Years ago, in an old notebook, I wrote: “One of Julian’s most attractive qualities is his inability to see anyone, or anything, in its true light.” And under it, in a different ink, “maybe one of my most attractive qualities, as well (?)”

-Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I caved! I caved! I’ve spent the last several years avoiding reading Donna Tartt, ever since one of my ex-flatmates told me I had to read The Goldfinch but I knew it was going to be just like so many other books I’ve read: so many pages of really well written but thoroughly depressing realism about a mid-western family self-destructing or two New York couples self-destructing, where I can’t say nothing happens because things happen but I just don’t care. I just don’t care! But I have liked Pulitzer Prize winners in the past (of course it was The Goldfinch that won that, not The Secret History) and the premise does sound interesting (they always do, don’t they? then turn into a thousand pages about four friends, their tragic lives and how they all die in depressing and horrible ways). So here I am and that’s how I got to here.

-Reading the Why

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

It’s fascinating to me what lies, even thrives, on the edges of humanity. Sometimes the hardest place to be is in the middle, among the unsung masses, the insignificant majority–the irony of wanting our children to be normal and special. There are, of course, many such ‘edges’. It could be genius-level (standard linguistic-mathematical) intelligence. It could be idiot savantism. (It could be riding a motorcycle too fast down Highway 1 or damning the lives of a billion people.)

It’s hard to believe I’ve never read Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I’ve always know this book (always: there was no moment when I first saw it’s cover or heard it’s title, my brain has redacted the memory of that first discovery by telling itself that it has always know the book), but never looked inside. The downside to reading (almost) only fiction. Neurological disorders are so interesting.[1] There really are cases documented by reliable medical practitioners of people who have perfect recall of their entire lives to the minutest detail, of people who can ‘count’ instantaneously the number of matches scattered accidentally onto the floor (as popularised in Rainman). There really are recorded cases of brain damage where the part of the brain that is damaged is the part of the brain that tells the brain that a part of it is damaged (like the Grebulon ship in Mostly Harmless), of amnesiacs who can’t remember their amnesia, or patients who can’t recognise their own body. It really opens your mind to what our brains are really capable of and all the things that can go wrong. This stuff is real!

-Reading the Why

[1] As are experiments into consciousness like the rubber hand illusion or the barbie doll illusion.

 

‘What are the unreal things but the passions that once burned one like a fire? What are the incredible things but the things that one has faithfully believed? What are the improbable things but the things that one has done oneself?’

-Jeneatte Winterson, Art & Lies

What kind of parrot am I? … Better then to acknowledge that what we are is what we have been taught, that done, at least it will be possible to choose our own teacher. I know I am made up of other people’s say so, veins of tradition, a particular kind of education, borrowed methods that have disguised themselves as personal habits. I know that what I am is quite the opposite of an individual. But if the parrot is to speak, let him be taught by a singing master. Parrot may not learn to sing but he will know what singing is. That is why I have tried to hide myself among the best; music, pictures, books, philosophy, theology, like Dante, my great teacher is dead. My alive friends privately consider me to be rather highbrow and stuffy, but we are all stuffed, stuffed with other people’s ideas parading as our own.

-Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies

Homelessness is illegal. In my city no-one is homeless although there are an increasing number of criminals living on the street. It was smart to turn an abandoned class into a criminal class, sometimes people feel sorry for down and outs, they never feel sorry for criminals, it has been a great stabiliser.

-Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies