If you’re not using your local library anyway, which you should be, before it’s gone. If it’s already gone, then this list is just the thing for you.
“When can I get a hard copy?”
A lot of the people I spoke to said they didn’t think they could read ebooks because they didn’t have a Kindle. Even more of them didn’t know that there are lots of books that are completely free on Amazon, and good books, too; all the classics that are in the public domain (as in, you can legally download them for free), all of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontës. I have spoken to an awful lot of people who didn’t know about Project Gutenberg.
I won’t lie, I have a vested interest in expanding my audience and encouraging people to buy my books on more platforms, but thinking about it, I’m also interested in getting people to read full stop. I imagine people thinking they don’t have the time to read, say, Bleak House, and they don’t want to carry the big old tome with them on the bus. I want people to know that they can read Bleak House, at whatever pace they like, and they can do it on their phone or tablet whenever they have a spare minute, and that they can sync their progress between devices and make the print as large as they want.
The Kindle app is available on any phone that has an app store. Or any tablet. Amazon also has a web-based Kindle reader that you can use, if you want to read on a monitor. It is free. You log in with your Amazon account, and you instantly have access to all the ebooks on your account. Your progress will sync between all these things automatically. Anytime, anywhere. If you have five spare minutes, you can start reading that classic you’ve always wanted to try. I’ll also provide Project Gutenberg links for people who don’t want to patronise Amazon, or for people who just like being able to access multiple formats on any device they want.
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
And there you have it, five classics you can read entirely for free, at any time and on any device you can think of. (I bet some of you even have watches you could read these on.) Free ebooks aren’t always well formatted, and you can’t always find exactly what you want, particularly on Amazon (you can always check Gutenberg). That said, if there’s a book you want to read, and it was published more than, say, 70 years ago, chances are you can (legally!) download it for free and read it on the bus to work.
I have been thinking about Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) a lot lately. Partly just because I’ve found some streamers and YouTubers who play the game, and I like watching people play games, but mostly because, considering that everyone is screaming FAKE NEWS at the moment, its thoughts on information control and filter bubbles have become more and more relevant, even prophetic. I’ve come across some excellent critical material on the game and thought it might be helpful to collate it here.
Definitely the most extensive and well researched look at MGS2. Howell considers MGS2 to be a formal inversion of the first game, and compares MGS1 and 2 to see where they meet, what separates them, and how any thinking about MGS2 has to bear in mind that it very much uses the expectations of the player coming from MGS1 to make its point. Howell comes to MGS2 with formal game design and mechanics in mind, but maintains a perspective acquired from broader studies in the humanities, something I wish more games criticism did. If you’re like me and have both formal training in the humanities and an interest in videogames, this essay will have a lot to interest you.
James Howell’s Big Boss rank run of MGS2
I’ve known about Howell’s essay on MGS2 for a long time, but I never knew about his YouTube channel. On his YouTube channel, you can find a full playthrough of MGS2 on its hardest difficult and that achieves the highest rank, Big Boss. It’s great to get to see the person who wrote the essay above actually play the game, but what really makes this video great is that he went back after a few years and rewatched it himself, adding commentary. He demonstrates his strategies for beating the hardest challenge in the game, but also finds time to talk further about his thoughts on MGS2, further explicating some points from his essay, and raising some new ones. Makes the point that MGS2 is postmodern, but that largely because all videogames are postmodern. If you liked Driving off the Map, you should watch this next.
SuperBunnyHop’s critical closeup
A video essay that is part of a series of critical videos on the MGS series. Coming from a humanities perspective much like Howell does, George Weidman situates MGS2 in the canon of modernist/postmodernist culture. Also focuses on the controversy surrounding the game’s release, and the way Kojima played with the player’s expectations not just through formal elements, but marketing and falsification (FAKE NEWS) as well, detailing a history that is crucial to understanding the game’s context, and why appreciation of the game has only grown since it was released to both critical acclaim and fan backlash.
An in-depth look at the ending of the game, in particular the codec conversations Raiden has with the Colonel and Rose. The game uses various formal elements to break the fourth wall and accost the player with it’s videogame-ness, but it’s the ending of the game that turns it from passive aggressive to aggressive aggressive, asking the player to turn off the console, removing the player’s abilities, and constantly breaking up the gameplay with unskippable conversations about the role of Raiden/player as manipulator and manipulated. This is an excellent piece if you to examine those conversations in more depth, as it transcribes those conversations and adds commentary.
A collaboration between Twitch streamers that specialise in MGS challenge runs and marathons. They have played so much MGS2 that not many details escape them, and their YouTube channel has videos which take a close look at the game and go over every little detail, including rare codec conversations and details in cutscenes and dialog that are easy to miss.
That’s it for now. If I come across anything else or find something I missed, I’ll edit the post. Feel free to comment. Do you have any resources on MGS2 that you’ve found useful or enlightening?
I have been reading some fairly heavy stuff recently. Kafka (In the Penal Colony), Hosbawm (The Age of Extremes), and Batuman (The Possessed, which contained lots of info new to me that I had to process). I decided to read something lighter and picked up a copy of Call for the Dead, which was a mistake, but I got a copy recently and was interested to see George Smiley’s first appearance. Ok, it was horrifying and tragic and very bleak. What’s the same kind of thing but much lighter?
