Review: Zen Kyu Maestro, by Jeremy Dean

After 25 years of teaching in the UK, Jeremy Dean and his wife Linda decide that it is time for a change. An English immersion school in Spain seems the perfect idea, until they arrive and realise that none of the children speak a word of English, and that their Spanish skills might not quite be up to scratch.

Zen Kyu Maestro is the story of Jeremy’s first year of teaching in Spain. It’s well-written, and full of hilarious misunderstandings. The children in Jeremy’s class are great characters, hugely energetic and enthusiastic. Living in a very ‘Spanish’ area means that the book is able to show real Spanish life and culture, often very different from other ‘ex-pat’ type books I’ve read. Jeremy and Linda haven’t just moved to Spain, but they’ve moved to an area where they must become immersed in the Spanish way of doing things. They are in a huge minority of English-speakers, and the thought of being in hospital, needing serious medical care, when you barely speak the language, and no one speaks yours, is terrifying. This is far from the idea of Brits moving to Spain because “it’s like home, but with sun.”

Whilst reading, you’re given the impression that their move has been difficult, and that they do sometimes have a twinge of regret, but the negatives are hugely outweighed by the positives. Jeremy is used to teaching in the English system, with far more paperwork, rules and a far stricter curriculum, but once he embraces the disorganised way things work at the school, it seems to get easier.

The stories of Jeremy’s classes are brilliant; his students are often entertaining, and more so for not meaning to be. I wish that someone had taught my times tables to the tune of the Macarena – I might remember them now if they had!

Zen Kyu Maestro is available from Amazon for Kindle, here.  Jeremy Dean also blogs about his life in Spain at ZenKyuMaestro.blogspot.com.

Words by Terri-Jane Dow

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Apology of Jane Austen

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Even though, nowadays, a commonly held opinion is that Jane Austen’s novels are somewhat unsubstantial and lacking of grandeur, compared to the realist masters Charles Dickens and George Eliot, researching the publication history of her works has lead me to believe that they were quite radical for their time. Austen openly defies Victorian expectations and conventions. In an unsigned review, published in 1816, Sir Walter Scott writes: “That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.” Her novels were never bestsellers during the 19th century, but she got some recognition. Important literary figures of the time, such as Henry James, valued Austen’s work immensely and believed that appreciation for Austen is a sign of a well-developed cultural and literary taste. The end of the century also saw the beginning of the scholarly interest in Austen’s novels and life, which is very much still on going.

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The accent Austen puts on her characters’ thoughts and emotions is traditionally associated with modernist literature, so it seems to me, she was writing ahead of her time.  Gender restrictions did not stop her from publishing her novels and she did so anonymously. According to Victorian conventions of propriety, women were denied the liberating power of writing.  Restricted access to education discouraged women from thinking for themselves and forming their own opinions. Depiction of women in realist literature was often quite shallow and very much one-sided, because the binary opposition of female representation, angel-femme fatal, was firmly in place. Women were entrapped in the cultural construct of Victorian society and Austen is one of the first female writers who attempted to challenge the status quo. Rendering women as not necessarily good or bad, but a fusion of both and as fully functioning human beings, able to think and feel for themselves (think of Emma’s numerous monologues, for instance), appears to be quite a radical step for its time.

 

So, next time when you pick up a Jane Austen book read beyond the surface and try to put it in context. Beneath the cheesy rom-com plots lies the treasure of beautiful writing and biting social critique.

 

 

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Jane Austen Tribute

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This February we come to the 200th Anniversary of Austen seminal piece of work Pride & Prejudice. We seem to be at a time when Austen’s appeal may be somewhat wavering.  Her fragile popularity has been put down to multiple factors. It has been said that the world in which she lived poses no relevance to the present one, leaving readers isolated. Fundamentally, all her plots are different variations of desperate girl attempting to tie the knot and she seems to ignore her external contemporary world despite the historical background of the Napoleonic Wars. While we are certainly no longer in a time when a gentleman would stand up when a woman enters the room and can currently purchase a book entitled Why have kids?, it seems that her appeal as a realist no longer holds any weight.

While I understand all of these points, it can’t be denied that Pride and Prejudice continues to be a plot, which we are more than willing to go see in its newest adaptation? BBC and Hollywood have both taken gander at this infamous plot and rolled in big money, and even bigger fans.

Perhaps the ideal behind this story is that despite all our scepticism we still are dying to be swept off our feet. Why wouldn’t you want a man to stand up when you enter the room (or even hold a door for you while you’re bogged down with multiple text books)? Is there not an undeniable appeal in being the person that changed your partner for the better? (If your answer to the last answer is no, then you are never allowed to sing along to Wonderwall again.)

