Booker 2014: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Ok, let’s get this out of the way straight away: The Wake is written throughout entirely in its own language – a shadow version of Old English which Kingsnorth created to make it intelligible for the modern reader.

“we all is feohtan to lif I seas to this hraga all wihts men and others all is feohtan to lif in this deorc world. And now I moste stric”

Right, that should have put most people off.

Kingwood is of the view that once you get your eye in it’s not a difficult book to read/follow. We’ll get to that in a moment.

First.

The genus of The Wake, began when the author read a book called The English Resistance, documenting the guerrilla resistance movement that sprung up after 1066. According to the author: ” I ran through any number of possible ways of constructing the book. One early approach was an attempt to tell the story of the same period in history from varying perspectives: that of a man involved; that of a nineteenth century historical novel; that of a contemporary historian; and some other perspective I’ve already forgotten. Nicely post-modern, I’m sure you’ll agree. Perhaps I should have stuck with it; it sounds more potentially award-winning.”

Funny, although oddly enough my first thought when I started this book was just how much it was – in this form – award and critic bait. Just describing this book to people makes it sounds as literarily up its own arse as you could wish to get – you almost expect an accompanying soundtrack album from Damon Albarn and Sting played entirely on Recorder and Lute. Of course this is going to be nominated and no doubt win awards. By the same token it will not be read by most people. Indeed, even if it wins the Booker it will be one of those that sits atop many a book shelf unread as readers give up a few pages in.

Should this be the case? Is The Wake a good book?

The answer to the second of these is undoubtedly yes.

There is an argument that great art – be it music, film, art, or literature, shouldn’t be ‘easy’. As arguments go it is, quite frankly, bollocks. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that just because it is not easy it can’t be great. It is all about truth and that old chestnut authenticity (and I don’t here mean that you have to write in old English to be authentic for an 11th century novel) They say in writing fiction you should be true to your characters, and there is no doubt that Kingsnorth firmly believes that this is what he has done here for his lead character, Buccmaster of Holland, and those around him.

And Buccmaster of Holland is a terrific character – whether he would equally have been good without the ‘shadow old English’ – is open for debate, I think he would have been. I think a plain English translation would read perfectly fine.

But, that is not the author’s vision. Instead we get the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a free tenant farmer living his live with wife and two children in the Lincolnshire Fens, at a time when Britain was changed for all time – the invasion by “ingenga” (foreigners) and Duke Guillaume of Normandy and his men. It is a story of patriotism, religion, fear. In fact it read a bit like a Clint Eastwood western in some ways. Burned villages, outlaws, fighting for your home. it’s all here. And very good it is too.

I liked The Wake a lot. I admired its construction and the author’s attempt to convey the fact that this was a different time and place with language. That said he does seem to want to have his cake and eat it too, by trying to use language to add an authenticity whilst at the same time creating a language for the book that has never been spoken and with a set of rules that he admits to freely breaking when it suited his needs.

Most people will not get past this block to reading this. It is all very well (and true) to say that if you give it time, following the basic guide OE ….daeg (day) cg = dg sound as in bricg (bridge) etc you do start to relax into reading it without READING it – a bit like watching a subtitled film where you reach the point when you no longer feel like your reading the words, just immersed in the film. But, and it’s a big but, I think this only works if you read the book quite quickly and not in a pick it up , put it down, over a few weeks kind of way. In that instance you are likely to find yourself trying to ‘learn’ it again each time and never really get inside the book.

In the end I’m glad Kingsnorth wrote it and I think it is an impressive feat which does convey the alien-ness of Old England. However, it also puts up an intentional barrier to a wide audience reading it – in an are you clever enough to read this kind of way, which is a shame. I should add, I am also sure this was not his intention, as a visit to his website – very entertaining ( I like him a lot -read ‘about me’ section) – would attest. Indeed, the fact that it was crowd funded lends weight to the argument that he didn’t really expect many people to want to read it, he just needed to write it.

Set aside some time, remove all distractions, pour yourself a glass or several of something nice and struggle through those first pages . Hang on in there, it is worth it in the end. Or, just decide that life is too short to have to work on something that is meant to be the relaxing/enjoyment part of your life and maybe go for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler instead as your entry point into Booker 2014

Prediction: Shortlist

Cherry Cherry Cider …

Baby loves me Yes, yes she does

An ad came up on Twitter today for Carling which said: Carling Cherry Cider. Perfect for a summer evening.