I’d first started reading the James Bond stories after finishing university. I read the first six in a row and then stopped after my interest faded (because let’s face it, they are all pretty much the same). The next one on the list is Goldfinger.
It’s very easy to compare and contrast John le Carré and Ian Fleming, considering that they both wrote spy fiction during the Cold War. James Bond is the sexy one, George Smiley the ugly operator. James Bond drives an Aston Martin, and George Smiley drives something so nondescript I can’t remember it. James Bond can have any woman he wants, George Smiley is introduced to us as a man who pines after the wife who left him.
This is all appropriate considering James Bond is largely a male power fantasy and George Smiley is a more realistic construction of the kind of grey, sad man who would have worked in intelligence in real life. But something occurred to me while I was reading the first half of Goldfinger, and that is that the author’s different attitudes towards their creations is evident nowhere more strongly than in the manner in which they eat.
I noticed this because Goldfinger was making me hungry, thirsty, and constantly in need of a cigarette. Bond almost never stops drinking, is always smoking, and when he eats, he eats not because he has to, but because there is something good on and he wants to. George Smiley’s eating is always utilitarian, and even the club he goes to is one he goes to largely because a gentleman ought to have a club. John le Carré’s characters eat as a function of being human. Ian Fleming’s characters eat for pleasure. Bear in mind (particularly with Fleming) that these books were aimed at people who remembered rationing. A fantasy life to someone in that time and place would definitely have included being able to eat as much as you wanted of whatever you wanted.
George Smiley still smokes though. A lot. Call for the Dead made me want a cigarette every other page. Bond smokes too, but his real poison is drink. In the first few pages of Goldfinger, he drinks three double whiskies, shortly afterwards two double martinis, and then some pink champagne. Unless he was an alcoholic with a really high tolerance, he wouldn’t be able to function at all, let alone engage in a game of wits, shoot straight, or have sex. But he is an alcoholic (and is also a fantasy), so there you go.
I haven’t finished Goldfinger yet, but I bet it’s going to keep making me hungry. Call for the Dead, sad as it is, just made me crave nicotine and silence. It says something that one of James Bond’s enduring symbols is the martini just the way he likes it, whereas with George Smiley, it’s the lighter his wife gave him that gets taken by Karla.
Both of my books (More Poems About Cats And Teeth, and the newly released Hole In The Sky And Other Stories) are now available on Smashwords. You can download them in whatever format you want, and the pricing is set to pay what you want, which can be free, if that’s what your wallet or interest will allow you.
I hope you enjoy them 🙂
I mean, barring all those books about fascism and totalitarian regimes that everyone is talking about at the moment. 1984 is a best seller again. What I’d ask is, who the fuck either hasn’t read it or doesn’t own a copy? In my experience it’s the first (often the last) “serious” book people read.
I wrote a post towards the end of last year that detailed some of the books I’d read that I’d found notable. I thought it would be worthwhile to outline near the start of this year what I want to read, as it might be fun to refer back to it and see how far I’ve reneged on my hopes and dreams. It won’t be a rubric, exactly. I’ve talked before about how important it is to read exactly what you want, and the pitfalls of setting yourself targets and making yourself read things you don’t really want to. So I reserve the right to drop this shit like it’s hot. But I’ll at least try and read most of the stuff I’m about to outline.
What I mainly read after that year-end post were collections of short stories. Short stories were largely what I found myself writing, because I found writing them enjoyable (editing, proofing them, and publishing them was hell on earth). It’s a form of literature that I am conversant in because of my education, a lot of which focussed on short stories because they are a good teaching tool, but I had since rarely chosen to read them for pleasure. In terms of short stories, this year, I’d like to read:
That is not an exhaustive list, but is what comes to mind when I think about what kinds of short stories I might try and read this year to broaden my knowledge of the form.
I’ve also come across a post on Open Culture that reminded me of something I had been meaning to do for years, and that is to have a more serious look at the Five Foot Shelf. There are things on there I am probably never going to read, but one of the things that makes me saddest about my education is that I haven’t really covered the classics. My knowledge of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer and so on could not even be called a working knowledge. Seeing that post again occasioned my reading of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which I enjoyed despite autobiography not being something I tend to read, and also despite the fact that he was so industrious and good hearted that it made me feel a scoundrel the entire way through. So, I would ideally like to read a bit more non-fiction, whether that be autobiography, philosophy, or poetry, while trying to cover the classics a bit (I wrote a post on The Odyssey, I am about halfway through that, and hope to finish it this year).
In terms of novels, there’s a bunch I need to either finish, or have been meaning to read for ages. These include:
Gonna stop because otherwise I’ll eventually write down every book I own. These are the things that immediately come to mind. I set myself another reading challenge, again setting the bar low at 20 books. That is the bare minimum I can read this year without feeling fucking awful about myself; I will do my utmost to read more.
Oh and just to remind you that my first collection of short stories just came out. You can get it here.
My first collection of short stories is now out! It is available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. It features stories that have appeared on this site before, such as The King of Infinite Space, Head: A Short Story, and, You Better Watch Out. If you enjoyed those, you would probably enjoy my book.
If you don’t want to deal with Amazon, send me a message and we’ll sort something out.
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