It is far too easy to replace the sentiment and romance with cynicism and suspicion, but underneath all of the “Has he come calling?” and rules of propriety, there is a love story that can appeal even to the coldest of heart.

While there is an undeniable merit in all of Austen’s works, we thought Austen, like many others before her, should certainly at least have the right to be made fun of. While not proper and bordering on indecent we do mean all of the below summaries in true old-fashioned jest. Enjoy!

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Emma:

The eponymous heroine, a spoiled girl with inflated ideas of her own intelligence, meddles in the love life of a chosen victim and fails spectacularly at every given opportunity. After a couple of half assed attempts at courting elsewhere, she eventually falls for a man just shy of twice her age, and all other couples fall suspiciously neatly into place in time for the end.

Mansfield Park:

A girl with an unfortunate name is sent to live with rich family members she isn’t fond of, and watches a playboy play her cousins off against each other, until her rejection of him for doing so causes him to fall in love with her. She tells him where to stick it, as she fancies her cousin who is courting playboy’s sister. Adulterous shenanigans occur between playboy and married cousin, approved by playboy’s sister, and main character gets cousin after all.

Northanger Abbey:

Penniless country girl gets a free ride to Bath with a childless couple, and befriends a substantially wealthy pair of siblings who invite her back to their Abbey home. A fan of Gothic literature, the main character imagines up a backstory for the siblings’ scary dad that reads like a Jane Eyre rip off, which his son disabuses her of, and then she gets chucked out by scary dad for being poor. She goes home, pines for the son, and he miraculously arrives to ask her to marry him.

Persuasion:

Spinster middle child regrets being persuaded to break off an engagement with the guy she fancied. They meet again, and her ex-beau is still holding a grudge 8 years later, so he tries to make her jealous by attaching himself to her sisters-in-law. This doesn’t work. More side characters turn up so they can be paired off with other side characters. Main character makes a speech about love and ex-beau gets over himself and asks her to marry him again.

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Sense and Sensibility:

 

Two sisters, one with some sense and one with none, move in with their mother after their father dies. Senseless crushes on a charismatic gentleman who spurns her and marries someone wealthy, while her sister likes a man who is engaged. However, his fiancée chooses his brother over him when he’s cut off, so the two end up together regardless. Senseless ends up marrying a serious but nice guy after nearly dying because she was being an idiot.

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Pride and Prejudice:

 

There are five sisters: Pretty, Spirited, Plain, Daft and Bratty, in that order, that their mother is desperate to marry off. Two rich guys turn up. Nice rich guy likes the pretty sister, snarky rich guy does not. Spirited sister dislikes snarky rich guy. Rich guys leave. Spirited meets Snarky again later. Snarky proposes; Spirited says no. Bratty sister runs off with officer. Snarky wins spirited over by catching the two. Snarky and Spirited marry. So do Nice and Pretty.

Jane Eyre:

 

Not actually by Jane Austen that consistently gets mistaken for a Jane Austen book, due to confusion over multiple persons called Jane. Actually by Charlotte Brontë, and worth a read purely for the wife in the attic.

Words by Camela Cuison and  Jordan Burke

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eBook vs. Printed Press Debate

ebookbook1Introduction:

Do you remember when you were in Primary school and a teacher announced a school trip? Once you had figured out what you were going to wear, who you were going to sit next to on the coach, the next question to arise would normally be: what collection of 14 songs would be deemed good enough to be played on repeat on your Walkman? In my lifetime, the iPod and the possibility of thousands of songs at one’s disposal was something that became a standard before you could even say: “Call me Ishmael”.

Why, then, do we have such a problem with digitising books? It seems inevitable; films, music, writing, learning have all been moved into the digital forum. If this was not fated, then at the very least, it was foreseeable. We asked our writers to give their tuppence on this on going debate.

Words by Camela Cuison

 

Much like when I switched from video to DVD, I have now reached the point where I can resist technology no longer. eBooks are cheaper, easier to carry around and can be accessed anywhere at anytime. Problem is, they just aren’t the same as proper books. Whilst all my music is kept in digital form, when I buy an album I always get it on CD to proudly sit on the shelf once uploaded. So, what to do with my book collection? It seems my reading interests will be split between accessible convenience and the joy of a real book forever.

