Monday, 29 November 2010

Scandinavian Fancy Dress: Discuss

God bless Twitter.

I put a late night shout-out for ideas on what to wear to our Scandinavian-themed Christmas party. And what do I get? A barrage of some fabulous, some downright disturbing ideas.

Bizarrely, Lady Gaga managed to make an appearance: with herring or with Danish bacon (yes, *that* dress from the music awards).

Then there was the dark Wallander and Larsson inspired 'bikers, goths, murders, misogyny, cigarettes, coffee, casual sex'.

One that made me smile was A-Ha and herring. Two of my all time favourite things.

Then there was the to-be-expected blonde/viking wench with a good smattering of vodka, beer and drunken flat-pack assembly.

The award for cutest, cleverest by far goes to Scandinavian children's tales: Pippa Longstocking, Moomintroll and Snork Maiden.

So what do you think? Do you have any other suggestions?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

What happens to a girl who is told, from a young age, that she is the sole chance for her family to be restored to the throne?

Margaret Beaufort is heiress to the House of Lancaster. Married off at the age of twelve to the king's half-brother, Edmund Tudor, she soon bears a son, Henry, thus fulfilling her destiny. But the path to their divine right is strewn with the live bodies of their York cousins.

Firstly, Edward IV - with his beautiful wife Elizabeth Woodville - rule for many successful years, producing two sons. Then, when Edward dies, his brother Richard III takes control. Margaret wheels and deals through the years; forging and breaking alliances with friends and foes; raising a rebellion; wholly focused on her duty to ensure Henry ascends the throne.

The Red Queen is a parallel tale to Gregory's first in 'The Cousins' War' series, The White Queen. Where that was centred around the love between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that drove the success of a dynasty, this is the story of a lonely, bitter woman, much maligned by those around her. Subject to religious fervour, she channels all that might break another woman into achieving her God-given goal.

I wasn't as enamoured with The Red Queen. That's not the fault of the writing, historical detail or plot: it's the characters. Margaret is just not as likeable as Edward or Elizabeth. It's hard to care what happens to her.

But perhaps that's the point. This wasn't the finest point in English history. And life was pretty brutal for an independently-minded woman.

A book a week in 2010: Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott

Do you watch TV with a netbook perched on your lap? Do you check your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace accounts on your smart phone? Do have over 700 'friends'? Do you multi-task like no other generation before?

You are probably part of 'The Net Generation.' And according to Don Tapscott, you are transforming the world as we know it.

Grown Up Digital is the follow up book the Growing Up Digital (see what he's done there?) It's based on a privately funded $4 million research project "The Net Generation: a Strategic Investigation" where the author and his team interviewed 10,000 people to understand 'a generation's experience with digital technology'.

Using this massive international research programme he subsequently combined qualitative feedback from Facebook and his own children to create a manual for understanding what 'digital natives' - or the 'Net Gen' - really think, feel and do.

Don't be put off by the research methods section at the front; that's just proof that this is proper academically rigorous stuff. Tapscott brings the data to life, making it relevant, personal and engaging.

He introduces you to the 'Net Gen'. He explains how they behave at work, in education, with family and friends. He describes how they challenge political and social norms, through their digitally enabled - and enlightened - networks. He describes a generation who are proactive and friendly activists, who give a damn about the world they live in (even though they are surgically attached to some form of technology).

If you're interested in (or scared of) how society, politics and culture are changing, you have to read this book.


Saturday, 6 November 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Have you ever been to a work event and received a goody bag? I did. And it was a bound proof of this book. All 800 odd pages of it. It appears I have a thing for VERY BIG BOOKS.

Perhaps not the best tactic when you're trying to read a book a week. But I can tell you this was a hell of a lot easier than Wolf Hall.

Justin Cronin is an American author and The Passage is his third novel.

It's a sprawling, epic chronicle of the end of the world as we know it, and the rebirth of something far more dark and terrifying.

The Passage follows the seemingly impoverished and anonymous life of Amy, a nine year old girl. But Amy is special. She holds the future of humanity inside her. When her mom abandons her at a convent, only Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto realises how special she is. But everything takes a surreal turn when she takes Amy to the zoo where two special agents come looking for her.

Throw in a dozen psychotic death rows prisoners; a secret military installation in Colorado; some genetic engineering to end them all; and you've essentially got the basic ingredients for a crazy, epic, horror murder mystery.

There's a lot to recommend this book. Ridley Scott has already bought the film rights. So it can't be bad, can it? Well, no, it's not bad. It is in fact gripping, disturbing and unsettling. It gave me nightmares. I couldn't stop thinking about it during the day. And yet, it was overlong, would have benefited from tighter editing, and felt as though it had been intended as a television series. There are plenty of sub-plots, characters and situations that were introduced, but never really explored.

The Passage will spook you out. It's worth persevering with it. And you'll wonder if there are plans for more.