So what, exactly, is in that name?!


Recently I’ve come across some movies and books, the names of which have left me scratching my head.

Now I don’t know about you but I’m one of those types of readers who, in the course of reading a book, will always think of the title and what made the author choose that title (given of course that it’s not something obvious like the name of the main character). And there are times when I even anticipate the point in the story where the meaning of the title is revealed. I guess I do the same for movies.

Last week I watched a movie called ‘Abduction’. Wasn’t a bad movie but afterwards I was slightly annoyed. Nobody was abducted or kidnapped in this movie. I tried to look for a symbolic meaning in the title. Nope. Nothing there either. I was left with a similar feeling after finishing The Old Curiosity Shop. I kept wondering why it was called that when not even a hundred pages into the book Nell and her grandfather leave the shop and the rest of the story chronicles their journey away from London. Was the great Charles Dickens just being lazy? No. I had just had an epiphany while writing this blogpost. Since The Old Curiosity Shop was initially printed as a serial in a magazine, on starting it, Dickens had to give it a name. And since the first parts were set in the shop he probably thought it was the best name for the story. (This is my theory, I’m trying to give the genius the benefit of the doubt here…) Of course looking forward this title doesn’t make any sense.

Now perhaps the name of a story shouldn’t influence your enjoyment of it but I have to admit that sometimes for me, it does.

A good example is Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. This title is an intriguing (if not mysterious) one to someone who hasn’t read it. As I progressed through the novella, I anticipated what this title could mean and how it tied in with Holden Caulfield, the main character. When that point in the book came however, I marvelled at the symbolism Salinger employed and despite the melancholy tone of the story, the revelation of the meaning behind the title put a smile on my face. It’s one of the things that I’ll never forget about that book.

I understand that in some cases, coming up with the title for your story can be more time-consuming and brain-racking then writing the story itself. I know this firsthand too. Some will definitely argue that this shouldn’t be the case and that the story is more important, not the title, but I guess I just find it irksome when no intelligent thought is given to names of things or worse, when the title makes no sense.

So does a terrible, silly or ingenious title affect your enjoyment of a book? And what’s the most confusing name of a book or movie you’ve ever come across?

NM 🙂

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Literature and food.


At the risk of sounding unlady-like, I will state for the record that I do love my food.

I also like trying out new and unusual dishes (except if it sounds too gross). I will also admit that I am somewhat impressionable when it comes to food, especially if I’m reading about it. What I mean is, if I’m reading a novel and the characters are eating something, I will suddenly have a craving for it or if it’s something strange I will want to try it out.

The constant mention of ‘gruel’ in many old Classics (think: Dickens) has frequently had me cooking up some oats even though it’s never given the most flattering of descriptions.

Now there have been some stranger concoctions that I’ve read and whether these are common where the author is from or whether they are made up, I can’t be certain exactly.

There is one favourite of mine that has raised a few eyebrows.

A few posts back I mentioned Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. The main character travels with her father through Europe. In one country(I can’t remember which) they purchased freshly baked rolls and stopped for a picnic/lunch were they ate the rolls with pieces of dark chocolate in them.
Chocolate on bread? Might sound weird but it is very tasty, people. The reason for Nutella’s existence- although there is a difference, in terms of taste, between choc spread and actual chocolate pieces. I prefer real chocolate pieces so if I have a slab of dark or milk choccie on hand and if I just bought some fresh white rolls, then you know exactly what I’m having for dinner. 🙂

Apples and cheese? Yeah, why not.

For the more health-conscious amongst us, I did come across a new dishy idea after reading the Hunger Games. In the arena, Katniss makes a meal with goats’ cheese and apple slices in a roll. True to my curiosity I decided to try this combination out.
I didn’t have goats’ cheese and since it’s not very common in the supermarkets in my hometown, I used Camembert instead. It was surprisingly good on wholewheat brown bread. I later read that Feta was very similar to goats’ cheese so I tried that as well. I didn’t like it very much, the apple and Camembert made a far better match so lo and behold! I’ve found a new favourite sandwich filling!
As a gourmand, nothing frustrates me more than completely made-up foods that the author makes sound so mouth-wateringly delicious, yet you will never truly know what it tastes like. One example for me was, the Island Of Purple Fruits by Terry Jones(yes, him of Monty Python fame) which describes the said fruits as being the tastiest thing that the main character had ever eaten. As a kid (and even now) I ached to know what those fruits tasted like that. And the same goes for Rowling’s Butterbeer.