Words by Adam Bond

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Have pride in your literary tastes. Don’t retreat behind the anonymous cover of a Kindle to hide your unusual literature. You must be proud! Like those on the bus that needlessly play tinny music through overworked iPhone speakers despite having headphones peeking coquettishly from their popped collars, flaunt your literary tastes! Be unashamed. Just because you read about something does not mean you practise or condone it. I’ve read a Neil Gaiman book where a retired god eats a man with her toothy vagina. That simply does not mean that I condone such behaviour. To hide your book away is both unnecessary and selfish. If there are raised eyebrows, just turn the page and get over it.

Words by Ed Gove

 

As a student, I can see why e-books may be appealing. They can be downloaded instantly and usually cost less than a printed book; some can even be downloaded for free. However, the whole point of reading, for me, is to escape reality and enjoy a bit of me time. We live in a world where technology seems to play a part in almost everything we do. A printed book is that one chance to escape the glare of an energy run screen. I don’t want to have to rely on electricity in order to ensure I can read a book. I want to be able to use page numbers, feel the pages and, yes, even smell the ink.

Words by Elizabeth Fuhr

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Is there a debate between eBooks and printed books? In my mind, there is no question; printed books are the real winner.

How long have books been in print for? Hundreds of years, and still there is nothing like reading a real book, is there? Something tangible in your hands, you have the freedom to corner your favourite pages or underline beautiful passages, and get lost in the words.

In a world dominated by iPads and ‘eBooks’, if you really want to enjoy a real book, go and buy one from Waterston’s.

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

eBooks have been readily available for a vast number of years now, yet there is still an air of dissent when it comes to accepting their legitimacy. Purists scowl and hiss at those of us who are unfortunate enough to stumble across them with our Kindles out in public, leaving us with feelings of inadequacy in pursuit of our literary needs, but I for one am a firm believer in the future matrimony of the hardback and the hardware.

As an avid reader myself, I sympathise with those of you who are simply spoilt for choice when the time comes to take books away for long stretches of time. With a memory bank about the size of the Albert Sloman library, such an issue is unlikely to arise with the portable device.

But the perks are not limited to transportation, for I have discovered that the easy online access makes me consider books I would normally gloss over, particularly some of the classics by authors long dead. Fancy reading up on some Victor Hugo before you go and see the new version of Les Miserables? Won’t cost you a thing on the Kindle and you will never regret the quick download. The online presence also gives you access to reviews from all sorts of people, rather than your friends who, if they’re anything like me, tend to get very biased in favour of their books.

So whilst it is always nice to have a dusty tome at hand, under no circumstances should we be writing off the pocket sized screen.

Words by Kieran Layer

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I suppose my greatest fear is that within this digital revolution my beloved books will no longer have a pride of place on my shelf. They will ascent to antique status and sit behind glass, and become something to be admired from a far. With eBooks costing less than an espresso, combined with the easy access to an infinite number of titles, and the romantic justification that writers will finally be able to get what they truly deserve in terms of profit, how can I stand in the way of this literary evolution?

Simply because without books, how would I possibly satisfy my literary promiscuity? How could I indulge in multiple relationships without feeling bad? You can’t practise my own intense form of literary bigamy with what is essentially a binary code on a screen. I know very well that going into any bookshop means coming out with a shiny new hardback with absolute commitment to the heavens above that this is the one I will finish. It never is but I’m just as open to being easily seduced the next time.

Words by Camela Cuison

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Review: “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson

images“The Psychopath Test” is a piece of very entertaining non-fiction. However, I could easily have been fooled into believing it was a cleverly written book, purely created via the imagination. It’s not the kind of non-fiction that makes you feel as though you are reading a textbook, but rather the kind that can absorb you like any good piece of literature.

The book is compiled using interviews and Jon Ronson’s own original thoughts and ideas to explore the way in which the world deals with mental illnesses (with the main focus being on the mind and behaviour of psychopaths). The benefit of genuine interviews with real people gives the readers the best insight into a psychopath’s mind without going to meet one themselves.  It is not a dull book that goes into deep psychological explanations, based completely on facts, but a book that can see the comical side of the flaws that exist in the world of psychology.

