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Weekend read: Why I changed my mind on weed

Earlier this summer, CNN published this article by their chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, about why he changed his mind on marijuana, and particularly medical uses of it. It’s always interesting to read about why people changed their mind on a topic, yet I think people are so afraid that they will be accused of flip-flopping or some such that these articles don’t appear nearly enough. So this weekend, enjoy this one!

This 2,087th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , .

Review: The Quarry by Iain Banks

The Quarry is Iain Banks’s final novel, finished off after he received the news that he was dying of a rare metastatic gall bladder cancer. That background, combined with the fact that I’ve loved many of Banks’s previous novels, makes it hard to write a fair review. But I will try.

The plot is straightforward: Guy, father to teenage Kit, is dying of cancer. Guy invites his old friends to stay with Kit and him, for something resembling a pre-death wake. The relationships between the friends are explored, and their shared past is raked over. The plot, however, is almost irrelevant. It is the detailed characterisation, perfect dialogue and evocative description which do all the work in this novel. The plot is almost beside the point.

The first Banks novel I read was the first he wrote: The Wasp Factory. The Quarry shares much with The Wasp Factory: both are Bildungsromans exploring the nature of the relationship between a strange father and a strange son. This is the sort of thing Banks excels at, as I mentioned in my review of Stonemouth earlier this year. The Quarry is much less extreme than The Wasp Factory: the father is a dying misanthropic bastard rather than a lifelong pathological sadist, and the son appears to have a mild form of autism rather than being a psychopathic murderer. Both The Wasp Factory and The Quarry explore themes of ritual and religion in some depth, as well as the fine line between life and death.

But this is not The Wasp Factory. It isn’t a Gothic powerhouse of a novel featuring graphic murder and torture at every turn. Like Stonemouth, it’s a quiet, subtle novel that explores the absurd horror of everyday life without resorting to comically dark metaphor. The mirror it holds to the absurd swords of Damocles of our pasts and the cruelty of death is plain, rather than comically warped. What this approach loses in shock-factor power, it gains in poignancy.

As always with Banks, the characterisation and dialogue are just outstanding, and the black humour is second-to-none. As always, his prose flows like nobody else’s. His talent as a writer was so obviously superlative that discussing it seems superfluous.

The Quarry is a brilliant novel, and one that I know I’ll turn back to and read again, and – like all of Banks’s work – probably find a whole other level to enjoy on a second reading. Banks was a literary genius. That this is his last novel is a tragedy. I will miss him.

The Quarry is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

This 2,086th post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Weekend read: Wonga is the symptom, not the problem

This weekend, I recommend spending some time reading this article, which Tim Harford originally wrote for the Financial Times. Almost all of Tim’s FT articles are brilliant, but this one particularly stuck in my mind for the clarity of its argument on a complex subject.

I was particularly struck by this passage:

A payday loan can do real good, as a cash injection that helps avoid far more serious financial consequences, such as the loss of a job because the car broke down or penalty charges for failing to pay a bill on time. A randomised trial conducted in South Africa showed that this was not just a theoretical possibility. The experiment randomly approved or rejected applications for loans at an annual percentage rate of 200 per cent. Those who received one ended up better off than those rejected.

This is an aspect of this particular debate that’s all-too-often overlooked.

This 2,085th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , , .

2D: Apple (again)

Published a fortnight ago, my last 2D post offered two articles about technology giant Apple. With an originality rarely surpassed by this blog, today’s 2D post is about… Apple.

Having come across two more brilliant articles about the company in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t want to deny you the pleasure of reading them simply because I’ve done something similar recently.

My first selection today is this recent Guardian article by their technology editor Charles Arthur. He makes the point that while the Apple Maps app is often a source of ridicule, within the US at least it appears to be winning the long-game, with Google Maps losing millions of users to Apple’s version. It’s one of those interesting articles that explains why the cultural narrative around a certain story borders on counter-factual.

My second selection is this article from The New York Times published last month, and written by Fred Vogelstein. It’s been pretty widely shared, but I only got round to reading it last week. It’s a remarkable account of the development of the iPhone, and – perhaps most interestingly – the development of the iPhone’s launch announcement, and how buggy the iPhone was at the point it was announced. It’s a remarkable tale.

Next time round, I promise you something that’s not Apple…!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,084th post was filed under: 2D, , , , , .


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