The Pursuit of Kindness…

Éamonn Toland read Modern History and Economics at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where he received a Lawlor Foundation Scholarship. He worked as a management consultant with Accenture and McKinsey & Co., and as an entrepreneur and an executive with Paddy Power. As well as being a media spokesman for Accenture, he has written articles for the London Times and Telegraph, appeared in television shows and documentaries, and been a key speaker at numerous conferences. Together with his wife and son, …

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We need to stop producing any new books, films and TV shows until we all have had a chance to catch up…

One of the stresses of modern life is the tsunami of content out there. Aside from the bottomless pit of social media and online news there has never been such a volume of everything. On my TV I have the BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Britbox and NowTV. The issue is I only watch about 1 hour of TV a day so it is impossible to even touch the surface of all the new shows out there. …

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A love letter to libraries…

As lockdown measures ease we are heading into new territories and hoping for a safe future. Aspects of our lives which we may have previously taken for granted are opening up again. Most notable to me is the reopening of our libraries. And hairdressers, obviously. I’m not a complete eejit. One of the upsides of lockdown has been the plethora of homes being shown on tv. I enjoy scanning past the interviewee and looking at whatever part of the house …

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‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

The above quote by the American writer, William Faulkner, could have been crafted with Northern Ireland in mind. We need look no further than the murder of Lyra McKee a few weeks ago for evidence that Faulkner was right on the money. I thought my days of hearing news of the violent deaths of friends had long passed but seemingly not. I woke up to read of Lyra’s death in the news. Not only was her killing reckless and heartless, …

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Crime fiction is deadly serious. The NOIRELAND Festival returns this weekend…

I have a habit that many of you will be familiar with. I buy lots of very worthy books on politics, society, etc. but reading them is a different matter. They sit for years on the bookshelf mocking my lack of civic-mindedness. Instead, when I turn in for the night escapism is what I need. I discovered years ago that detective stories are the perfect balm to soothe away life’s troubles for a while. Not for me the gory tales …

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“at the collective level, something funny is going on in terms of our reality testing…”

Some interesting thoughts [as ever! – Ed] from the writer and novelist Will Self in an interview in the Irish Times today. If Self was concerned about the impact of technology seven years ago, what about now, when the overwhelming impression for many people is that the world is spinning faster and faster? Or is that just another technological illusion? “Oh no, I don’t think it is. It is absolutely not an illusion. Anybody smart – no, let’s not get …

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Books, books, books for Big Politics Pub Quiz

Thanks to our friends at public affairs company Stratagem, we have a bumper crop of prizes to give away to the winners and nearly-winners of this year’s Great Big Politics Pub Quiz. First up, the books. If you are a history fan, we have a bit of focus on this year’s big centenary events, with a look back to the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. Philip Orr takes on The Road to the Somme, as he lets …

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“Perhaps it’s best to simply regard Gerry’s book as the political equivalent of an ageing hardman action star taking a role in The Expendables…”

The Guardian’s Marina Hyde on the “exciting publishing news”, the terms may be used advisedly, of the forth-coming publication of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ Little Book of Calm Little Book of Tweets.  From the Guardian article Enormous congratulations to Gerry Adams, who is formally elevated to irony’s army council. The Sinn Féin president is the subject of exciting publishing news, with the forthcoming release of a collected volume of tweets and selfies. According to the party bookshop’s blurb, “this …

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The flag protests – for example – were about social media, not column inches”: so what, then, will our Linen Hall Library look like in another 227 years?

ULSTERS ATTIC: The Director of Belfast’s Linen Hall Library, Julie Andrews, arrives for work each day to an institution with living, breathing roots to the past like no other. She then sets about the very modern questions of Northern Ireland today: how to bring the past to life while keeping the bills paid, how to record the present in a digital world and where to find the generation after Heaney who will keep the library alive for centuries to come.

“Glory be the day, Mr Yeats!”

