A funny thing happened on the way to Uni…

23 12 2017

True Crime on Campus

by someone or other

 

Students, staff and visitors often do the strangest things. From zombie apocalypse and unexplained beeping incidents to Quidditch and scrabble accidents it really is all kicking off on campus.

Pigeons, tigers, ninja turtles and a tarantula are all involved and there is much strange behaviour and many unfortunate events.

Staff, students and anyone interested in what really happens outside the university lecture room will enjoy these very real examples of True Crime on Campus.

 

I’ve been publishing True Crime on Campus since 2010 under the banner of Registrarism at Wonkhe.  Over this time many hundreds of bizarre, unfortunate, inexplicable and just plain weird campus crime reports have appeared. Now the very best of them are collected in an exciting book. It’s full of this kind of thing:

You can buy the book here, via the University’s online shop, confident that half of any profits from the sale will be given to support the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham. You can also now buy it on Amazon if you prefer.

Go on, you know it makes sense. Look at all these reviews:

 

The Guardian thought it was a great Christmas gift and it got a recommendation in the Times Higher too as well as on the University’s news pages. The Nottingham Post also liked it:

 

And obviously it gets from me although it is possible I am not wholly unbiased.

 

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Cicero goes large

20 05 2018

Lustrum by Robert Harris

Rome, 63 BC. In a city on the brink of acquiring a vast empire, seven men are struggling for power. Cicero is consul, Caesar his ruthless young rival, Pompey the republic’s greatest general, Crassus its richest man, Cato a political fanatic, Catilina a psychopath, Clodius an ambitious playboy.

The stories of these real historical figures – their alliances and betrayals, their cruelties and seductions, their brilliance and their crimes – are all interleaved to form this epic novel. Its narrator is Tiro, a slave who serves as confidential secretary to the wily, humane, complex Cicero. He knows all his master’s secrets – a dangerous position to be in.

From the discovery of a child’s mutilated body, through judicial execution and a scandalous trial, to the brutal unleashing of the Roman mob, Lustrum is a study in the timeless enticements and horrors of power.

It’s all about the politics and the battle for power. The struggles between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, with Cicero in the middle, is skilfully portrayed and the narrative is thoroughly gripping as Rome spirals into crisis.

It’s another corker from Harris.





Serious things happened on the way to the Forum

13 05 2018

 

When Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events which will eventually propel his master into one of the most famous courtroom dramas in history.

The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Cicero, a brilliant young lawyer and spellbinding orator, determined to attain imperium – supreme power in the state.

This is the starting-point of Robert Harris’s most accomplished novel to date. Compellingly written in Tiro’s voice, it takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, to describe how one man – clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable – fought to reach the top.

Have recently re-read this and found it as compelling as the first time around. The portrayal of Cicero and all of his political allies and opponents is excellent and the Roman backdrop is impressively painted. Whilst there is much rich historical detail here the thing which makes it genuinely gripping is the political ebb and flow around Cicero. It’s all politics at the end of the day and it is almost impossible not to draw parallels with contemporary political life too.

Just outstanding and highly recommended.





Short cuts

28 04 2018

Every Short Story  1951-2012 by Alasdair Gray

The first sixteen tales in this collection were published by Canongate in 1983 with the title Unlikely Stories, Mostly. This collection also has fifty-seven tales from later books, plus sixteen new ones written for the hardback publication of this collection. This last section, Tales Droll and Plausible, shows that Gray’s recent twenty-first-century fiction is as uncomfortably funny and up to date as his earliest.

This is a terrific collection of stories by one of my favourite writers. As the first page of the contents shows there are some great ones in here:

 

 

And there are many, many more. They all demonstrate Gray’s extraordinary imagination and often dark and disturbing creativity. A great compendium to dip into.

 

four stars





So long…and thanks

21 04 2018

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams

As Wikipedia has it in relation to the first book in the series:

The broad narrative of Hitchhiker follows the misadventures of the last surviving man, Arthur Dent, following the demolition of the planet Earth by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Dent is rescued from Earth’s destruction by Ford Prefect, a human-like alien writer for the eccentric, electronic travel guide The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by hitchhiking onto a passing Vogon spacecraft. Following his rescue, Dent explores the galaxy with Prefect and encounters Trillian, another human that had been taken from Earth prior to its destruction by the President of the Galaxy, the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the depressed Marvin, the Paranoid Android.

And it all gets even more improbable after that. Moreover, it’s the most inaccurately named trilogy there is. I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy nearly four decades ago and have returned to it many times since (including as part of the Nottingham Reading Programme) along with its successors

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless

I’ve just read them all again, after a bit of a break, mainly to check if they were still as much fun as I remember. I’m pleased to report that, on the whole, they have still got it although if I am honest things do flag about towards the middle of book 5 and it doesn’t end in a terribly upbeat way either. (And as for the sequel to this, penned by Eoin Colfer years after Douglas Adams’ death, the less said about that the better.)

So, whereas the 80s TV series is not perhaps quite as good as I remembered it to be, the recent movie is pretty dreadful and the latest Radio 4 series is more than a little lame, the books all still do stand the test of time, with Zaphod, Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Marvin all still doing the business.





Stoned, the crows

14 04 2018

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

 

‘It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.’
Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances…
 
With some trepidation I recently re-read this early Iain Banks novel, now over 25 years old, having not done so since shortly after its publication, having loved it back then. I should not have been so worried, it remains a cracking yarn and definitely one of Banks’ best. Banks ploughed a distinctive furrow in contemporary fiction at the end of the last century and The Crow Road is an outstanding example of his work. Although some of the IT references may now seem a little quaint in the attempt to sound terribly cutting edge, nothing can distract from a great plot, well-drawn characters and a thoroughly compelling narrative.





Not Wholly Unbearable

7 04 2018

The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce

 

 

There is nothing unusual about the barrel-organ man who walks into private detective Louie Knight’s office. Apart from the fact that he has lost his memory. And his monkey is a former astronaut. And he is carrying a suitcase that he is too terrified to open. And he wants a murder investigated. The only thing unusual about the murder is that it took place a hundred years ago. And needs solving by the following week. Louie is too smart to take on such a case but also too broke to turn it down. Soon he is lost in a labyrinth of intrigue and terror, tormented at every turn by a gallery of mad nuns, gangsters and waifs, and haunted by the loss of his girlfriend, Myfanwy, who has disappeared after being fed drugged raspberry ripple.

 

I keep reading these hoping for a breakthrough. The characters are entertaining enough and the plotting is appropriately bonkers but the rib-tickling promised by many of the reviewers just fails to arrive. Nevertheless, it’s harmless, clever and mildly diverting so quite a long way from unbearable.





Getting on a bit

24 03 2018

The Diary of a Man of 50 by Henry James

Returning to Florence after 25 years of military service, a man finds himself haunted by memories of a thwarted love affair that took place on the banks of the Arno during his youth. On inquiring after the erstwhile object of his affections, he encounters a young man in amorous pursuit of her daughter. Eager to spare his young friend the sorrow that has marred his own life, the man finds himself deliberating the morality of recounting his own story. This heartbreaking tale touches on themes that were to dominate Henry James’s later fiction, including the suggestibility of youth and the dubious morality of influence. With characteristic psychological insight and a youthful fluency of expression, even in his early work James demonstrates himself a master of the art of fiction.[From Goodreads]

It’s clear, short, lucid and an easy read, not very Henry James you might think. The Diary of a man of 50 is a well-crafted and melancholic musing on age and youth. Although more of a long short story than a novel, it does pack quite a lot in and, for those of a certain age, it really is thought provoking.

four stars








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