I’ve lost track of the amount of times I have tried reading Catch 22, only to put it down again out of frustration. There is something about the disjointed narrative that leaves you as a reader feeling slightly disoriented, second guessing yourself about who exactly is doing what when. However, maybe in the end that is the point? Maybe something more linear would not do justice to the absurdity of war. After a while the book seems to settle into a rhythm where the chaos just feels like another character.

It is interesting to compare this with James A. Michener’s depiction of World War II in his novel Space. Michener uses the war as a foundation to build up Norman Grant as a hero. Captain John Yossarian on the other hand is an anti-hero whose main intent is to survive.

It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead.

When you listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on the ‘Supernova in the East‘, it feels like heroes were often few and far between.

Reading this book I was reminded of a quote from a Peter Goldsworthy novel Maestro, “Cartoon descriptions? How else to describe a cartoon world?.” I think something similar could be said about Keller’s creation. How does one capture such horrific tales of death, other than with humour and absurdity?


Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.

“But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them from for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don’t make the profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share.”

Milo Minderbinder, p. 231

Replied to ‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war (

Three years ago, a small group of academics at a German university launched an unprecedented collaboration with the military – using novels to try to pinpoint the world’s next conflicts. Are they on to something?

The idea of literature being used as a means of predicting the future and war had me wondering about a few things:

  • What does this look like in the world of AI and invented texts?
  • Would this mean that a totalitarian regime might prevent change by silencing authors?
Bookmarked Remembering Janet Malcolm, Who Wrote and Lived with Bravery and Kindness by Ian Frazier (The New Yorker)

A master of modern journalism, and one of its most penetrating critics, has died at eighty-six, Ian Frazier writes. She was, as in a favorite line from “Charlotte’s Web,” the rare combination of true friend and great writer.

With the passing of Janet Malcolm, there has been many things said about her life and legacy.

Helen Garner on Malcolm:

She maintains a perfectly judged distance between her eye and its target. She does not suck up to the people she interviews. She gives her subjects rope. She allows herself to be charmed, at least until the subject reveals vacuity or phoniness, and then she snaps shut in a burst of impatience, and veers away. Although at times she draws back in distaste, or contempt, or even pity, she is not someone who deplores the way of the world or sets out, in her writing, to change it. She merely pays it the respect of her matchless eye. In her work there is a complete absence of hot air. There are no boring bits. Reading her is an austerely enchanting kind of fun. Everything she finds interesting she makes even more interesting by the quality of what she brings to it.

David A. Graham on Malcolm:

There are two kinds of magicians: Those who purport to be doing something truly supernatural, drawing on the paranormal, and those who are honest with their audiences about fooling them.

Janet Malcolm, who died last week at 86, was of the second type. Her journalism was filled with instances in which she alerted readers that she would be playing with their minds; she then did so effortlessly. Knowing you were being messed with was no protection.

Liked Bollywood or Bust: Salman Rushdie on the World of Midnight’s Children, Forty Years Later (Literary Hub)

As a reader, I have always been attracted to capacious, large-hearted fictions, books that try to gather up large armfuls of the world. When I started to think about the work that would grow into Midnight’s Children, I looked again at the great Russian novels of the 19th century, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, Dead Souls, books of the type that Henry James had called “large, loose, baggy monsters,” large-scale realist novels—though, in the case of Dead Souls, on the very edge of surrealism. And at the great English novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Tristram Shandy (wildly innovative and by no means realist), Vanity Fair (bristling with sharp knives of satire), Little Dorrit (in which the Circumlocution Office, a government department whose purpose is to do nothing, comes close to magic realism), and Bleak House (in which the interminable court case Jarndyce v Jarndyce comes even closer). And at their great French precursor, Gargantua and Pantagruel, which is completely fabulist. I also had in mind the modern counterparts of these masterpieces, The Tin Drum and One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Adventures of Augie March and Catch-22, and the rich, expansive worlds of Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing (both too prolific to be defined by any single title, but Murdoch’s The Black Prince and Lessing’s The Making of the Representative from Planet 8 have stayed with me).

