‘Big Brother is watching you’ – a tribute to George Orwell

Last month commemorated 70 years since the passing of a giant of English literature, George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair).

George Orwell display Brompton Library

Orwell was a man of contradictions who never seemed to fit in anywhere. Born in India in 1903, into a “lower-upper-middle-class” family, Orwell grew up in the English shires, was educated at Eton yet was shot in the neck fighting for socialism. He then curiously became famous for his critique of the Soviet Union and Stalin in Animal Farm.

His writing seems to be driven by a deep desire for fairness and a relentless pursuit of the truth, and his willingness to criticise those who abuse power and language, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, made his allies feel uneasy and his enemies squirm.

Indeed, Animal Farm was initially banned from publication for politically expedient reasons in World War II (at the time, Stalin’s USSR was a useful ally in defeating Hitler and criticism was censored in the suspended democracy of war-time Britain, a situation Orwell despised). These contradictions and hypocrisies, along with experiencing first-hand the bitter betrayals and cynical use of propaganda in the multifaceted Spanish Civil War (Orwell fought with renegade anti-Stalinist Marxist group the P.O.U.M, that was later repressed and outlawed by the Spanish Communist Party), certainly contributed to the overall themes in Animal Farm and 1984.  Ironically in the 1960s, over a decade after Orwell’s death, Animal Farm was challenged in some parts of the USA for being a “problem book” with ‘communist text’ for using such language as “masses will revolt.”

George Orwell display at Brompton Library

Orwell’s determination to tell the detailed, complicated truth and inform the reader using simple, layman’s language stands in contrast to much of today’s shallow political discourse and ‘journalism’, which deliberately misinforms, and is arguably often used to protect the status quo rather than attempt to expose the truth. It must be said these problems of course existed in Orwell’s day, but are they better, or worse now? Orwell’s writing can at least help us find out, as although he died 70 years ago, the clarity of his writing is more important than ever.

Although the dystopian totalitarian Britain of 1984 did not come to pass, one must wonder what Orwell would make of the country and wider world today. Even though I have an aversion to people (often wrongly, in my opinion) ventriloquizing his views for their own agenda, I expect much of it will fill him with horror. Orwell remains relevant because we can still understand the world with his words, which have changed literature forever. What would he make of government institutions like GCHQ’s illegal mass surveillance of UK citizens, and of social media giants harvesting data and selling our privacy, all with our apparent consent? The telescreens in 1984 are now not necessarily on the wall, but in our pockets, with the ability to listen, photograph and video our private lives. And whilst Big Brother may not order us what to do, algorithms made by corporate giants manipulate how we interpret the world on social media which is awash with so much ‘fake news’ it can skew elections and referendums. The language of 1984 can also easily describe any authoritarian ‘communist’ regime that exists today: “the party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the socialist movement originally ever stood, and it does so in the name of socialism”. 1984 can perhaps also explain the seemingly endless wars Western countries are entangled in in the Middle East: “The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture… It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs… The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”

George Orwell display at Brompton Library

Although mostly well-known for his novels, he was also a prolific writer of essays, literary critiques, reportage and even poetry. Beyond politics, he also enjoyed writing about nature in his diaries, and in 1946 wrote the essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. Orwell also dabbled in food writing; 1945’s In Defence of English Cooking led him to be commissioned a year later by the British Council to write an essay on British food to promote relations abroad. He described British cuisine as “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet” where “hot drinks are acceptable at most hours of the day”. Further writing in 1946 instilled Orwell’s quintessential Englishness: that year he wrote an essay entitled ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, within which he lays out an 11-point plan for making the perfect cuppa (yes, you really should put the milk in last).

David, Brompton Library

 

 

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- The Bad doctor

Hello and welcome to the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group.

For the next session, Monday 8 April, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Doctor Ian Williams’ illustrated anecdotes of The Bad Doctor.

