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Art Of Conversation

"The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries."

~ René Descartes

“Kind reader, with keen judgment gifted,

When you discover the refined invention

Of this author, be with the style content

And ask not if what takes place is true.”

~ Nicolas de Herberay

In that Biblical paradise cultivated by two blissful nudists, the slithering serpent has a lot to answer for. In the Genesis story, the snake – often assumed to be Satan, “the father of lies” – deceives Eve into disobeying the omnipresent groundskeeper and eating the forbidden fruit. However, another reading suggests that th...

I make it a habit to follow the principle of being late because, as Wilde put it, “punctuality is the thief of time”. So I was in no rush to see The Shape of Water, and ended up watching it in March this year – in the same week it was already winning four categories of the Oscars. On the same day, incidentally, that I had read about Italy’s general election. I read of the growing support for far-right factions and a willingness to excuse bigotries so long as the party supported some isolated concern. Th...

Weekends in my childhood meant visiting three places. First, after the slow death of Friday and with it the passing of another school week, I went to my dad’s house. Second, on Saturdays – after a luxurious extra hour in bed and no one screaming about lost uniforms or being late or forgotten homework – my dad took us to the local library. And third, on Sundays, we went to church.

Those two mornings were not dissimilar: books (multiple on Saturdays, singular on Sunday); gatherings of people; discovering t...

The latest instalment of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (an apt subtitle, as we’ll see), offers opportunity for revisiting the series and wondering: Where did it all go wrong? It is hard to watch any of the sequels right after the original and not feel your mood decline in conjunction with the quality of filmmaking and storytelling. Just listen to the way Ian Malcolm, in Fallen Kingdom, mimics John Hammond and examine the difference: “Welcome,” Malcolm says ominously, “to Ju...

We have a problem with infinity. I don’t mean our inability to comprehend it (the infinite being forever ungraspable by finite minds), I mean with how so many of us appeal to infinity to make sense of our now.

Many faiths make use of eternity in their views of the afterlife, getting their Freudian wish-fulfilment in an everlasting paradise and their primitive desire for vengeance in the eternal damnation of different hells. The faithful take great solace in the belief that there will be an after and it w...

By the time the opening scene of Arrival had played out, I knew I was watching something remarkable. The movie begins with a montage that needs only three minutes to convey the depth and love of a mother-daughter relationship until the daughter’s death in her teens. Repeat viewings lose none of the urgency or awe that accompanied my first experience and are also filled with melancholy, nostalgia, and a sense of intimacy between myself and Louise, the mother and main character – she and I both know what...

It is a truism that novels allow readers to inhabit the lives of others, and all literature is a perpetual discovery that brings people closer while moving the horizon further away. The map is always larger than previously believed to be. Where once there were monsters, we discover beings that share the essentials of what it is to be human, we break bread with other tribes and converse with those who, on other days and in other places, would be the enemy. This commonplace is usually prodded back into li...

In the third century, Callimachus was tasked with the classification of all texts housed in the Library of Alexandria. This meant not only allocating these texts to the pinakes (tables) assigned to each grouping, it also required the creation of these categories – Herodotus only fell under the heading of “history” once the genre had been conceived and separated from, for instance, “law”. Callimachus managed this task with the concision of a minimalist poet, creating perhaps as few as six genres to descr...

At least according to Jakob Wasserman, in My First Wife, Vienna at the dawn of the twentieth century was in a twilight of literature, too busy with the decadence of cultural posturing to notice the decline of standards. Wasserman, through the narrator of his novel, quips that this was a time and place in which those with an education “feigned an enthusiasm for art” in order to impress, and anything more than a “limited interest in literature” incurred ridicule. “It was,” Wasserman writes in the tone of...

Question: What do fifth-dimensional aliens visiting Earth have to do with the love between two young men during a summer in Italy? The answer: not a lot. There is, however, one crucial similarity.

I was fortunate enough to bookend 2017 by seeing what are now two of my favourite movies: Arrival, which I watched in a cramped Mexican cinema that February, and Call Me By Your Name, which I closed the year with in England. For all of their apparent differences, they share the important feature of being perfec...

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.” This is typical of the writer whose sharpest blade was a sense of irony, with which he cut through the existential absurdity of life. He knew and wrote a thing or two about tragedy: his books deal with wars both world-wide and Vietnam based, humanitarian crises, and global warming, and the author himself was a PoW, discovered his moth...

If I were of a different mind-set, I might have titled this essay ‘3 Ways To Be A Better Reader’. That, however, would distinctly change the tone of this piece and require it to be something of a list of injunctions – the Three Commandments – set down by someone arrogant enough to presume to set rules for anyone. And had I written that list, its first item would have to have been:

“Avoid ‘listicles’ and other pabulum whose own writers cynically label ‘content’.”

The reason this hypothetical me would sugge...

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