by John Birmingham

Dear Sir,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Papa says "If the movie is at Christmas, it is so." Please tell me the truth, is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

My Dear Virginia,

Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the fake news of a skeptical age. They believe nothing except that which they see in their Facebook feed, which tells you everything you need to know about just how little are their minds.

All minds, Virginia, whether they be officer John McClane’s or international super villain Hans Gruber’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, but not like Ant-Man who has super powers and should be set aside as an outlier for the purposes of this discussion.

Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas movie as certainly as love and generosity and teams of international super criminals exist to provide bullet magnets for maverick outsiders like maverick New York police officer John McClane.

Alas. How dreary would be the world if Christmas movies could only be released at Christmas. Should we have no enjoyment, no eternal light just because of a scheduling issue? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias! There would be no yuletide joy for most of the year, which is why the producers of Die Hard released it in July, which is often celebrated in the southern hemisphere as a second Christmas anyway.

Your friends do not believe in the murderously festive magic of Die Hard? You might as well not believe in fairies or the ability of a barefoot man to run across a room full of broken glass when most barefoot men will not even venture into a room with a single lego piece waiting for their unprotected footfall.

You might get your cynical little friends to watch Die Hard with you and play a drinking game in which they must throw down a shot every time Christmas busts a move in the Die Hard Christmas movie. Then, when they regain consciousness the next day and find themselves sickeningly hungover, point them at the 2015 edition of Empire magazine which voted Die Hard the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Not just a Christmas movie, Virginia. The greatest.

Ah, but what would that prove? Only that you and I are right and everybody else is wrong.

Nobody sees Christmas in Die Hard, who cannot find the joy of Christmas in 132 minutes of homicidal violence and gratuitous undershirt wearing.

The most real things in this world are those that neither children nor men can see, like why since the international super villains’ whole plan relies on the FBI cutting power to the building so they can open the vault to steal the bearer bonds, they don’t just use their own obviously extensive knowledge and control of Nakatomi Plaza to cut the power themselves?

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world, Virginia, particularly when they are found in Christmas movies, like Die Hard which is definitely a Christmas movie. For instance, you kill a criminal pretending to be a terrorist and send him back to Hans Gruber in an elevator with a snarky note because this is somehow a better plan to protect your wife, who’s already ticked off with you, than simply killing the guy and stealing his detonators to thwart a critical part of Gruber’s plan. But Virginia, there is a veil covering the unseen world and a Santa bonnet covering that dead terrorist criminal when the elevator doors open and the snarky note to Hans reads “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.”

Virginia, not the strongest man, or even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could shift the immovable truth of that stiffening corpse in a Santa hat and the magic of the words "Ho Ho Ho”

Die Hard not a Christmas movie? Virginia, a thousand years from now, maybe ten times 10,000 years from now, maverick police officer John McClane will still be walking across broken glass, stealing machine guns and detonators, and humorously murdering Hans Gruber’s henchmen before dropping Hans a couple of hundred floors to his death and he will do it all and always on Christmas Eve, with complete legal impunity to make glad the hearts of children and those of us who are but children at heart.

Merry Christmas, Virginia.

From The Seven Stages of Drinking Martinis.

9 Responses to ‘Yes Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas Movie’

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted December 23
Damn right it's a Christmas Movie.

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted December 23
I can't believe that's even a question.

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tqft asserts...

Posted December 23
The Long Kiss Goodnight is a better Xmas movie

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted December 23
It is an excellent Christmas movie, with outstanding motherfucking dialogue. But it was not voted the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever.

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Dirk would have you know...

Posted December 23
By virtue of the fact that Christmas over here consists of two days (Boxing Day is known here as 2nd Christmas Day) one is considering one of the holiest acts one can do. The Die Hard Binge ... One might utter the holy words: "I am too old for this shit. to which the congregation answers with a solemn "Yippikayee, MotherFucker".

For was this not for told in that other sacred text, The Gospel of Browning ,,,

Burgers, may I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy 2020, subtly decorated with 'splosions and mayhem.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 24
Merry Christmas to to you, mate.