This is a fascinating insight into Salman Rushdie’s first novel. What was interesting was how old Rushdie was when he wrote it. As I approach middle age, it is a reminder to keep going.
Listened Shipworm: Podcast — Two-Up Productions from Two-Up Productions

Shipworm, a feature-length podcast from the creators of Limetown and 36 Questions.

This was an interesting listen. As a medium, I was left wondering what was added and left out, especially after reading Quinn Norton’s reflections on games as a form of literature.

You couldn’t write a Portal book or make a Portal movie or ink a Portal comic, Portal could only be Portal.

In particular, I wonder how Shipworm is any different to a radio play or a traditional audiobook?

“Kellie Riordan” in Is this the first real movie for your ears? ()

Liked How Thomas Mann Turned against the German Right (

A new edition of Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man and other writings offers an excellent opportunity to explore Thomas Mann’s political transformation. In a new introduction, Mark Lilla argues that Reflections advocated for the freedom of the artist outside of politics. But as the experience of the Weimar Republic showed, that can be hard to do. Thomas Mann, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929, had his books burned by the Nazis. There was a clear choice to be made.

Bookmarked Video Games as Literature – A Side of My Own – Medium by Quinn Norton (A Side of My Own)

We make video games and play them in order to live.

Quinn Norton asks the question, what is literature and where mediums like comics and games sit with this. Quinn explains that mechanics matter in there ability to change things.

Mechanics matter in literature. Apocalypse Now (and the arguably even better documentary Hearts of Darkness about the film Apocalypse Now) reached for the apotheosis of film. Joyce did the same for novels, e e cummings for poetry, Shakespeare for plays, 2pac for rap, and etc., insert your favorite author, or as we call them now, creators, here. Or maybe not your favorite. Maybe your least favorite, because they stick in your soul like a piece of gravel in your shoe, and you’re going to have to stop one day and change everything just to get them out.

That’s literature for you.

She gives the example of Portal 2. Its medium is essential to what it is. A part of this is the very nature of the author.

You couldn’t write a Portal book or make a Portal movie or ink a Portal comic, Portal could only be Portal.

For many people, the conceptual problem with Portal and other video games, as literature, is authorship. It can’t be literature without the auteur. How can a team of people be a singular creator of a literary work? But idea of the lone auteur creating from the depth of his singular soul was always a myth.

The ability to bring change comes through the interaction involved in reading and responding.

Literature is made in how it acts upon the world, not how it is pretended to be born fully formed from the head of a single man.

You can find literature at every level of the gaming world, from small indie games like Hollow Knight and Undertale, to multi-million dollar budget “AAA” games like Witcher, an open world game of vast detail where moral choices determine everything about the story, and most of the endings aren’t happy. Wide open, generative landscapes in games like Minecraft often let whole communities myth-make together, whether they’re chasing the Ender Dragon or not. What they all have in common is choices that matter, that they contain or build worlds that you make as much as consume, and that have the potential to make you.

It is interesting to consider this alongside Doug Belshaw’s work in regards to digital literacies and the importance of process. I am also left wondering about J. Hillis Miller’s ‘obligation to write’:

As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.

Maybe when we play we compose?

Bookmarked Edtech sci-fi (code acts in education)

Here’s a list the lovely people on Twitter suggested of edtech sci-fi texts, TV, and film. Three were even suggestions of existing compilations of edtech sci-fi: a 2015 piece by Audrey Watters on Education in Science Fiction, a collection by Stephen Heppell, and an entry on Education in SF at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Check those out too. I’ve alphabetized the list but nothing more. Some people added short descriptions, which I’ve paraphrased, and others links, which you’ll have to mine the replies to find, I’m afraid.

