Gratuitous

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Feedback from other bloggers is the lifeblood of many an online outpouring. I know I look forward to these responses, and I try to give back my share of them to other bloggers.

But there is a certain kind of feedback that raises one’s hopes, only to dash them. Here is one example, of the type you may be familiar with:

You’re so interesting! I don’t believe I have read through a single thing like that before. So wonderful to discover somebody with some unique thoughts on this subject. Really… thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is required on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

It’s been a while since I’ve visited flim-flam spam flummery on this blog. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I occasionally check through spam comments to see if any genuine remarks have been hoovered up.

Mostly they haven’t.

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Angels and daemons

Angel memorial, Westbury-on-Trym churchyard, Bristol [own photo]

Congruences in recent and current reading always fascinate me, not least because I believe a workable definition of synchronicity is “a coincidence that has significance”.

Of course that significance doesn’t have to be universal, and the congruences that follow are therefore personal to me; but you might find that they also appeal to you — or at least entertain.

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Three score and ten

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Nineteen forty-eight isn’t a particularly memorable year in history, though a few significant events are attached to it. In Britain the first post-war Olympic Games took place in London over the summer, and a National Health Service was established. In Europe the Berlin Blockade signalled an escalation in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its former allies during the Second World War while in Paris the United Nations agreed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And in a little town on the Sussex coast in England a baby boy was born…

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Home is where

Shelfie, Oxfam bookshop, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

“A House is Not a Home…” goes the song by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and I think we can all agree with that. I’m sure that many of you have been in the position of having a few or even several abodes in your lifetime. Did all of them feel like home at the time?

What is it that makes a house a home? The lyrics of that song were clear: a house is not a home “when there’s no one there to hold you tight.” This is corroborated by the common saying that home is where the heart is, implying that this is where loved ones still live or even where one’s fondest memories reside. I think it’s impossible to underestimate the emotional pull that ‘home’ has over a mere dwelling place — think of a building and its associations are bound up with its actuality.

I’m occasionally asked where home is for me, and my stock response has usually been it’s here, where we live now. Certainly the four different properties we’ve lived in as owner-occupiers — where we raised a family, or worked from, or retired to — felt like, or still feels like, home at the time we were/are there.

But increasingly I find it’s not as complete an answer as I’ve glibly trotted out.

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This post has no title

Ross-on-Wye bookshop

You know how it is. You make yourself a resolution that you will or won’t do something. Then you yield just a little to temptation. Before you know it you’re in full flight to somewhere where you weren’t planning on going to be heading in the first place.

So it was with reading challenges / goals. I wasn’t really going to do any this year. Except read more. Then I succumbed to one that I wasn’t going to take too seriously. And then …

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Parallel lines

How many narratives are there, and how are they put together? Why are we often satisfied with some stories which, when described, sound trite or clichéd while other more complex tales, more diffuse or with an unexpected ending, fail to please or even prove unwelcome? Are we doomed to merely know what we like and to only like what we know?

I ask all these questions because I sometimes find different fictions I come across — and occasionally even non-fiction narratives — following parallel paths towards a similar conclusion even though they may not be obviously related in any way. And it turns out I may like them equally well even while unaware of those similarities, possibly because I’ve subconsciously recognised that they follow patterns that I find familiar. What might the impulse be that unites so many plots that superficially appear dissimilar?

I’ve read a few studies in my time about how stories are structured. There is the Aarne-Thompson tale types classification (named after Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, subsequently refined by Hans-Jörg Uther) which undertook to analyse folk narratives around the world, finding many commonalities; most discussion of folk- and fairytales refers to this system. There is Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928) based on analysis of classic Russian fairytales, which I found strangely alluring despite its complexity.

I’ve also read Eugène Dorfman’s The Narreme in the Medieval Romance Epic: An Introduction to Narrative Structure (1971), which examines how many medieval romances appear to follow similar structural patterns. Then there’s Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) which tried to include all culture hero tales in a schema he called the monomyth. We mustn’t forget Christopher Booker’s often irritating study The Seven Basic Plots (2004) which attributed the success of many narratives to their following a limited number of templates, sometimes singly and at other times in combination.

So many approaches, so few answers in common. Is there another way to come at these conundrums, or at least suggest an alternative approach to why we seek out and enjoy particular patterns?

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