The Artifice Thu, 21 Jun 2018 13:54:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why is looking at characterisation so undermined in comparison to structure and form in English Literature? And what effects does this have? Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:33:41 +0000 I’m an English Literature student at university and throughout my time studying literature at school/ college, and even university, I’ve noticed a trend amongst teachers and markers, which is a reaction of almost scorn at analysis of character in fiction. To me this has always seemed the oddest phenomenon as character has always been the most interesting, and also sometimes most important and valid feature of a novel. Take ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for example. During and after my reading of the text, there was so much meaning hidden in Atwood’s characters that I felt was integral to the message of her novel. Thinking about what I might write about for my dissertation, I felt ready and inspired to delve into this topic until I remembered the impression teachers have had of characterisation in the past. An example of this, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this sentiment, my a-level eng lit teacher told me to focus more on structure as it was considered higher level than character. This has always enraged me a little as I think avoidance of analysing character in a novel is avoidance of a whole chunk of the message of a book. As for the effects this has, I think this leads to a connection between fiction and the real world being lost. Often times I have questioned the purpose of analysing books if we are not taking deeper meaning from them in regards to the worlds that they were written in. I think undermining the importance of character in a book is evidence that the real purpose of a book (if it is concerned with a wider message, which they almost always are) is being lost.

The Books that Have Shaped Young Adult Fiction Fri, 22 Jun 2018 09:55:35 +0000 Whilst YA Fiction in a sense existed before the 21st Century, it was never a properly defined genre that you could visit in the bookstore. You usually had your Childrens books and then your Adult books and your Classics. YA Fiction exploded into being with the publication of the Harry Potter books which we can consider as Modern Classics. This topic would be on the game changing books that have contributed to the growing shape and form of Young Adult Fiction.

For example, Harry Potter led to the popularity of YA adventure and action books such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games is a staple in the genre for creating a wave of Dystopian fiction. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books paved the way for the multitude of paranormal fantasy books. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars contributed to the overwhelming popularity of Contemporary novels that delve into difficult and important topics that teenagers go through in life.

Of course there are positives and current or potential implications on these books in terms of how they have shaped the genre as well as how the genre is marketed, or at least what publishers looks for in this realm of Young Adult fiction. This would a very interesting topic to look at.

Audiobooks: Do they Enhance or Diminish the Enjoyment of a Story? Thu, 21 Jun 2018 13:54:33 +0000 In our media saturated world, we are consumers in everyday life. Recently, audiobooks and similar mediums such as podcasts which are not new inventions have re-emerged with popularity.

In April 2017, I immersed myself in the world of audiobooks and quite frankly reading has never been the same. I want to put aside the tireless argument that listening to a book is not ‘reading’, and instead focus on how the audiobook medium either enhances or diminishes our enjoyment of the story’s content.

Some stories work better as an audiobook

There are some stories that I have picked up physically not once, not twice, but three times only to find myself trudging through the book, unable to make any progress. One example is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I put this book down three chapters in, three times. There was nothing wrong per se with the story, but I could not click with it or draw any interest with the characters. The Raven Boys is a character and setting driven book, relying on its atmosphere and slow-burn plot to keep a reader’s interest. This was not for me.

However, I then discovered audiobooks through my library’s Overdrive app. One of the audiobooks featured was The Raven Boys. I had no idea what to expect, so I clicked download, put in my earphones and hit play. The only way to describe what followed was bliss. Suddenly, I was transported into the Virginia setting with our eccentric cast of characters. I owe this partially to the narrator Will Patton. His voice was low, gravelly with very subtle changes to narrate our characters. He perfectly embodied the novel’s atmosphere, which to be honest reminded me of the Fall season.

I then devoured the rest of the series via audio – The Raven Cycle. Without audiobooks, to be blunt, I would never have read these books. The passion that was missing from my physical attempts to read disappeared when listening to the story. I use this example to illustrate that there are audiobooks out there where a narrator’s delivery of the story can enhance the plot and bring out more of the characters. Through audiobooks, stories can be given second chances instead of potentially being buried.