Ben Williamson collects together a collection of science fiction texts which depict education. It would be interesting to have a reader collating excerpts from each that could be used as a provocation to “engage with the complex social, political, economic and and environmental crises of our time.”
Bookmarked 50 Great Classic Novels Under 200 Pages (Literary Hub)

We are now past the mid-way point in February, which is technically the shortest month, but is also the one that—for me, anyway—feels the longest. Especially this year, for all of the reasons that you already know. At this point, if you keep monthly reading goals, even vague ones, you may be looking for few a good, short novels to knock out in an afternoon or two. Last year, I wrote about the best contemporary novels under 200 pages, so now I must turn my attention to my favorite short classics—which represent the quickest and cheapest way, I can tell you in my salesman voice, to become “well-read.”

Emily Temple follows up her list of 50 short contemporary novels with a focus on class novels.
Bookmarked Ten Ways to Lose Your Literature by Ed Simon, Author at The Millions (

All literature is of a similar resistance against time, mortality, finitude, limitation. To write it to commit an act of faith, to pray that what words you’ve assembled shall last longer than you, and that they’ll hopefully be found by at least someone who shall be, however briefly, changed.

Ed Simon explores the world of lost literature. He breaks this down into ten ideas.

Literature as merely a fragment:

Literature as fragment, literature as rough draft, literature as the discarded. The history of writing is also the shadow history of the abandoned, a timeline of false-starts and of aborted attempts.

Lost literature as ‘wish fufillment’:

When it comes to such forgotten, hidden, and destroyed texts, Kelly argues that a “lost book is susceptible to a degree of wish fulfillment. The lost book… becomes infinitely more alluring simply because it can be perfect only in the imagination.” Hidden words have a literary sublimity because they are hidden; their lacunae functions as theme.

Literature as cultural memory:

In A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq by Fernando Baez argues that “books are not destroyed as physical objects but as links to memory… There is no identity without memory. If we do not remember what we are, we don’t know what we are.”

Literature and the hope of being found:

There is no discussing lost literature without consideration of that which is found. Just as all literature is haunted by the potential of oblivion, so all lost books are animated by the redemptive hope of their rediscovery.

Literature and the subline:

Because the gulf between printed word and the meanings which animate them is a medium for sublimity, the entirety of all that which we don’t know and can never read as infinite as the universe itself.

Literature and the rhizomatic revision:

A final copy is the result of writing, but is not writing itself. It rather represents the aftermath of a struggle between the author and the word, merely the final iteration of something massive, and copious, and large spreading its tendrils unseen backwards into a realm of lost literature. Revision is a rhizomatic thing, each one of the branches of potential writing hidden and holding aloft the tiny plant. A final draft is the corpse left over after the life that is writing has ended.

Literature and the limits of the inert:

A script is an inert thing, while the play is the thing forever marked by its own impermanence.

Literature, fairy tales and anonymous authors:

So many variations, so many lost stories, whispered only to infants in swaddling clothe over millennia. We can never know what exactly the earliest version of those stories was like; we’ll never know the names of those who composed them.

Literature, fairy tales and anonymous authors:

So many variations, so many lost stories, whispered only to infants in swaddling clothe over millennia. We can never know what exactly the earliest version of those stories was like; we’ll never know the names of those who composed them.

Literature and the tangent of translation:

Translation is feeling about in a darkened room and being able to discern the outline of the door, but it doesn’t give one the ability to step through into the other room (only perhaps to hear some muffled conversation with an ear pressed against the wall).

When a tongue has genuinely stopped moving there is an insurmountable difference separating us from its literature

Literature as a belief in the future:

Literature is a vote of confidence in the future, in the present, in the past – it’s a vote of confidence in other people. The Future Library Project is in keeping with those theorists who are concerned with “deep time,” with the profoundly long view and arc of human history as it rushes away from us.

There are so many interesting ideas in this piece about the purpose and place of literature. It is one of those pieces to come back to and dig into further and possibly beyond just ‘literature’. For example, the idea of the rhizomatic revision has me thinking about music and the act of remixing and remastering.