Cartoonist and Dr Ian Williams takes his stethoscope to Dr Iwan James, a rural GP in need of more than a little care himself. Incontinent old ladies, men with eagle tattoos, traumatised widowers, Iwan’s patients cause him both empathy and dismay, further complicated by his feelings for his practise partners: unrequited longing for Dr Lois Pritchard and frustration at the antics of Dr Robert Smith, who will use any means to make Iwan look bad in his presence. Iwan’s cycling trips with his friend and mentor, Arthur, provide some welcome relief for him.

BadDoctor1

“The territory of doctor as patient has been visited before, but Dr. Williams’s iteration and its resolution are as subtle and thought provoking as the best of them, with the always worthwhile message that the roles into which humans sort themselves are as mutable as the rituals they accept and reject, and the calls for help they choose to hear or not.” -The New York Times

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“Replete with sometimes delicate, sometimes explicit observations about the foibles of human nature and the bureaucracy of healthcare, The Bad Doctor combines wickedly black humour with subtle characterisation that never fails to engage the audience’s empathy.” -Broken Frontier          

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Darke
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer
Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors – International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, 8 March, is a date to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. It all began over a century ago and today it is observed all over the world. It is also a day to reflect on improving gender equality and for 2019 the theme is #BalanceforBetter.

IWDLogo2019

At Brompton library, we have been celebrating the literary achievement of women with a series of book reviews. Since International Women’s Day in 2018, I have been doing regular reviews of books by inspirational female authors. In total I have read eleven books by eleven amazing female writers. It is hard to pick a favourite because the books are all so different and written in different styles.

IWDBookCovers

I loved some of the books because of their subject matter or the worlds they created. There are the feminist dystopias of The Power, The Water Cure and Red Clocks which comment on gender equality in our own society. There is Helen Dunmore’s novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history. Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood’s novels reimagine classic myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective.

I found some of the books inspirational because of their authors. Such as Zadie Smith, who was published at a young age and has gone on to win many literary awards or Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there is Malala Yousafzai, who almost lost her life standing up for women’s rights.

Because the books are from different eras, it made me reflect on the journey of women’s rights. Roxane Gay’s essays are a funny and insightful look into the struggles of being a modern feminist, whereas Emily Bronte, who had to publish Wuthering Heights under a male pseudonym, is a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I hope you have been as inspired as me by these great reads! And I’m sure you can think of many more inspirational female authors to add to this list.

 

 

Author Caroline Lawrence at Brompton Library

On Wednesday 13 February, the first sunny day of the month, Brompton Library was host to an exciting event. Caroline Lawrence, author of successful series The Roman Mysteries, gave a brilliant two-hour workshop to 9 – 11 year-old pupils of local Earls Court School, St Barnabas and St Philip’s. The pupils were accompanied by Assistant Head Teacher, Nicola Challice.

The children learnt about what it is to be a writer and how to structure a story. This included ‘ninja description’, the ‘seven beats’ of plot and the ‘number shape system’.

The workshop culminated in working through the first chapters of Caroline’s forthcoming book, The Time-Travel Diaries, which will be published on 5 April. The children competed to see who could write the best blog about their experience. We think they all did brilliantly!

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Thank you so much to Caroline for such an interesting workshop. The Time-Travel Diaries is published on 5 April 2019. And thank you to St Barnabas and St Philip’s as well, the children were a credit to their school, remaining excited and involved throughout.

If you’re a local school and would like to take part in a similar event – please contact us at libraries@rbkc.gov.uk

Penny, Brompton Library

Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 11 February, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Craig Thompson’s romantic and philosophical epic BLANKETS.

Wrapped in the snowfall of a blustery Midwestern winter, Blankets is the tale of two brothers growing up in rural isolation, and of the budding romance between two young lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith, Blankets is a profound and utterly beautiful work.

blankets

‘Moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest and probably the most important graphic novel since Jimmy Corrigan.’  – Neil Gaiman

‘One of the greatest love stories ever written and surely the best ever drawn.’ – Joss Whedon 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.
David

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- SLEEPWALK

Happy New Year from the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 14 January, 6:30pm, we will be discussing the stylish Adrian Tomine compilation SLEEPWALK.

