The top 100 stories according to the BBC

BBC Culture asked writers around the globe to pick stories that have endured across generations and continents – and changed society.

The 100 stories that shaped the world

1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)
8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)
10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)



The Brave New World is more Huxley’s than Orwellian

The ascent of the latest U.S. president has proved Neil Postman’s argument in Amusing Ourselves to Death was right. In a very readable article in The Guardian, Andrew Postman (Neil Postman’s son), gives his take on the similarities of our current reality to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World rather than George Orwell’s 1984. Basically, it’s not about Big Brother watching you, but people chasing entertainment, no matter how infuriatingly ridiculous or ‘fake’ it might be.

As Postman writes:

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture..Image result for amusing ourselves to death

Where will we go from here? Postman argues:

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

My dad predicted Trump in 1985 – By Andrew Postman 


Leonard Cohen Makes it Darker

Leonard Cohen at home in Los Angeles in September, 2016.

At eighty-two, the troubadour has another album coming. Like him, it is obsessed with mortality, God-infused, and funny.

Leonard Cohen’s official audio for You Want It Darker.

Leonard Cohen Makes it Darker By David Remnick in the New Yorker


Proust as Antidote for Smartphone-Induced Attention Deficit

“Daniel Mendelsohn had a particularly modern take on the value of reading Proust’s densely written, heavily detailed, slowly unfolding opus known as In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past).:

Recently I was traveling on a train next to a young man—a recent college graduate, I guessed—who was reading a hugely fat Victorian novel. Since I teach literature, this made me happy. But as I watched him I noticed that roughly every 90 seconds he’d fish out his iPhone to check his text messages. After a while this reflexive tic made me so nervous that I moved to another seat. As a writer as well as a teacher, I found it nerve-wracking to think that this is how some people are reading novels these days—which is to say, not really reading them, because you can’t read anything serious in two-minute spurts, or with your mind half on something else, like the messages you may be getting. Multitasking is the great myth of the present era: you cannot, in fact, do two things at the same time.

Especially if one of them requires considerable resources of attentiveness and intellectual commitment. To my mind, a very important reason to have a go at Proust right now—which is to say, to read him with a mind as receptive as his was large—is to exercise one’s powers of commitment.

Proust as Antidote for Smartphone-Induced Attention Deficit

LITERATURE – Marcel Proust 

For those less enthused by that galaxy far, far away…

Station-ElevenNo, I haven’t seen it yet. Yes, I’m going to, so no spoilers please. I found this article in The Tyee about the franchise-ation of Star Wars that has become a marketing tidal wave bigger than anyone could have ever imagined. The article makes for interesting reading relating to the author’s love of science fiction and some fascinating novels, such as those by Finnish writers Leena Krohn and Emmi Itäranta. In Canada there is Emily St. John Mandel’s environmentally-themed climate change novel Station Eleven, which are promising places to start.

“…More literate critics … picked up on George Lucas’s use of Thomas Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which deals with the basic structures and images of mythmaking and storytelling. You could build a whole dissertation out of parsing the Star Wars franchise, and I’m sure many have If it had been a one-off, or even just a trilogy, it might have been a classic. Instead, it became both an industry and a culture of its own, now thriving well into its first half-century….”

A Better Force Awakens: The Tyee

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s Reflektor is the latest track off their upcoming LP, which is out by the end of October. Never a stranger to ideas of philosophical complexity, including death and the horror that is the suburbs, the song suggests that we are just projecting mirror images on rock stars. This is not a new idea, but one that asks an important question: What is a rock band anyway but a collection of our shared projections? Like a mirror ball.

In the video we are forced to confront the big-headed notion that we have projected our own ideas on Arcade Fire. They are wearing masks, of course, and they are looking into the reflecting water, just like Narcissus and reflecting our own fears back at us. In the Greek myth, Narcissus falls in love with his own image in the water–his reflection. In the myth, he dies.

It’s also a great dance song, and it’s catchy in the way that Daft Punk’s Get Lucky is catchy. But it’s just a reflector…don’t just fall in love with the reflections of reflections.

If you want a more interactive experience, check out the Just a Reflektor website, which is very impressive.

Review: London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

I watched the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics with a mixture of trepidation and awe. It certainly was spectacular, what with the thousands of volunteers making the night memorable as part of the show for the privileged who got a seat. It was an impressive collection of star power, with Rowan Atkinson donning his Mr. Bean role as part of the London Symphony Orchestra playing Chariots of Fire, Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the Internet,) the royal family, and yes, the queen parachuting in with Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Music performers included Sir Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield, Dizzee Rascal, and Emeli Sande. There were also nods to the UK’s vast musical legacy, which included everything from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols, from pop to punk.

The set began with idyllic countryside, with actual grassy hills and country cottages eventually giving way to massive factory chimneys belching smoke. The industrial revolution paved paradise and put up a parking lot of sorts–a sprawling city with soot-faced workers and rich businessmen in top hats, which after the birth of capitalism and world wars, was ready to come into its own.

No one can question the literary powerhouse that is the UK. Indeed, the show began with Kenneth Branagh quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the guise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

–Caliban, The Tempest, Act 3, Scene 2

History played a massive part, and Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame, directed the spectacle, conveying different aspects of Britain’s success well. Ian Dunt on recognized the complexity of trying to define Britain, as “downcast but always joking, traditional but forward-looking, arrogant but self-deprecating, inward-looking but open, the birthplace of capitalism and the NHS.” By showing this complexity, Boyle shone.

Particularly striking was the tribute to the National Health Service (NHS) that had nurses and sick children in a massive performance complete with glowing beds. The UK is proud of their health service. The proceeds of J.M. Barrie’s children’s book Peter Pan was donated entirely to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which was such a massive act of philanthropy at the time that it’s hard to fathom an author (such as JK Rowling who in a rare public appearance read a quote from it) doing that today. After seeing the children dancing around in their pajamas at bedtime and the nurses putting them to bed, the baddies came out, looking someting like Jawas from Star Wars with dark hoods and glowing eyes. Who else could rescue the children from the bad guys (including a giant Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, spewing sparks from his magic wand,) than Mary Poppins. Yes, the loveable nannies, like a painting by Rene Magritte, flew in on their umbrellas to save the day.

This was a show all about the kids, after all, and in the end it was 7 promising young athletes who got to light the Olympic cauldron. It was an impressive blending of myth and fact, and I think Danny Boyle, despite the trappings of telling such a vast story, had his heart in the right place.

The Olympic Games: a short animated history – video

Polly Toynbee: Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony history is only a partial truth