“Clive Thompson | @pomeranian99
in Clive Thompson on Twitter: “In @The_Millions, @WithEdSimon alerts me to two fascinating books which I’ve just ordered: One is “The Book of Lost Books”, a study of literature that has been lost to time. The idea that Euripides wrote 72 more plays than we have is a gut punch (1/2)” / Twitter ()

Bookmarked Why Do We Keep Reading The Great Gatsby? (The Paris Review)

‘The Great Gatsby’ is not a book about people, per se. Secretly, it’s a novel of ideas.

In an introduction to the Modern Library edition of The Great Gatsby, Wesley Morris explores the lasting legacy of the novel. Morris argues that it is the sort of novel that you can appreciate without having been there. Instead it is a novel which dives into the world of identity and mystery, a story with so many gaps that it entices us to reread to check. This is best captured in one sitting.

In one day, you can sit with the brutal awfulness of nearly every person in this book—booooo, Jordan; just boo. And Mr. Wolfsheim, shame on you, sir; Gatsby was your friend. In a day, you no longer have to wonder whether Daisy loved Gatsby back or whether “love” aptly describes what Gatsby felt in the first place. After all, The Great Gatsby is a classic of illusions and delusions. In a day, you reach those closing words about the boats, the current, and the past, and rather than allow them to haunt, you simply return to the first page and start all over again.

Sarah Churchwell, Philip McGowan, William Blazek and Melvyn Bragg talk about The Great Gatsby on the In Our Time podcast. They discuss Fitzgerald’s legacy and how it came to be so important within the American literacy canon.

For an audio version of the book, the team at NPR’s Planet Money have done a reading after the book was added to the Public Domain:

“Cory Doctorow” in Pluralistic: 18 Jan 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow ()

Liked “A Second Rabadash” — C.S. Lewis and Dangerous Leaders by Matt MikalatosMatt Mikalatos (

here’s my hope for myself and all of us:

May we, like Susan, have the wisdom to recognize if we’ve been deceived by a leader who appears wonderful in one context but has “another face” when he gains power.

May we, like Edmund, remember our own failings and be generous with our enemies, and hopeful that true change is still a possibility even for a traitorous fool.

May we, like Lucy, see clearly into the hearts of our leaders.

May we, like King Lune, be kind-hearted and compassionate with our enemies.

May we, like the people of Calormen and Archenland and Narnia, find peace in the years to come.

In the meantime, friends, let us each be faithful in the things we are called to, despite what our leaders may do. Vote, speak up, and do what’s right. Aslan’s on the move—let’s keep our eyes open for him.

Liked The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable by Dani Alexis Ryskamp (

For many, a life of constant economic uncertainty—in which some of us are one emergency away from losing everything, no matter how much we work—is normal. Second jobs are no longer for extra cash; they are for survival. It wasn’t always this way. When The Simpsons first aired, few would have predicted that Americans would eventually find the family’s life out of reach. But for too many of us now, it is.

Liked Roald Dahl’s Anti-Black Racism (

Recently, the family of author Roald Dahl family apologized for anti-Semitic remarks he made. But Dahl, most famous for the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also brought young readers anti-Black racism in his original depiction of the Oompa-Loompas.
Dahl drew on his own life f…

Liked Why I Read 'King Lear' in Advent by Mark Labberton (

Since it was finished in 1606, it has never not been relevant. Contemporary stories can be urgent and often compelling, but the seasoned crisis of Lear pierces more primitively, at a deeper and more elementary level. That is one reason it rings as it does.

I have been reading Fiona Hardy’s How to Write the Soundtrack to Your Life with Ms 9 and am really intrigued by the space created. There is a part of me which keeps on questioning various actions and activities, wondering if they would really happen. Would kids write songs so quick? Would they really have access to a video camera … at lunchtime? However, I also wonder if the problem is me? Maybe, I am not the intended audience? Maybe such books are not about being true, but instead about dreaming in an alternative universe?
Liked John le Carré, author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, dies aged 89 (

The consistent love of his life was writing, “scribbling away like a man in hiding at a poky desk”.

“Out of the secret world I once knew I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit,” he wrote. “First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I’m sitting now.”