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted December 25
This one seems to have blown up on facebook, weird how some generate lots of responses others not so much. I bet its a secret the FB team is desperate to discover.

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AgingGamer ducks in to say...

Posted January 5
You know what is a great companion to watching Die Hard at Xmas? The Fir Hard the board game:

I got a copy for my birthday late last year and it is excellent fun. Plus you can now live your fantasy by playing as John McLean. Yippie ki yay Melon Farmers!!

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted January 6
Holy sheet!

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Listen to these darts fans go wild

Posted December 20 by John Birmingham

A woman called Fallon Sherrock has won the world championship of darts (first time for the ladies) and there is something just so fucking wildly gleeful about the crowd reaction that in line with my new policy on publishing only good things, I have to run it here.

I haven't played darts in years, and was never any good. But this makes me smile every time I watch it.

4 Responses to ‘Listen to these darts fans go wild’

insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted December 20
I don't want to rain on your parade of all things good and nice, but she didn't win the championship. It was the first time a woman has won 'a' match at the championships. Still a good thing, pioneering and all that.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted December 20
Even better. More worlds to conquer.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon ducks in to say...

Posted December 20
i like the "ooooh" as she misses it the first time - the dead silence and drawing them in for the kill. Darts players are mental - i was doing a conference with the father in law (he makes wooden toys and flatpacks them for team building exercises . . . .man, the stories i could tell) but it was held across the hall from the state darts championships and they were all wandering around with their jim and cokes at 10 in the morning. I guess it was priming fluid, as we all know a game of pool is better on a couple of drinks.

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Matthew F. would have you know...

Posted December 20
At some point in my last jaunt around England the TV where I was staying ended up on a championship darts match and yeah, it was surreal. The fans seemed to be burning way more calories than the competitors - it looked less like a crowd of fans watching a sports match and more like a large unruly party which happened to have a darts game going on at one edge of it.

The two contestants even had big-production entrances and personas, pro wrestling style. One guy came on in an Aloha shirt surrounded by surfies and hula girls to the Hawaii 5-0 music, and the other one came on to the Imperial March, complete with assorted Star Wars cosplayers and a little video of him holding a dart where the point was a miniature red lightsabre blade. Madness.

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The secret of regular blogging? Scrambled eggs

Posted December 20 by John Birmingham

For a very long time, I found it difficult to write here. It started when my dad got sick and got worse after he died. Partly it was depression, but even after that cleared I didnt seem able to just login and write. I was too busy trying to rebuild my writing career with ebooks, private columns, and this year with screenwriting.

Every minute spent here was time subtracted from that effort.

And then I found a cafe that opened at 5.30 in the AM.

Climate change helped too. An easy part of fitness routine was walking the hills of Paddington in the morning while Jane cranked out the laps with her swim group. But as this summer turned brutal I just could come at hiking in the heat. I found a cafe nearby that opened super early and took up a regular perch. With an hour to kill it was pleasant to simply noodle around with blog posts. I can't do any deep constructive book writing in cafes. That just doesn't work for me.

But jotting a few thoughts down? Sure. I could do that.

And so here we are. It's really fucking nice to write without deadlines or invoices or marketing plans or any of that shit. Just write, usually after a plate of eggs and maybe some fried halloumi.

Of course that's done terrible damage to my calorie balance for the day, but I've never been productive in the afternoon, so I now just head off to the gym and do my penance then, after logging four or five hours of paid writing.

Not sure how I'll go when the apocalyptic weather backs off and I can go back to morning exercise, but by then I should have my blogging momentum back.

2 Responses to ‘The secret of regular blogging? Scrambled eggs’

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted December 20
Look I don't blame you for not being able to write without a cooked breakfast first; maybe that can go in an update to How to be a Writer. But it's such a pleasure to suddenly have oodles of updates on the Burger to consume, I'm not going to argue with how you get there :)

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Rob puts forth...

Posted December 21
Ok that's great and the everything but what does ole JB think about the Baby Yoda in the Mandalorian? That's what I demand early morning bacon and eggs thinking time spent on. Or afternoon, either way get on that yoddler train.

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