This made me smile, as my first instinct was to laugh.

But, maybe I’m being unfair I thought. So I clicked through to the www.carling.com website to find out about this exciting summer drinking experience.
The first thing I discovered was that Carling are “not the only ones that think our cider is pretty special after picking up the coveted Gold Award in the Cider category at the International Brewing Awards 2013.” REALLY? Ok, I’ll let that slide, but let’s find out more about this Carling Cherry Cider.

I see a link – click

Looking for refreshment of a different flavour? We’ve expanded our Cider range to include new Carling British Cider Cherry.
Like our core Carling British Cider, Cherry is a blend as delicious and refreshing as our No. 1 lager, featuring a refreshingly crisp taste with just a hint of sweetness. And, of course, a beautiful cherry flavour.

Click the link to find out more about the award-winning Carling British Cider.

That’s it. Alcohol Volume? Percentage of Fruit in the ‘Cider’? Nope. Nadda. Nothing.

Very helpful. Right, maybe I should look on the Molson Coors Direct site instead, as they own Carling.? This site allows you to ‘discover the full Molson Coors range, and our latest unmissable deals online.’. There’s a link to view their ENTIRE drinks range

Go to Cider and … Carling Cider is not there, in ANY form. Has no one told Molson that Carling Cider is part of their drinks range? It would seem not.

So, I’m still none the wiser. And neither is the main Molson Coors website who don’t seem to be aware they make Cider

Maybe Carling Cherry Cider is just bad dream, a bit like Cherry Coke, best forgotten.

London Local TV Operator asks Ofcom if it can be LESS local

Ofcom has today published a consultation on a request from ESTV Ltd – the provider of the London local television service London Live – to vary the programming commitments in its local television licence.

Why am I blogging about this you might ask? Well, it seems what ESTV, run by the Evening Standard and Independent owners Alexander Lebedev and his son Evgeny, want to do is make London live, well, less local. Yes, that’s right. The owners of London’ s LOCAL TV licence want permission to make it LESS LOCAL.

This is comedy gold to those of us who have been watching to history of local tv roll out. No one (with the exception of Jeremy Hunt, whose brainchild this was when her was Culture Secretary) really thought this would ever work. There was never any real research done asking people if they wanted such services and/or if they’d tune in.

London Live started broadcasting on 31 March 2014. So it has taken just over three months for them to realise it is not a viable business. As a result they want to try and turn it into a ‘normal’ channel. I have previously written about how poor their commitment to local news and content was at launch so their attempts to reduce that further make a mockery of the process.

Under The Broadcasting Act 1996 Ofcom can consent to a request to change the character of a licensed service if it is satisfied:
• that the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service,
• that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number and range of the programmes about the area or locality for which the service is licensed,
• that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number of programmes made in the area or locality for which the service is licensed, and
• that the service would continue to meet the needs of the area or locality for which the service is licensed.

You don’t need to be a genius to realise that ESTV have exactly ZERO change of their request being granted. Ofcom have said they intend to reject the request, but are willing to hear representation for interested parties on that intention.

Booker time again

And so it begins

The Book long list came out yesterday. An important list as this year is the first when the doors were thrown open to the American’s too. How many would make the cut? Would Donna Tartt’s – Goldfinch be one of them? Would perennial favourites and/or ex winners such as Self and McEwan, Smith, Jacobsen or Waters be listed again?

Wonder no more.

The Booker longlist

Joshua Ferris (US) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Richard Flanagan (Australia) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Karen Joy Fowler (US) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Siri Hustvedt (US) – The Blazing World

Howard Jacobson (Britain) – J

Paul Kingsnorth (Britain) – The Wake

David Mitchell (Britain) – The Bone Clocks

Neel Mukherjee (Britain) – The Lives of Others

David Nicholls (Britain) – Us

Joseph O’Neill (Ireland) – The Dog

Richard Powers (US) – Orfeo

Ali Smith (Britain) – How to Be Both

Niall Williams (Ireland) – History of the Rain

The Americans are coming … ??

It turns out that they accounted for just a third of the list: Ferris, Fowler, Power and Hustvedt

At first glance, an interesting list, though one I have not yet read any off. Diving in at the deep end I have decided to start with Paul Kingsnorth’s – The Wake. Set in the 11th century, the author has decided to write it in an invented blend of Old English. A nice easy read then. It is also a booker first in that it was crowd-funded. (via Unbound website)

Let the fun begin.