I find that the reason for this comes down to capturing our attention. If a book has a slow pace, reading it may feel like a chore especially if you are not used to slower reads. By having a narrator capture the character voices and inject a sense of magic into the story, this can actually propel the book and make the story feel faster in pace and thus more enjoyable.

Audiobooks can have the opposite effect too

Of course, audiobooks can also potentially diminish the enjoyment of a story as opposed to physically reading the book. This can either be because the narrator does a poor job, in your view, of telling the story or because the written content is not up to par with what you expect it to be. There is nothing worse than a narrator who ruins character voices, either by using a high-pitched, screechy voice for a female character or by voicing a character as though they were a child and not an adult.

Personally, an audiobook that I did not enjoy was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I listened to the audiobook version that is narrated by Rosamund Pike. So many people love her narration of the beloved classic, but I found it irritating. The female voices felt ridiculously high-pitched and the male voices were too deep in tone for me. It also did not help that I was not a fan of the story either. This particular audiobook experience taught me a few things. The first is that audiobooks can ruin the experience of a story. The second is realizing how nuanced the consumption of stories can be. I had the unpopular opinion of disliking a popular classic and a popular audiobook.

The other category of not enjoying an audiobook is where even though a narrator is amazing, you cannot get through the audiobook because the story is not compelling enough. For example, I listened to the first Sherlock Holmes story in the Sherlock Holmes Collection by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Audible. The collection is narrated by Stephen Fry. His narration was impeccable, but I found the stories so dull that I could not stay solely for the narration. Yet another example where I didn’t enjoy a classic, which reinforced to me how story consumption is so nuanced. On the other side, there might be audiobooks that you absolutely loved, except they might have less than stellar reviews on Audible.

The Immersion Experience

Aside from the narration component of audiobooks, the immersion experience can be impacted based on an individual’s personal taste. For example, my older sister who recently became obsessed with listening to audiobooks on her long car rides discovered that she could not focus on fictional works. The first fictional audiobook that she tried was IT by Stephen King. She did not have a problem with the narrator, but rather found it difficult to follow the story-line.

A reason for this lack of immersion can be that we have grown accustomed to learning to read on our own and that storytelling morphed into a private hobby in a way. Although many of us were read to as kids, often the goal along the way was to get us reading independently. Thus, it can be jarring especially on your first try with fiction to hear someone else telling you the story. On the other hand, my sister has found that non-fiction works, particularly self-help books and memoirs are easier to follow. In her case, fiction works require time to sit down and focus on the intricate story details whereas non-fiction books, which are already grounded in our world, become easier to consume in an audio format.

As I have discussed, the realm of audiobooks is a beautiful albeit treacherous one as we all have genres that we do and do not enjoy in their various mediums. I am not a fan of a lot of history non-fiction audiobooks, as despite the good narration, I need to sit down and physically read and comprehend the historical details. This is difficult to do when you’re listening to the book, as often you do not want to rewind or pause to figure details out.

Personally, I came to realize from my audiobook experiences that for an audiobook to be immersive, I needed to feel that there was both strongly written content and a good narrator. Sometimes I would also want the story to be easy to follow. By extension, there can also be a difference between a good audiobook and an audiobook that blows it out of the park. Examples of amazing audiobooks include full cast audiobooks, graphic audio and more.

Full Cast Audiobooks

There are some audiobooks out there where there are numerous narrators that tell the story. These are my favourite audiobooks because they are the closest you can get to a film in your mind; especially when the audiobook has sound effects. I have two examples of full-cast audiobooks that are excellent. Both examples are science-fiction trilogies.

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This science-fiction trilogy follows a set of characters who set out to expose to the galaxies a war-crime on an illegal mining colony, that a corporation is trying to cover up. The first book is called Illuminae. This is a young adult series that is action-packed and heavy in terms of the themes it covers. The unique part of this series is that the story is told through a dossier of files. The story, in its physical format, is told through interviews, transcripts of surveillance footage, instant messages, handwritten notes and more. It is visually pleasing, but the audiobook enhances the story further. The audiobook includes a full cast of narrators as well as sound effects. In this case, the best experience is to read and listen simultaneously. This is because the physical format is very visual, and you actually miss out on parts if you only listen to the audiobooks or vice versa.