An old woman returns alone to the spot where as a young girl she used to meet her lover on his daily lunch break. An unsuspecting couple find themselves drawn to a window to watch the neighbours’ kinky play turn into something more sinister. Twin teenage sisters make an awkward pilgrimage with their ageing-hippie father. A young guy misses his flight and returns to observe a kind of alternate version of his own life, one from which he seems to have vanished. Sleepwalk is a classic Tomine collection, a series of vignettes that scratch beneath the surface of seemingly well-adjusted lives.

sleepwalk gn

“Like Woody Allen in his prime, Tomine is a master storyteller with a keen understanding of life’s bittersweet contradictions, and his meticulous drawing style further evokes the confusion and loneliness that his characters experience as they navigate the murky waters between adolescent fantasy and the less glamorous reality of adulthood.” – Village Voice

 If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let us know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- Monster by Naoki Urasawa

The brompton Graphic novel reading group will be meeting on Monday 10 December, 6:30pm.

Where they will be discussing volume 1 of the psychological Manga thriller: MONSTER by Naoki Urasawa:

Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. Even a brilliant surgeon like Kenzo Tenma is no exception. But there’s no way he could have known that his decision to stop chasing professional success and instead concentrate on his oath to save peoples’ lives would result in the birth of an abomination. The questions of good and evil now take on a terrifyingly real dimension. Years later, in Germany during the tumultuous post-reunification period, middle-aged childless couples are being killed one after another. The serial killer’s identity is known. The reasons why he kills are not. Dr. Tenma sets out on a journey to find the killer’s twin sister, who may hold some clues to solving the enigma of the “Monster.

Monster_GN_Cover

 

I loved Monster, and I cannot believe it took me this long to read. I’ll be back for more, very soon” – thebooksmugglers.com

Monster appears primed to take the Western world by storm the same way it did Japan” – IGN

 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate.

 

So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Sleepwalk
  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There will be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

David Bushell, Library Customer Services Officer

 

Halloween party and make your own jokebox

To celebrate Halloween, we are having a party at Brompton Library this Saturday 27 October, 2 to 3pm.

We will be making skeletons, playing spooky games, blowing up balloon ghosts and telling Halloween jokes with our own jokebox!  We have some great prizes and lots of special treats so why not come along? Book your free place here on Eventbrite

Here is our Halloween jokebox that you can print out and play with at home –

How to make the Halloween jokebox:

  1. Print out the image above
  2. Cut along the dotted line
  3. Turn over so that pictures are on the table are face down
  4. Fold all corners into the centre
  5. Turn back over so that the pictures are facing up and fold the corners into the middle again
  6. Fold in half so that the pictures are on the outside and the questions are on the inside
  7. Put your fingers in the corners to open out.

We hope you enjoy making that and hope to see you at our party this Saturday!

Fiona, Brompton Library

Books to films: The Little Stranger

This month, Fiona from Brompton Library is reviewing Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger which has just been released as a film and will be read and discussed by the library’s reading group in November.

The book

Set in post-war rural Warwickshire, Dr Faraday is called to attend a sickly maid at Hundreds Hall who believes that the house is haunted. Faraday has a sentimental attachment to the house as his mother had been in service their as a maid and once took him there when he was a child to a garden party where he was presented with a medal by the lady of the house, Mrs Ayers. As Faraday gets closer to the Ayers family, events start to unravel. Strange and inexplicable happenings that suggest a ghost from the past is haunting the family and as their financial situation worsens and the house starts to fall apart around them, the “haunting” intensifies.

Behind the story of the house is also a love story between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday and behind all of it is the story of post-war Britain, the introduction of the NHS and how that changed the lives of ordinary people. There is a strong contrast between the lives of the Ayers family at Hundreds Hall where, in the decaying house, guests dress formally for dinners served to them by a maid while local people, still wary of modern medicine, are dying young from curable ailments and too poor to be able to pay the doctor.