Weird dishes/foods mentioned in works of fiction: have you ever been tempted to try them yourself? If you’re a writer have you ever created unique delicacies in your stories? Or what’s the tastiest-sounding foodstuff you ever read about in a novel? Your thoughts are always welcomed.

NM 🙂

Beckster got me tagged!


Becky tagged me last month for some awesome questions, and I was more than happy to answer them. I won’t be setting new questions or tagging anyone but feel free to answer the ones below if you wish. If you’re a bibliophile like Beckster I’m sure you’d want to and I would love to see your responses…

1.) Which book do you think should be adapted into a film that hasn’t been already?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (the last time I checked Sony bought the rights to the movie but it’s still in production). If this doesn’t count, then I choose Company of Liars by Karen Maitland.

2.) Which classic are you too scared to read/keep putting off? (E.g. War and Peace.)
Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo(scared) and a few Dickens books(putting off for no real reason, really)

3.) Sam or Dean Winchester? (Supernatural)
Dean (He’s Jensen Ackles right?).

4.) Do you think the paperback will become extinct and be fully replaced with the Kindle?
I certainly hope not.

5.) Have you ever had an experience with the paranormal? E.g Ghosts, aliens etc.
Nope. Despite my former active efforts to look for them 😉

6.) Your least favourite genre to read?
Sci-fi or Romance

7.) Who’s biography would you consider reading?
Really want to read Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness

8.) The best birthday present you’ve ever had?
My brother took me to see Oasis live in Manchester for my 20th birthday(eons ago)

9.) Your opinion on 50 Shades of Grey? (Whether you have read it or not.)
Haven’t read it yet, but I want to. I don’t like giving opinions on books I haven’t attempted to read.

10.) Your favourite place to read? In bed.

11.) Which books from present day do you think has the potential to become a classic 50/100 years down the line?
I think it depends on what the socio-political scene would be like in 50-100 years time. If there are any books written now that reflect that scene or are considered relevant, then they will definitely be earmarked as ‘classics.’

NM 🙂

The value of undervalued things.


When Becky asked me last week, in reply to Legendary Ladies of Literature, whether I had known any of those women prior to working on that post I vaguely commented that I had heard of Sappho when I was younger. But the vague comment hid the flood of memories that came cascading into my mind as I thought about the first time I heard Sappho’s name. Now this might come as a shock to you but it was not in a book or in a documentary or even in school. I was introduced to her via a…kids’ cartoon.

Now granted there are many animated shows aimed at children which incorporate elements of classical history and ancient folklore which I suppose could be deemed educational in a sense but this cartoon was different. I will go so far as to say that it was probably my favourite show as a teen although nowadays I’m never eager to admit it. Why? Well because the show was not as famous as it should have been.

Years ago, at university, during the first tutorial of a semester, for orientation we were asked to introduce ourselves and state what our favourite show was (amongst other things) in an attempt to get to know one another. I mentioned this cartoon as being one of my favourites only to receive reactions of weird looks and furrowed brows. Nothing is worse than speaking about something you love only for it to be unappreciated because nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. Just because something is not well-known, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good.

For the record this cartoon I’m harping on about was called Histeria (yes, that is the correct spelling). It was a Warner Bros production, ran for only two years but was cancelled due to issues with the budget. Not surprisingly, it was created for the purposes of edutainment, quite similar to Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series, but it didn’t seem to catch on in the viewership rankings.
In History and English I attribute a lot of what I know now to Histeria, rather than my lessons at school. And that is no exaggeration. When knowledge stays with you years after the lesson has ended – THAT’s real education.

Yes, the humour was juvenile but famous names and places stuck with me. In one memorable episode I found out who Emily Dickinson, Moliére , Basho and Sappho were. In the very same episode I learnt what a haiku was and got to know a bit more about the life of Mark Twain.
Aaaaaaand…guess what? You gotta love Youtube. I actually managed to find a clip from that very episode for you! Quality’s not very good but better than nothing. For the life of me I cannot understand why this show was not as popular as it should have been. Of course I’m known for being terribly bias…

What about you? Was there a not-so-famous show or movie that made an impact on you or your life? Or perhaps you read a really inspirational book but it never quite made it to Eat, Pray Love-status? Tell me, always love to hear from you…

NM   🙂

The Strange Case of Deacon Brodie – An HML Post


The term “Jekyll and Hyde” has become a famous metaphor for anyone who is two-faced, hypocritical or deceptive. Even if you have never read Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous horror novella, you probably know the gist of the story anyway. A well-respected gentleman by day who, with the aid of a potion, turns into a sadistic debauched monster at night in order to fulfil his animalistic tendencies.
It is a supernatural tale of course but did you know that the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was actually inspired by a real person?