Ofcom looks at ISP’s implementation of network filtering

Ofcom has published a report for Government outlining measures the UK’s largest internet service providers have put in place to help parents protect children from harmful content online. This follows an agreement between the Government and BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, the four largest fixed line internet service providers (ISPs), announced in July 2013. Each ISP committed to offer new customers ‘family-friendly network-level filtering’ by the end of December 2013. The ISPs have all introduced family friendly network level filtering to new customers, although Virgin Media failed to do so by the date agreed with Government (Dec 2013) and continues to encounter issues both with coverage of all new customers (due to majority of new Virgin Media installations involving an engineer visit, whom in most cases runs the broadband activation process and bypasses or ignores the filtering choice) and with the email verification of the set-up and settings changes.

According to the report:

• All the ISPs confirmed that their filter would cover all devices in the home using the home’s internet connection.
• All the ISPs confirmed that websites and any other internet services using standard HTTP protocols and ports were covered by the filters.
• Drugs, Porn, Suicide and Self Harm , Hacking and File Sharing are the only five categories offered by all the ISPs filters.
• BT’s filtering service covers a number of unique categories, alongside its “Nudity” and “Sex Education” categories. They are: “Obscene and Tasteless”, “Fashion and Beauty”, “Media Streaming” and “Search Engines and Portals”.
• All the ISPs except Virgin Media allow customisation of the content categories operated by the filter.
• All of the ISPs have commissioned third parties to perform the categorisation of internet content and services: BT and Virgin employ Nominum; Sky uses Symantec, and TalkTalk uses Huawei, although Symantec was also initially involved.
• Sky’s system will always block whole domains, while BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk can target specific parts of a domain.
• None of the ISPs’ filtering services feature a process by which identified mis-categorisations are shared with other ISPs, even if these are identified within common categories shared by all ISPs. However the ISPs are all members of a UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) working party on over-blocking, which is a possible arena for harmonisation.
• The ISPs’ outcomes and decision making processes are therefore not centralised through one final arbiter or otherwise shared. This approach differs from that taken by those major mobile networks which have signed up to the “UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles. These mobile service operators share a classification framework7 used to calibrate the filters they use to restrict access to internet content via mobile networks by those under 18. The operators use the services of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) as the final arbiter on appeals made by website providers against categorisation decisions made under that framework. The outcomes of such appeals are shared with all mobile service operators who are party to the code of practice. The BBFC publishes on its website quarterly reports on all the appeals it has considered, along with the outcome of each appeal.
• None of the ISPs offered a dedicated route or mechanism to allow site providers to directly check the current categorisation of their site against the ISP’s filter, although email requests could be made to each ISP to ascertain if a certain site was being intentionally blocked. We also noted the length of the stated turnaround times for dealing with reports of mis-categorisation could be problematic for sites whose access by the public is crucial to their business model,

I’m always interested in the mis-categorisation issue and the fun that can throw up when something is deemed to be correctly classified. The website covering news and developments in copyright and p2p issues for example is one that is blocked by my own work provider, who when questioned claimed can’t be recategorized because it is appropriately classified under the category Peer-to-Peer File Sharing. Based on the following criteria: Peer-to-Peer File Sharing – Sites that provide client software to enable peer-to-peer file sharing and transfer, this also includes sites that provide information related to Peer-to-Peer File Sharing. By information it includes ‘site that REPORT on issues ABOUT file sharing – so news reports about file sharing cases for example. I work in a law firm. You can see why I don’t hold much faith with how things are categorised by Filter operators. If this logic is applied to, for example, as it is the thing we are obsessing about currently – child abuse, it would mean that news stories about child abuse, information about dealing with child abuse and support for victims would no doubt fall foul to a ‘ includes sites that provide information related to’ approach to filtering.

Response times are almost always a joke too. According to the report: BT said that it aimed to respond to mis-categorisation cases within 72 hours and would not take longer than seven days. Sky said it did not have targets for processing mis-categorisation reports but that they were usually completed within 24 to 48 hours. TalkTalk offers customers a guide of five days to deal with reports said that in practice the majority of reports were resolved in 24 to 48 hours. Virgin Media said its maximum response time was one week, but that change could be effected almost immediately.