The book is a gripping read. I read half of its 500 pages on a flight and was completely engaged by the writing, the atmosphere and the story. The relationship between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday is beautifully written and touchingly awkward and I liked the way the book dealt with several themes at once while remaining a really good story well told, and very creepy in parts. At one point, Dr Faraday says “All this house needs is a dose of happiness”. You get a sense that they are both so lonely in their different ways and that everything could change for them if they could make it work. I felt that the more a I read the book the more I also wanted the house to be rescued and saved from ruin as the Dr does. It works really well that Waters does not use tricks to build up the adrenalin of the story and the overall pace is one of gradual decline, so if you are wanting to read a ghost story this may not be for you, and the end has a twist that creeps up on you so quietly that you almost can’t quite believe it.

The film

The film brings the book to life visually. It really captures how I imagined the house to look – its interiors are perfectly done and the view of the house from the road leading up to it were very evocative of the book. The house is very grey and you get a sense that the seasons change outside while the house is stuck in time. Although billed as a horror, the film leaves out much of the references to ghosts that are made in the book, but is more like a ghost story. As the film is much shorter than the book, the suspense builds much more quickly and there were some chilling moments, but on the downside it meant that we didn’t spend much time with the characters or see their relationships develop.

Charlotte Rampling is perfect as Mrs Ayers while saying very little, she appears icy and fleeting throughout the house. Ruth Wilson is great as Caroline Ayers, bringing to life the earthy and practical daughter of the house who holds the story together. The casting of Domhnall Gleeson let the film down a bit for me. Dr Faraday is in his 40s in the novel which lends a fatherly aspect to the middle-aged, unmarried doctor that would not be possible between Gleeson and Wilson as they are of a similar age (he may even be younger than her). He came across as cold and remote at the same time but lacked the warmth and drive of the Dr Faraday of the book and I wasn’t rooting for him like. Overall it’s not a bad adaptation with some great acting, a few chills and shocks and is visually very true to the book.

Brompton Library’s reading group will be discussing the book on Tuesday 6 November so why not join us? You can borrow a copy at any of our libraries.

Fiona, Brompton Library

 

The adventures of a reading group

A researcher working for a BBC World Service series, The Why Factor, contacted us to meet a book group for their latest programme “Why we forget the things we have learned“.

The Why Factor is a BBC Radio magazine programme, a series of 25 minute shows that mixes vox pop and academic specialists, brought together by a presenter.

We arranged for the show’s producer to talk to local book group members (who kindly agreed to participate), and we all met in Brompton Library’s Meeting Room .

Rather shyly, members of our group answered questions fired by the producer who held a huge microphone attached to a tiny recorder. A couple of us (blink and you miss us) were edited into the first couple of seconds of the programme before the show segued into the main essay.

ReadingAdventure
But what was most important, Brompton Library got a mention – and the programme itself was quite interesting.

I was greatly encouraged by some of the observations about forgetfulness made in the programme. Apparently forgetfulness can be the result of a creative brain flying around taking in all sorts of sensory information which can later be selected from, unless it has been forgotten …. When we are in our book group, reading novels, we are turning over the plot and sharing feelings about the characters, etc., but we are also using our creative brains, employing our memories to add snippets of our own knowledge and experience. We are finding new ways of seeing – being curious. In this way, though discussion, people can renew their interest in the novel, go back and re-read it or, if they had not quite got to the end, decide to try again and even finish it!

Quite often a good book encourages interest in the author. For example, recently, having read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, members of the group were able to take their interest further by accessing and reading Hermione Lee’s fascinating account of Fitzgerald’s personal and literary life – which is available from our wonderfully maintained biography store at Kensington Central Library.

With a good public library service everyone can be a researcher! Please try to remember that ….

To find out more please visit the BBC website 

Penny, Brompton Library

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