The true-life story of Deacon Brodie

Artist’s sketch of Deacon Brodie

William Brodie was born to a prosperous family in Edinburgh in 1741. His father was a respected and reputable cabinet-maker and at the age of 41, William inherited his father’s business and vast fortune. With his financial situation taken care of and a thriving cabinet-making business, he seemed set for life. He acquired many titles as a result of his benevolent reputation: Burgess, Guildbrother and Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and eventually rising to prominence as official Town Councillor.However there was one dark secret that the Honourable Deacon Brodie hid from upper-class Edinburgh society: he was a compulsive gambler and often lost large sums of money as a result. The only people who knew of his weakness were the disreputable inhabitants of Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly-the gambling houses, brothels etc. He often fraternized with petty criminals and other men of disrepute.
To add to his secret activities, he also kept two mistresses, whilst putting up the front of being a responsible family man. Rumour has it that he bore over six illegitimate children.

With his gambling debts mounting and having to support three households, William Brodie was soon strapped for cash. He soon had to find other means of making money while still keeping up the appearance of an honourable and affluent citizen.

Edinburgh plagued by burglaries

Between 1786 and 1788, numerous establishments were burgled and looted with no suspects being apprehended. In March 1788, one John Brown came forth with information pertaining to a robbery that had taken place months before at a silk mercer’s shop on the High Street. He admitted involvement in the robbery and turned himself in (motivated by the generous monetary reward that was publicized as well as a promised reprieve from punishment). He also implicated his friend and accomplice George Smith. Brown also admitted to various other crimes and robberies including an unsuccessful burglary at the Excise Office – a building that stored most of the collected taxes and revenues of the entire country. He left out one vital piece of information however.
While both men were ensconced in the Tolbooth awaiting trial, news broke out that Deacon William Brodie had fled Edinburgh for London leaving absolutely no explanation for his sudden departure. The reason however would soon be revealed.

Deacon Brodie exposed

When John Brown heard that Brodie had fled the Scottish Capital, he dropped the bombshell that would leave Edinburgh High society reeling in shock. Brown revealed how, since 1786, it was actually Brodie who had orchestrated the string of robberies, along with him(Brown), Smith and another man Andrew Ainslie. Brown had initially withheld this information in hopes of bribing the lionized Town Councillor.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Now that Brodie had disappeared, Brown gave full evidence that brought the Deacon’s double life into the spotlight…

Brodie had been robbing establishments long before the formation of his gang. He would often visit tradesmen for a bit of idle chit-chat at their place of work with a piece of putty concealed in his hands. He would take impressions of the keys to their shops (back in those days, the keys were hung on a nail at the back of a shop) when the owners were busy with other customers, have a copy made and break into the shop later that night.
Robbing humble shopkeepers was not lucrative however and that is when Brodie recruited Brown, Smith(a locksmith) and Ainslie.
Amongst the many ‘jobs’ that the quartet had carried out, it was revealed that it was in fact Brodie’s gang who were responsible for the theft of the College Mace at Edinburgh University in 1787. The disappearance of the silver mace from the College Library made headline news and the next day, Town Councillor Brodie, in true thespian fashion, expressed his shock and outrage at the crime.
Their biggest job however, was not a successful one and inadvertently led to the demise of the gang, resulting in Brown’s confession.
In early 1788, Brodie set his mind on the Excise Office. Given his influence, Brodie had connections within the establishment. Having managed to create a false key to the building, the robbery was planned for the 5th March.

It all goes wrong.

Three of the men found no trouble in entering the building of the Excise Office while Ainslie stood watch outside. The plan went downhill from there however when Ainslie, on seeing an employee rush into the building and then rush out a minute later, panicked and blew the alarm-whistle. He fled thinking their cover had been blown.