What compounds this stupidy is the final bullet point. If you run a website, there is currently nothing you can do to discover if your website is being blocked by any services web filters, or under what categories they are blocked. This is because far from existing to help you the ensd user, thse are businesses competingfor money and advertising bucks. They don’t want you to know what their black list and white list sites are.

So what has been the take up so far of those new customers offered family friendly filters at a network level?

BT – 5%
SKY – 8%
TalkTalk – 36%
Virgin Media – 4%

Clearly, the fact that Talktalk has been offering some form of their filter for three years is one reason that their numbers are substantially higher. Also as Ofcom points out, the figures do not break down to give a percentage related to those with families choosing the filters.

The report also does not address how effective (or not) the filters have been, and does not identify the levels of under and over blocking identified.

Whilst you can clearly tell I have serious issues with filtering and particularly at a network level, I am not totally against a concerned parent taking advantage of them. I am against parents who see enabling network filters as a ‘washing their hands of responsibility’ option – either intentionally or because they genuinely believe that the filters do what they say on the tin – which endless research over the past 15 years has shown, they don’t. I think a parent should be the one in control and they should first educate. Then, if they still feel a filter is needed enable one at a computer/device level and be there to disable the filter when it blocks content that it should not be blocking.

Kindle (Verymuch)Limited

So expect some frothing at the mouth but Amazon has launched their eBook lending service (just in the US for now). Kindle Unlimited. For $9.99 per month ($120 per year) you can download and read as many book from their ‘unlimited’ library and read them. So an Amazon Prime/Netflix for books then. ?

Now I do read quite a few books a year and mostly now on my Kindle.

So let’s think. How good a deal would $120 (or thinking ahead to a UK version, £120) a year be? If I look at my personal Kindle purchases for this year so far. I have bought 21 eBooks via Amazon at a cost of £126.77. At the same rate it means I’ll probably spend in the vicinity of £250 on eBooks during the year, or around £20 a month.

Suddenly £120 a year looks a good deal. Yes?

Well, no, actually. Whilst the service launched with a catalogue of boasting 600,000 e-books, what you get for that is access to lots of classics – which you can already download for free or next to nothing elsewhere – a few famous series such as Harry Potter and lots of self-published books. If you want most of the latest blockbusters or new literary gems you’re not going to get much luck at the moment. Suddenly, that makes £120 a year seem like a LOT of money. None of the 21 books I have bought this year are available in the launch catalogue for Kindle Unlimited.

You’re a librarian use your local library some of you are no doubt screaming. I do, of course, but not for eBooks.

The initial reason for that was that my local library service – Lewisham – didn’t really seem to have it sorted out (they do now). So much so I am planning on trying out borrowing an eBook from them and reading via my Nexus 7 (using OverDrive Media Console – which seems to be the library’s choice of ‘reader’ software)

The problem – as with Amazon – is that none of the books I have bought are currently available in the library’s eBook collection. Clearly I could attempt to order them – as I would do with a traditional book – but I guess I have become impatient. Actually, this isn’t true, in truth I have never (as an adult) really used any library to read brand new releases (except in my days in public libraries when I would read things before they hit our shelves), so doing so for eBooks would actually be a change in my behaviour. I’ve usually bought new releases I wanted and used the library for older books – catching up with an author’s back catalogue or just things that I missed when they came out. This week is actually a perfect example of my behaviour. Wednesday will see the Booker Prize long list named. I always try to read all 13 longlisted books before the prize is handed out – I usually fail , although last year I started the 13th on the day of the prize. It is unlikely either Amazon’s new service or my local library would enable me to get hold of all 13 ebooks and read them before the prize is announced. But, that’s fine.

Amazon are, of course, partly evil (tax dodgers etc) but in that they are also not alone amongst big global companies. They do provide good services though (on the whole) so, I don’t mind the idea of a paid for ‘all you can read’ ebook service. However, from a personal point of view I can’t see it being something I’d sign up to any time soon – even if they launch in the UK – as it doesn’t currently fit how or what I read.

Swift Music Analysis

It’s always nice to read someone who is passionate about music, the ‘album’, and about the future of the music ‘industry’ – becoming a bit of a dying breed, but Taylor Swift has written an engaging opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) where she sees a bright future for all of these things.

It is appropriate that one of her best songs is called Love Story, because as she says that is often what music is about – connecting with a song and/or an artist. As she says:
“The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling … Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past. However, some artists will be like finding “the one.” We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren.”

I have to say I agree.