The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel

This science-fiction trilogy starts when a young girl discovers a giant metallic hand in a pit. Soon, other parts of this gigantic body appear across the world, and we follow a set of characters as they try to uncover what these body parts are and why they are on Earth. The first book is called Sleeping Giants. For this trilogy, I read the first book and then listened to book two and three. I vastly prefer the audiobooks. With this series, the audiobook is told through personal notes, transcripts of footage, but mainly through interviews. I enjoyed Sleeping Giants, but I felt emotionally disconnected from the characters because of the format, whereas the audiobooks with the full cast of narrators brought the characters to life, adding to my enjoyment of the series. These audiobooks also include sound effects which is a plus.

Graphic Audio

Through a close relative, I recently discovered the audiobook publishing company Graphic Audio. They publish full cast dramatized audiobooks such as ‘The Stormlight Archive’ series by Brandon Sanderson and their company tagline is  ‘A movie in your mind’. The focus on the main element of audiobooks, escapism and entertainment, is brought to life through this company. It is a unique form of storytelling in the audiobook realm. Although, I have never tried out the company’s audiobooks because I find the prices to be very expensive.

Of course, full cast and dramatized audiobooks are not the only arbiters of beautiful storytelling. I have found some amazing memoirs, non-fiction and fantasy stories through audiobooks as well, a few of which I have listed below for you to check out.

More Audiobook Recommendations 

1. Not my Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (narrated by the author)

2. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown (narrated by the author)

3. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (narrated by the author)

4. The Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling (narrated by Stephen Fry for the UK edition, Jim Dale for the US edition)

5. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson (narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading)

6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (narrated by the author)

The beauty of memoirs is that having a true story narrated by the author themselves creates an intimate connection between the reader and the writer. You suddenly feel as though you know the person in reality. By breaking the barrier between the reader and the writer, a new storytelling experience emerges; one that I feel is not there as strongly when you read the book on your own. In terms of fantasy stories, having a charismatic narrator tell an impressive story full of witches, magic, mayhem and more brings a reader back to the days when they would be read to as a child. It brings back the pure essence of storytelling; escapism.

One day as I was scrolling through various Goodreads reviews for The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I found a review by acclaimed fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. It is a charming story about how this was the first audiobook that his son fell in love with, as they listened to the story on long car trips. He talks about how usually his son is not a fan of the story being told out loud, but that this story and Neil Gaiman’s narration clicked. His son was able to picture the story in his head, which after all is the most important part of storytelling.

All of a sudden, your long commutes are not just filled with scenery to occupy yourself with. Now, you can engage in an intimate experience with an author’s personal story, or you can be transported to a fantasy world or science-fiction world. Your imagination knows no bounds with audiobooks. I find that it brings back that little bit of magic that we forget to see in the world when we begin to navigate the world of adulthood.

At its heart, audiobooks are like any other story medium. Audiobooks are about storytelling and we all know that storytelling is not composed of the medium in a vacuum. Storytelling is well-written content plus the medium. The emphasis is on the fact that the content comes first, and as consumers we prefer different mediums based on the content and our personal tastes.

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Would The Implementation of Gender Bender Manga in Education Solve Gender Issues? Wed, 20 Jun 2018 12:38:01 +0000 You would have probably noticed that the category “gender bender” is found in manga. They tend to feature characters as cross-dressers or transgenders, which has driven many readers of manga to be open to the idea of gender transformation. If such type of manga gets implemented in education, the coming generation would probably develop attitudes of acceptance and even appreciation toward individuals who identify with different sexual identities. What are your views concerning this matter that is drawing the attention of many nowadays? And how can gender bender manga be included in education?

Fat Characters on Television Wed, 20 Jun 2018 12:37:22 +0000 The representation of fatness on television happens in a myriad of ways in modern television. Sometimes this is with diversity, sensitivity, and real life reference. Other times, fatness is rejected on television. There is also often a spectrum of an acceptable level of fatness. Trace how these representations occur in modern television in dichotomous and often contradictory ways. This could include an analysis of a specific fat television character, the impact of gender, age, and race on representations of fatness, and/or tracing the history of television representations of fat characters.