He was wrong however. The employee had rushed in having forgotten some documents. The man bumped into Brodie whose presence there raised no suspicions and he left soon after. Brodie, feeling the heat however, departed as well, leaving Smith and Brown in another part of the building.
Smith and Brown ransacked the areas that were most likely to have money stored. But they failed dismally in their search, managing to only find £16. Comically, they missed a secret drawer containing £600!
John Brown was not happy with Brodie for having deserted them and that’s when the gang parted ways.
When the Deacon fled Scotland in March of 1788, a £200 bounty was placed on his head following Brown’s full confession. For months, Brodie evaded capture. His whereabouts were eventually traced to Amsterdam. He was captured and held by Dutch officials until July, when he was returned back to Edinburgh.
Given his fame, Brodie’s trial became the centre of an 18th century version of a media circus. It seemed unbelievable to the people of Edinburgh how such an upstanding member of society could have deceived almost everyone by leading such a life of corruption and wickedness.
On 28th August 1788, Deacon William Brodie was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850, more than 60 years after the death of Deacon Brodie. Even though the two men were a generation apart and never met, Stevenson’s father knew the famous Brodie who actually built a cabinet for Stevenson Snr. which currently stands in the Writers’ Museum in the Scottish capital. Stevenson must have heard tales of the famous Brodie as a child.In 1880, Stevenson wrote a play with WE Henly simply titled Deacon Brodie, loosely based on the disgraced former Town Councillor. The author’s interest in Brodie did not wane after that though. The idea of the duality in man’s personality continued to fascinate him and in 1886, he wrote The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which many consider to be a masterpiece in horror fiction.

“I had long been trying to write a story on that strong sense of man’s double being … For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterwards split in two, in which Hyde for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers”. – RL Stevenson

The spirit of Deacon Brodie will forever live on in this invented tale of evil and metamorphosis, proving once again that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. 🙂

NM  🙂

Deacon Brodie Influences

Books/Plays (Fiction)

Deacon Brodie by Stevenson RL. and Henly WE.

Movies

Deacon Brodie (1997) starring Billy Connolly. Dir. Phillip Saville

Main Reference

 Wilson, AJ; Brogan D; McGrail F. Ghostly Tales and Sinister Stories of Old Edinburgh. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London. 2003(latest ed.).

References

http://www.robert-louis-stevenson.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brodie
http://www.sawneybean.com/horrors/DeaconBrodie.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Louis_Stevenson

Part 2- An audio book review of Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales


This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on a review of Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales.

Gillian Anderson is one of the star-studded cast that lent their vocal talents to this audio book. Anderson’s voice is almost regal-like as she reads The Guardian of the Pool.

A Cinderella-like tale called Natiki was read by British actress Parminder Nagra. I’m such a big fan of the ER and Bend It Like Beckham star but why, oh, why didn’t anyone coach this poor woman on the pronunciation of some of the words? (Ms. Nagra, “veld” is pronounced “felt”, FYI). On a more comical note, I found CCH Pounder’s pronunciation of Sannie Langtand in Sannie Langtand and the Visitor quite funny and couldn’t help chuckling (it’s pronounced Sunny Lung-tunt, not Sanny Lang-tan 😀 ).

Other famous names were more professional in their efforts although I was quite surprised at how boring some celebrity voices could be! Fellow South African Charlize Theron nearly put me off to sleep with her reading of The Message. I think she should stick to working on-screen.

Hugh Jackman on the other hand, seemed slightly confused when reading Wolf and Jackal and the Barrel of Butter. It was like he couldn’t make up his mind whether to use his natural Australian accent or adopt a British one. His voice oscillated between Aussie and English which I found quite distracting and as a result I didn’t enjoy what seemed like an exciting story.

I know it sounds like I’m whinging but I do have some words of praise left for Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo and LaTanya Richardson Jackson.

I enjoyed Cheadle’s reading of Fesito goes to Market and British actress Okonedo put a lot of effort for The Hare and Tree Spirit. She has a powerful voice and the accents she employed have to be commended. I was also impressed with Samuel L. Jackson’s wife LaTanya Richardson’s animated telling of Sakunaka, the Handsome Young Man. She has incredible energy and she really brought the story to life.

One of the best things about this audio book, for me personally, was the music. Vusi Mahlasela and Johnny Clegg both provided the music, the background sounds and songs for the stories. I was so enamoured with Mahlasela’s song on Mpipidi and Motlopi Tree (read by Matt Damon) and the fact that he wrote and composed it himself, impressed me even more.