As the man said…  It’s tradition! Those of a sensitive disposition are duly warned, again, that James Joyce enjoys the language in all its fecund nuttiness. Enjoy! The Guardian looks at how fans around the world will be celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses. Auckland, New Zealand Usually, says Dean Parker, he helps stage a musical show in Auckland’s red light district: a three-hour musical cabaret of dramatised episodes from Ulysses. Last year was a “stunning, jam-packed success”, with Lucy Lawless, aka Xena …

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Vegetarian Stalinism Part 2: Ready the Gulags on the South Downs

Last month I highlighted the bizarre suggestion by the Green Party that in response to the flooding all government ministers and advisors who were sceptical of climate change should be sacked. Memorably when given the opportunity to refine and tone down this suggestion the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett claimed that even those advisers with no connection to environmental issues should be sacked if they do not accept climate change. The BBC suggested the Chief Veterinary and Chief …

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Well meaning though it may be, I’m against teaching history to promote a shared identity

The historian Tristram Hunt has given a cautious welcome in the Times to Michael Gove’s controversial plans for the history curriculum in England,  (£) a topic I raised last month. This is interesting because Hunt is also a Labour MP and pro-Labour reaction to the Gove proposals was generally hostile. Hunt writes: At the heart of the controversy is the question of Britishness. Critics suggest that in a modern, globalised world, dominated by China and India, it is backward and …

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A rolling First World War reviews thread.

Given the day that is in it, and since there are only whatever number of shopping days until Christmas, this post is a rolling review of First World War literature, in its broadest sense to include personal accounts, historical fiction (and everything in between), histories, cinema, documentary, drama, theatre and the endless poetry. Next year, with the centenary of the outbreak of war looming, there will probably be a glut of reflections and new readings of the war, it’s course …

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“I loathe Ireland and the Irish.”

In the Irish Times, Brian Cosgrove takes up temporary residence in An Irishman’s Diary in the hope that, with the lifting of European copyright restrictions on James Joyce’s major works, a greater familiarity with Joyce’s “sometimes ruthless realism” may change the nature of the “annual Edwardian charade” that is Bloomsday.  From the Irish Times The devastating cultural effects of the Ireland in which he had come to adult consciousness are amply dramatised in many of the short stories in Dubliners . These deal with …

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The Written World

Here’s something to keep you occupied over the weekend.  [Will there be a quiz? – Ed]  Possibly…  The BBC magazine has an short and interesting, but un-embeddable, audio slide-show of Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 five-parter, In Our Time: The Written World.  The British Library has more online information about the texts and technology featured in each of the programmes.  From Chinese oracle bones, the oldest items in the library, to 17th and 18th Century news books, news pamphlets and newspapers.  As …

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What have the Elizabethans ever done for us?

If you still aren’t sure how to spend that Christmas book token, then AN Wilson’s “The Elizabethans” is a good candidate. This is a magisterial survey by the leading novelist, scholar and reviewer of the political literary and intellectual experience of a “glory age”, whose legacy in shaping modern Britain has only just come to an end, in the author’s view. Chapter One “The Difficulty” of Part One “The Early Reign” begins with this unexpected opening: “After thirty years of fighting …

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Archimedes’ bellyache

Having been subjected to X-ray fluorescence, and then some multispectral imaging, the 13th Century Archimedes Palimpsest may have finally revealed its last secret – “that Archimedes, working in the third century BC, considered the concept of actual infinity, something thought to have only been developed in the 19th century, and anticipated calculus.” The Palimpsest, constructed in the 13th Century mostly from an erased 10th Century copy of  works by Archimedes, is currently the subject of an exhibition at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum where …

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“it is a distant aspiration that fails to motivate anything other than occasional nostalgia”

The News Letter reports some interesting quotes from former senior Provisional IRA member, now an organiser of the Independent Workers’ Union, Tommy McKearney’s new book – The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament.  From the News Letter report The ardent socialist, who now organises the Independent Workers’ Union, says that Sinn Fein has become increasingly right wing as it has gone further and further into government at Stormont, where, he argues, “contrary to talk of power-sharing, the [Stormont] administration is almost …

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Another Bookish Thread

We have not done a general thread about books for a very long time. I did one two years ago. I have just finished Kafka’s The Castle: I think I have now read most of his stuff. Metamorphosis was probably my favourite along with the In Penal Colony. Actually all Kafka is fairly heavy going: I tend to read a page or two and then stop for a think; the blurb explains part of the problem is a German literary …

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