A Black James Bond Wed, 20 Jun 2018 10:13:56 +0000 Daniel Craig became the first ‘blonde’ Bond, but once his tenure comes to a close, a new face will be required to sip those Vodka martinis and put paid to the latest Mr Big’s plans to dominate the world. When considering the many, fine black actors working these days, perhaps it’s time that we had a black James Bond. After all, the CIA operative Felix Leiter was recast in the 2006 franchise reboot, with the excellent American actor Jeffrey Wright proving he was more than capable of handling a darker role (excuse the unintended pun). So, which black actor could become Bond and, more importantly, why? Bear in mind that it is the character of Bond that is the focus, so the choice of actor must be one who can both fills those shoes and yet be able to make that character his own. This is not a popularity contest. On a personal note – I would suggest Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘Twelve Years a Slave’. 2013). He is the consummate professional who possesses a solid, on-screen (and stage) presence. His IMDB profile shows an impressive track record that demonstrates he can switch from comedic to dramatic roles with ease (just take a look at his performance in ‘Kinky Boots’. 2005) and he is ruggedly handsome enough to raise respectful envy from male Bond fans whilst undoubtedly turning more than a few female fans’ heads. Remember, James Bond is an iconic role so your choice and reasons must take this into consideration.

Star Wars’ Rey and Wonder Woman Depict Evolution for the Treatment of Women in Films Wed, 20 Jun 2018 03:37:19 +0000 Throughout the years women in film were portrayed in one way and now women are depicted differently. Women were objectified and sexualized in films. However, in recent years, Star Wars and Wonder Woman have changed the dynamic of women in film. For instance, Wonder Woman does a few elements that help with the evolution of women in films. For one, the film represents a strong woman, and two Wonder Woman does not need the help of a man to be saved. The film represents independence, free thinking, and equality to name a few ideas that the film represents. However, Wonder Woman still gets sexualized because of her outfit. Nevertheless, Star Wars’ Rey depicts another evolution for women in film. Rey does not get sexualized in the film and she still represents all of the positive components that make Wonder Woman a good film are found in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but Rey does not get objectified in the film. In fact, she is a character that overpowers the most dominant character in the film, Kylo Ren. She is able to use the “force” better than the most powerful character in the film, who is a man. The fact that Kylo Ren is a man and a well-trained warrior who is well-versed in the use of the “force” indicates that the evolution of Rey as a character is more important than sexualizing a woman and thus an evolution for women in these films is raised.

Nerd Culture Gatekeeping Wed, 20 Jun 2018 03:36:53 +0000 An issue that I think is still prevalent even today. But the pressure that you have to prove how much of a nerd you are to be accepted within certain circles.

Especially with how mainstream Nerd Culture is becoming, it’s almost as if we have to prove we’re not just riding the wave and even if we were, whats so wrong about that?

I’m sure everyone has experienced the feeling of not being nerdy enough, or even judged for not having played a certain game, or knowing all the character’s names in a show, or not following all the episodes of Critical Role.

Is it just due to an elitist mindset in nerd culture? or is it perhaps more of a defensive mechanism to protect from ‘fake nerds’ just riding the mainstream wave?

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Howl’s Moving Castles and the Curse of Aging Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:54:59 +0000 An analysis of the curse of aging in Howl’s Moving Castle, both the youth novel by Dianna Wynn Jones and the Miyazaki movie it inspired. How does the movie portray the difference between young and old? What are the dynamics between the younger and older characters? Does the movie present a positive or negative portrayal of aging overall? (As related to the concepts of beauty, social interaction, etc.). What does the movie say about aging in general, and how people should handle it? How do perceptions of the movie differ between younger and older viewers?

I’m interested in what the depiction of Sophie’s curse, premature aging, says about the aging process and the social concept of beauty.

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The blank page and writer’s block Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:30:45 +0000 An issue I think all writers experience at one time or another, whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction. Firstly, however, is writer’s block a real thing? What does it actually mean? How can it present? What would be interesting to follow this is a discussion of a range of strategies that are often suggested, along with some anecdotes from published writers (from literature, to television, films or even journalists) on the ways they have overcome their own writer’s block.