Archive for ‘Practically Marzipan’

September 10, 2008

In which I support book burning

(More on Twilight. An edited version of this appeared in the NIE last week)

If you have been into a bookshop anywhere in the last month or so, you’ve probably noticed a pile of shiny black books with dramatic red and white cover art displayed prominently somewhere in the vicinity. These are Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, an enormously popular series of young adult fiction about the relationship between a young girl and a vampire.

Reading the first book in the series did not awaken in me any desire to read the rest. So I haven’t read Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the series that was released at the beginning of August. All I know is that some fans, horrified at the sheer badness of the book, have reacted by burning it.

Confession time: At the end of one school year, I came home and gathered all my textbooks for a particularly hated subject that could be dropped next year. I then burnt them. And it was a wonderful feeling.

I like books. I buy them all the time, refuse to let go of them and despair of ever finding storage space. I don’t look like a book harmer. When I browse, I’m not secretly imagining myself mutilating the magazines, breaking the spines of hardcover editions or even burning the paperbacks alive. But I certainly don’t treat books with the kind of reverence that is often expected of me. I cannot, in a room full of books, throw a fit if some are on the floor. Sometimes I accidentally sit on them, or touch them with my feet. I have occasionally fallen asleep on one and woken up to find it bent into terrible shapes. My liberal views on the subject of dog-earing shock and horrify many of my more religious-minded friends.

In school sometimes, if my foot happened to touch my bag, there was none of the horrified hand-touching-bag-touching-forehead gesturing that seemed to come automatically to so many of my friends. Yet the basic idea behind the action makes me happy. I love living in a culture where books are revered in that way, even if only a few of the people doing it are actually reading. Books do have a strong symbolic value.

And because books themselves have that symbolic meaning, so do censoring, banning, and yes, burning them. Throughout history, the people who have burnt books have been exactly the sort of people one doesn’t want to associate with – people who simply cannot accept perspectives or thoughts other then their own. I cringe automatically at the thought of books being destroyed on a large scale; stories like that of the destruction of the library of Alexandria are liable to give me nightmares.

Then again, once you’ve bought a book and read it (historically, most book burners omit this step) it’s yours to do with as you please. And as someone who has bought much-anticipated books in the past, and stroked their covers (eyewitnesses claim that crooning and baby talk were also used) all the way home, I can’t demand that our reactions to books we care about not be physical, even when those reactions are destructive ones. I understand where those Twilight fans are coming from, and I sympathize.

June 23, 2008

Projectile Faeces

When I wrote about bonnacons last week (click on the column on the left or go here* or email me for funnier, unedited version) I was sad not to be able to include these picures from bestiaries of medieval knights looking most indignant as they are shat upon. One sees their point.
(from here)
(from here)

(from here)
*That link will only work for a week, I’m afraid.
May 27, 2008

Weddings, bottoms, and other sinister tales

As some of you know, a couple of months ago the nice people at the New Indian Express offered me a biweekly column (it is called Practically Marzipan) in their saturday paper. Last week’s column (click on the long skinny picture to read) was about something I have spoken about here in the past – prejudice against people who are left handed.

My favourite story about my southpawdom is one I felt would be inappropriate for the column. As a very small child I only visited India once a year or so for family weddings and similar functions. My parents, being the sort of people who didn’t really mind their child growing up in the west and isolated from good Indian values, had never really drawn attention to my lefthandedness. In school the only attention really paid to it pertained to the handing out of lefthanded scissors. So I was understandably surprised, at the age of five or so, to come here and have distant relations draw back from my left hand when I handed them things, or to be told to do perfectly normal things “properly”. Being an inquisitive sort of child I demanded an explanation from my parents. The reason I was given was that (quoting from wikipedia) “…in some societies including India, it is customary to use the left hand for cleaning oneself with water after defecating. The right hand is commonly known in contradistinction from the left, as the hand used for eating.”. This made sense to me.

It followed, I concluded, that lefthanded people like myself would in fact clean ourselves with our right hands, and eat with our left. At the next family function an elderly relative attempted to swat my left hand away from my leaf plate and force me to eat with my right hand. I said indignantly, disgustedly and (this is the important bit) loudly “but I wipe my bum with that hand!”

Pandemonium occurred.