Back to Afghanistan

So it’s been a week since any update, which can be explained away by a sudden burst of gigs and then a music video shoot last night, but a couple of days ago I successfully finished surrendering myself to the fun of vexillology. That marks two down, and ninety eight to go! I’ll also stick to my previous assessment; whilst Tim Marshall’s latest offering is amusing and informative, it is essentially just a collection of anecdotes without too much geopolitical insight. I would certainly start with Prisoner’s of Geography before considering Worth Dying For.

However, sticking to my original plan of alternating between fiction and non-fiction, I’ve decided to return to Afghanistan for the third book in the challenge and start work on Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. I read “The Kite Runner” when I was sixteen and enjoyed it (as much as one can enjoy a bildungsroman about rape, displacement, and the Taliban, I guess). So, let’s see how Splendid Suns compares!

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My previous experience of Hosseini’s work, and discussing it with some of the Afghan people that I know, leads me to think that he offers a good perspectivised introduction to Afghanistani culture. Like Salman Rushdie, I also quite like the way he compares it to western mainstream culture in a way that is uncritical and balanced, and allows his readers to feel like they are inside something that they do not come from. On the other hand, where Splendid Suns is concerned, I am slightly sceptical about reading a book that seems to be marketed purely as being by the author of another, more successful, book.

– Simon James Chisholm

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Fun With Flags

Well, after starting this page up yesterday and deciding to include the Neil Gaiman collection that I had just finished as part of the list, I decided to get really stuck in with some hardcore vexillology. For those who don’t know, vexillology is the study of flags, and what better way to start this off with Tim Marshall’s “Worth Dying For: the Power and Politics of Flags”.

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I first encountered Marshall through his previous work in geopolitics, and his last publication, the groundbreaking “Prisoners of Geography” (2014), which is a fascinating collection of essays on how cartography and natural geographical formations affect the modern political stage. As a follow up to such an important and insightful work, I’m interested to see how¬†“Worth Dying For” compares.

At 100 pages, and having vexillologically traversed the United States, the British Empire, and a great deal of Europe, I’m not quite as taken with it as I was with Marshall’s previous essays. The delivery is similarly witty and analytical, but it does feel more like a larger collection of anecdotes with a vague amount of political insight than it does a real collection of essays. At times, it is almost reminiscent of The Big Bang Theory’s “Dr. Sheldon Cooper Presents Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s ‘Fun With Flags'”, which, if you have never come across, you can find here for comparison.

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Still, it is a pretty interesting take on geopolitics. There are quite a few snippets of information, albeit incredibly nerdy ones, that I hadn’t come across before (like did you know that the yellow triangle on the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina symbolises the shape of the country?) I also think I’m finally beginning to understand why the Americans get so riled up about their particular piece of cloth compared to the much more laid back attitude of we Europeans, but that’s a conversation for another time. Even if the grammar makes it a downright confusing read sometimes (use the Oxford Comma, for the love of-), and the facts are sometimes wrong (Belarus is NOT the only European Nation State not in the Council of Europe; neither Kosovo nor the Vatican City are either), it’s still a decent follow up. However, I’ll have to read the other 200-odd pages before conclusively saying that “Prisoners of Geography” is better.

– Simon James Chisholm

Yet another blog…

So I’ve started up another blog. From scratch. Woohoo. It’s probably something like my fifth one; let’s see how long it lasts.

Basically, the idea of “Waiting for Spring” has been floating around in my head for a few weeks now. As the summer holidays start rolling around yet again, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of friends posting on Facebook about “reading challenges” that they are undertaking. What that is, essentially, is a way to both keep occupied and read a lot by setting short-term, achievable goals. Goals like “let’s see if I can read 100 books in four years” (okay, perhaps they aren’t all short-term).

Naturally, my desire to get back into heavy reading (I used to get through an incredible number of books, but as usually happens, reading for fun ceased when I started my undergraduate degree) has kicked in, as well as my desire to jump on a bandwagon and create one for myself.

I didn’t really want to just outright copy anyone else’s “reading challenge” though, so I figured I would come up with one myself. I thought about it for a few days; then it hit me.

For a few years now, like most of the western world, I have been eagerly following George R. R. Martin’s epic, “A Song of Ice and Fire” and, naturally therefore, eagerly awaiting the final two installments. I therefore decided that I was going to see if I could get through 100 books before “A Dream of Spring” (Book 7/7; also where the title of this blog comes from) was released. There was just one problem: I had absolutely no idea when that would be (no one really does, not even the author himself; and that’s cool, he can take his time with it).

So, for the hell of it, I just decided I would just see how many books I can get through before “The Winds of Winter” (Book 6/7) is released (hopefully before 2018, come on GRRM you can do it!) If I make it to 100, great. If not, well, who cares. Like I said, this is something like my fifth or sixth blog by now, so I have no idea how long it will keep me entertained for anyway. If other people find my musings and ramblings about my progress with this mildly amusing, then great. If I inspire other people to read some things they would not have read otherwise, even better. If no one cares, eh, neither do I, but I’ll try and update this every few days as possible.

Oh and one more thing, one “reading challenge” in particular that I saw quite inspired me in that the person doing it was attempting to read works from as many other countries/regions outside of the Anglosphere as possible. I’d like to try and do the same, but we’ll see how it goes; I’m not really planning ahead what I am reading but I will try to keep a list. I’m also going to try and fit in as much non-fiction as I can too, because why the hell not.

– Simon James Chisholm