The Isolation Series: Books

As these tough times continue I thought I’d offer you some book recommendations to get you through the ever-increasing period of lockdown. As always there are familiar favourites which warrant a re-read and others that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did. All the books featured came to me at a time of reflection and stillness, therefore, I had time to absorb their messages and get to know them assiduously. I hope in this time of isolation you take solace in the seclusion and make the most of the bad situation.  

Stay safe.

You Are Here: Art After The Internet
Omar Kholeif (Editor)

These collected essays (including 'The Context of the Digital: A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships' by Gene McHugh which provided inspiration for the title of The 1975's third studio album) explore contemporary conceptualisations on culture in a 'post-internet' society. Engagingly, Kholeif splits the book into thirds, starting with 'Essays' that set up the theory that is analysed further in the 'Provocations' and 'Projects' sections. ‘New aesthetics’ and digitally curating art (hinting at the rise of playlist culture on streaming services such as Spotify) within the ‘post-internet’ age are also prevalent and explored thoroughly. Perhaps most important, however, are the questions the collection raises between the relationship between art and the internet. How can the two coincide? Can they coexist? If so, is there a way for them to form a symbiotic relationship? If these questions prick your mind this is the book for you.

Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
Evelyn Waugh

I find it hard to write about this book, it is, after all, my favourite. Therefore, and I think for a ‘favourite’ of any nature, it is hard to put into words abstract thoughts, emotions and memories and not just set about emanating subjective admiration and praise. Consequently, I obviously highly recommend you read the book. However, I fear my review of this book will be the least objective evaluation to ever bestow literary criticism. Therefore, I will share my experiences of the previously stated abstractions from my time with the book. My thoughts surrounding Brideshead Revisited were, for a long time, clouded by the numerous recommendations to read it from my father (who named me after two characters from the book: Charles and Sebastian). If we’re being honest we all go through an age when we won’t listen to our parents, particularly their literary recommendations. For that reason, it took me years to actually bother even looking at the synopsis and picking up a copy. Time has a peculiar way of altering our mental perspectives. My reading of Brideshead coincided with an intense period of nostalgia within my own life, arguably the main theme of the novel, therefore, this emotion was escalated. Due to this vivid, nostalgic memories came rushing to me during and after my time with the book. All this culminated in a perfect day shared with my father wandering the grounds of Castle Howard (the location of Brideshead in the 1981 TV adaptation). This feeling is so eloquently epitomised by Waugh when he writes:
“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper...”

The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary
James Simon Kunen

In, The Strawberry Statement  Kunen accounts his time at Columbia University between 1966 - 1968 with particular attention to the student protests and takeover of the offices in April 1968. Kunen writes about this contemporaneous time of turmoil in an engaging way composing the book in a diary-style. Kunen remains an objective observer throughout even though he sides with the student body against the universities contributions to the government’s war efforts in Vietnam. As well as the political writings at the centre of the book Kunen also explore philosophical ideas surrounding life and the role of the ‘youth’. Thoughtful and captivating but never getting bogged down in academic intricacies Kunen comes out with statements such as: “We youths say "like" all the time because we mistrust reality. It takes a certain commitment to say something is. Inserting "like" gives you a bit more running room.” A must-read for anyone interested in 60s culture, in particular, America’s involvement in Vietnam from a homefront perspective. 

Howl and Other poems 
Allen Ginsberg

An inspiration to the whole ethos of the 60s counter-culture, the beat writers changed the landscape of not only literature but also the cultural consciousness of the West. The epitome of this is Ginsberg’s epic Howl which utilises the beat convention of writing in a stream of consciousness style (championed by Jack Kerouac in On The Road). It speaks of snippets of autobiographical moments as well as the lives of Ginsberg’s contemporaries which illuminates truths of America in the generation it was written. A cultural milestone in terms of literary diversity.