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If you are interested in satirical literature then ‘The Psychopath Test’ should tickle your fancy and provide you with much entertainment.  I do not usually laugh out loud when reading a book but this was one of the few exceptions. Ronson’s character is just intrinsically funny and he conveys his personality superbly through his writing. Ronson focuses mainly on the contrast between a psychopath’s character and their psychopathic actions. He shows that it is very easy for someone to judge a psychopath as some kind of monstrous human being just by reading about them. But Ronson critiques this by meeting a few psychopaths in order to show the contrast between the evil character implied on paper to the charismatic personality he is greeted with in reality. Obviously, the charismatic behaviour cannot justify the murderous crimes some of these people have committed, but it does show that the evil actions performed are not always reflected through the personality. Ronson also points out how hard it would be for a sane person, put into a mental hospital, to convince the doctors that they were in fact sane. To declare one is sane would just make one seem as though they are in denial of their insanity. It seems there fails to be enough absolute criteria in order to diagnose someone with a mental illness accurately and Ronson highlights this in a highly intellectual way.

The book is a brilliant read with not one page, nor even one word, that managed to bore me.

Words by Elizabeth Fuhr

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The Joke, a book review or how Milan Kundera fails in his portrayal of women

the_joke_kundera_book_coverReading ‘The Joke’ was not the most enjoyable way to spend my time. The novel was a massive disappointment, as I generally love Kundera’s work, including ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’. However, ‘The Joke’ did not come anywhere near the bar set by the other two books. It has its good parts and I can see why it is considered to be one of the greatest books in contemporary literature, but I really disliked it and here are the reasons why.

Ludvik Jahn, the main character, is a popular student and an enthusiastic supporter of the newly established Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. After he writes what is supposed to be a political joke on a postcard –“Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” – Ludvik loses everything: his position in the Party, his place at the University, and his status in society. After the disruption of his career, Ludvik becomes bitter and angry with everything around him. Thus, we discover that he is a hateful misogynist who lacks any consideration for women and female sexuality. Ludvik thinks of himself as an expert on women’s thoughts, because in his opinion their minds are filled exclusively with love and romance. For example, firstly, he nearly rapes the woman he believes he is in love with, and then, a few years later, he seduces Helena, wife of Pavel Zemanek, who removes Ludvik from the Party, in order to get his revenge.

Furthermore, Milan Kundera himself, through the voices of other characters (including a woman’s voice), makes very general comments about “the way women are”. The book gave me the feeling that women are so different from the other human beings (you know, men) that they have to be categorized and treated as a crowd, rather than as individuals. Milan Kundera (again through the words of his characters) also remarks on the way all women behave. For example, “no woman can be content for ever with puppy love”, says Helena. Only a female character written by a male could possibly make such a statement. It can be argued, on the other hand, that he is trying to tell us something about Helena through the way she expresses herself (maybe show her own misogyny and incapacity to treat herself as an individual). However, this argument is likely to fail when all the characters share the same general views on women. This, very probably, is more symptomatic of the writer’s views than the individuality of the characters.

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Moreover, Milan Kundera’s strong suit is not the 1st person narrative. The characters differ in what they say but not in the way they say it. I find it particularly odd that the four characters telling their stories are so similar in expression. Great writers should be able to show the particularities of each character through employing different language patterns, but Milan Kundera fails in this respect.

However, the book is very good in depicting the communist regime with its horrors and lack of humanity. As the title suggests, there are no jokes in communism. One cannot resort to humour  because in the eyes of the Party every joke is a weapon against the regime and against the state. This becomes the most important message of the book.

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Rabbit Stew by Robin Marchal

Rabbit Stew.

Slightly pink and slightly white

Tender to taste, in texture light,

I’m moved to the greens of our Uni acres

Where bunny white tails, pert creators,

Scurry right and left and straight ahead

To their burrows and safety and then to bed.

These are the images that come to view

As I gaze deeply into my rabbit stew!

 

There’s leak white sauce across the plate

As through morsels of flesh I prod at fate,

When memory map takes me back once more

To the ‘urban myths’ of our Uni floor.

For under the towers the unstable threat

Of bunny burrows weaving the Uni’s debt.

These are the images that come to view

As I gaze deeply into my rabbit stew!

 

Tiny black shot comes with old jugged hare

But this pink white tenderness has no share.

Yet there’s myth of the food poor student who

From tower and library shot them through.

How, then, is my little bunny dispatched,

Is he cage produced, methodically hatched?

These are the images that come to view

As I gaze deeply into my rabbit stew!

 

Mates sitting across the old pub table

Have with their steaks and fish been able

To stuff their guts to their hearts content;

I look at my bunny, should I relent?

Back on our campus they’ve had their fun

A mag named after ‘em, free acres to run.

These are the images that come to view

As I dig deeply into my rabbit stew!

My thanks to Dr. Adrian May for the references to the Urban Myths of the University of Essex

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