I forgot to mention in the first post that the first track on the collection is an opening message by the Archbishop of Awesomeness Emeritus Desmond Tutu. It’s a short message, so I thought I’d end this audiobook review by reproducing his message here:

May we always remember that we are part of one human family. We are all God’s children. We can build a world where each boy and girl has a safe place to live, enough food to eat and enough clothes to wear. You were made to be something wonderful. May you discover all the good that lies within you. May God bless you.

Remember that a good percentage of the purchase of this audio book goes to the Nelson Mandela’s Childrens’ Fund, helping to empower children and communities affected by HIV/Aids so if you would like to get yourself a copy and help a good cause you can go to Amazon.com:

Continue reading

An Audio Book review of Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales – Part 1


I absolutely love audio books. It’s not often you see an audio book review so I thought I’d attempt one for Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales.

This collection of stories was produced by Artists For A New South Africa in 2009 but I only discovered it in my local bookstore earlier this year and bought it a few months back. I was excited about it, not only because a sizeable percentage of the proceeds go to the Nelson Mandela’s Childrens’ Fund, but also because of the stellar cast of Hollywood celebrities who lent their talents to this project.

So many famous names provide their voices for this audio book, that I have split this review in two lest I bore you! So bear with me as I run through them and critique their efforts-you might just find your favourite actor mentioned here!

It was a very smart move getting British veterans Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren on board for this one. I’ve always said that if my book was ever to be made into an audiobook (that’s considering if they ever get published in the first place, of course. I’m an eternal optimist!), I would want Rickman to be the one to read it. And he doesn’t disappoint here as he reads The Ring Of The King while Mirren is incredible as she reads the very poetic The Mother Who turned to Dust.

I’m dreading what I inevitably need to say next, for as much I want to be honest, I risk being harsh and slightly offensive in my analysis. Please understand this is not my intention. It’s just that as these are traditional African stories, hearing typically American accents reading them, seems quite incongruous. I’m not picking, it would be the same if it was, say a Russian or Chinese accent (yet for some strange reason, an Englishman can get away with reading anything!).
After hearing Matt Damon read Mpipidi and the Motlopi Tree and Whoopi Goldberg’s Asmodeus and the Bottler of Djinns (these were on the first CD so naturally I listened to them first), I started to worry as most of the performers on this audio book are American. I found Damon and Goldberg slightly disappointing (although I was impressed with Damon’s pronunciation of some difficult words) as were Forest Whitaker, Blair Underwood and Samuel L. Jackson.

Not all the American stars were disappointing though. Some of them were surprising in a pleasant way.

I found Star Trek’s LeVar Burton’s reading of Van Hunks and the Devil very enjoyable as was Jurnee Smollett’s telling of The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird.
I was very surprised by Scarlet Johansson (who I didn’t expect much from, to be honest). She has a delightfully sweet voice and it suited the story of The Snake Chief.

The person I’m most impressed with however is Benjamin Bratt. He has a silky smooth voice and he knows how to control it. You actually forget that he’s American when you are listening to The Wolf Queen. He should read for more audio books, methinks because I can definitely listen to his voice the whole day if I had to.

Bratt’s reading was definitely the best of all the performers.Now for the worst.

I have to say that the biggest joke/idiot award has to go to……….Sean Hayes.

I’m not a professional actor so maybe it’s not my place to say but aren’t thespians supposed to be versatile?

When I pressed PLAY on my CD player for How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster, I expected more from Hayes. A change in accent maybe, or even just a slight change in tone or inflection.
Imagine my shock and horror on hearing the unmistakable voice of Jack MacFarlane coming through the speakers and grating my poor ears! And why on earth did they give him the story whose main character’s name is the hardest to pronounce? How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster is the only story on the audio book I have not listened to in its entirety, only because it was impossible to do so.

Hayes’ Will and Grace co-star Debra Messing fared much better I thought. She has a nice reading voice, although on telling the more dramatic scenes from Words as Sweet as Honey from Sankhambi, I couldn’t help picturing Grace Adler being overly dramatic and gesticulating wildly in the recording studio!

I guess there’s a reason some actors are only known for the roles that made them famous and nothing else.

I’m not done with this review as yet. There’s more tomorrow! Plus I’ll include a link where you can purchase this audiobook….

NM  🙂