A new way of reading

A new way of reading

Have you ever felt a creeping sense of dread when reading a book, wondering if maybe you’re doing it the wrong way? Have you ever wondered if there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to read? Do you sometimes feel an itch to reach for a pen and scribble vigorously in the margins, but stop yourself, because you’ve been told all your life that desecrating books is taboo? Many students today are tired of treating books like sacred, holy tomes, whatever their emotional and cultural power. (more…)

Out of tune? How Game of Thrones is ruining A Song of Ice and Fire for readers

Out of tune? How Game of Thrones is ruining A Song of Ice and Fire for readers

Over the last couple of days Sean Bean has come out saying he would be glad to reprise his role as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones citing the unfinished business surrounding Jon Snow’s parents as a perfect reason for a return. A few weeks before this, book readers were dismayed to learn of the removal of Lady Stoneheart (or, as most knew her, the newly living Catelyn Stark minus a few vocal chords) from the TV show. These artistic choices and opinions are completely understandable in a show that has to juggle a huge variety of characters and plots whilst maintaining a sense of narrative intrigue, but this leads to far more unsettling conclusions for those who are following the Song of Ice and Fire series.

After watching the first couple of seasons of the show, I myself read all six books in a blaze of literary fanaticism, as countless others did when the show dragged itself into the cult, global phenomenon that it is today. The experience of reading the books was perhaps even enhanced by the show – adding extra nuances to scenes on the screen, solving certain questions left hanging after the second season whilst creating new and exciting events to look forwards to (no matter what shade of wedding). The visual and textual experiences worked hand in hand to provide bold and alternative interpretations of an expansive world. As I closed A Dance with Dragons and eagerly began the long, cold wait for The Winds of Winter, a myriad of questions floated around my mind, ones I did not expect to be solved until the release of the new book, whenever that occurs.

However, the TV series had other ideas, and of late there is the increased concern that many of the artistic choices made for Game of Thrones are ruining the experience for readers. Take the removal of Lady Stoneheart as an example. If she has really been cut from the show, does that mean her role in the books is therefore irrelevant (beyond what we have already seen)? If Benioff and Weiss felt comfortable enough to axe her from the show, it may well mean Martin simply does not feel the need to have the character around anymore.

The same can be said for Jojen Reed. True, the character was, when we last saw him in the books, on his last legs, but to have him murdered by the skeletons and then incinerated by a Child of the Forest implies that even within the books his character may have less time remaining – something that quickly removes any semblance of suspense.

Returning back to the questions over Jon Snow and his dubious heritage, I have to admit I was one of the R + L = J sceptics. I just hoped it was all some red herring that Martin had conjured up to antagonise his readers; something he is not unaccustomed to. To suggest your bastard child was actually the son of a Targaryen prince born through forbidden love just seemed too romanticised to fit within Martin’s brutal world. But Sean Bean’s statements appear to be a huge spoiler for readers, many of whom have been following this series far longer than myself and may well react to the news with a certain amount of disdain. It seems that Martin’s grand reveal has slipped out through an offhand remark.

So where does that leave the relationship between books and the show? The tone of this article may well have been negative, but what needs to be remembered is that, at the end of the day, a degree of autonomy has to be respected. There is no way the show can ever please everyone and, there is perhaps a compromise amidst potential disappointment. If certain characters, like Lady Stoneheart, are cut, what does that mean for the characters that are directly affected by these figures? Where, for example, will it leave Podrick and Brienne? Questions like this are why, come next spring, I’ll still be ready to watch Game of Thrones, though perhaps for different reasons than I anticipated.


Confessions of an Oxford Student: The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for the ‘RadCam’

Confessions of an Oxford Student: The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for the ‘RadCam’
Going to the library; the priority is to work.  Right?  Well no, not at the Radcliffe Camera.  Put aside thoughts of chemical equations or academic commentators: making a fashion splash in the most notable of Oxford libraries is going to be at the forefront of your mind.  I confess that I like to look good when pouring over each week’s difficult set-text knowing that everyone else in there is stylish and tasteful. Let’s be frank, when a trip to the RadCam is on the cards, so is Oxford’s notorious fashion scene.
Although many of us like to emphasise that dressing up for a stint in the library is a ridiculous premise … we all like to indulge in it.  I know I always make the extra sartorial effort.  It is apparent that fashion tastes are spread across the different reading rooms.  The Gladstone Link with its harsh artificial lighting isn’t great for showing off your complexion.  People are generally a lot more moderate in their attempts to attract from behind those rolling shelves with fewer fashion statements and more of a range of simple jeans and shirts or other variants of casual attire.
In the Lower Camera students are, generally speaking, very well-dressed.  The occasional tutor or don scattered across the reading room looks out of place in a sea of trendy undergraduates.  Everyone has their own unique style or item, such as an elaborate silk scarf or fluffy ear muffs, they are looking to broadcast.  So where better to try it out than in the Lower Camera where readers scan the desks every time upon entering or exiting the main library?
The most glamorous outfits are undeniably reserved for the Upper Camera.  This is the ultimate peacocking forum with readers of all genders dressing to impress. In a hotbed of fashion icons, the Upper Camera can be intimidating.  Don’t let this stop you from going the extra mile in an eye-catching pair of patterned trousers or a garish yeti jumper.  It’s hard not to look up from your notes to see an elegant black dress or playsuit or a conspicuous yellow bobble-hat floating around. I always see girls dressed in implausibly beautiful skirts, long or short; patterned or monochrome accompanied by a pair of cute creepers or brogues.  In addition, it is worth nothing that accessories are key.  A statement hand-bag or pair of tortoise-shell glasses does no harm to your library-cred.
With this in mind, it is hard not to believe that each outfit is not some kind of fashion experiment.  Everyone looks too good for a university library.
In the case of the college library, however, the situation is a very different.  Most students have simply rolled out of bed straight onto a desk which is shrouded in an accompanying duvet.  Pajamas do not look out of place. Neither does a grimy hoody or pair of leggings.  The contrast is startling.  So I confess that I can’t help but save my lovingly concocted sartorial statements for the RadCam, where I know they won’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

From Freshers to Finalists

From Freshers to Finalists

Dear Finalists,

You are not happy with us. We know. And I write to extend our apologies. Earnest, quite humble apologies. Because we do not know your pain, we do not want to know your pain, and we will not know your pain for a very long time.  I’m trying, of course, to speak on behalf of the underlings. Freshers, to use the colloquial term. Those whose eyes really can stay open without matchsticks or Pro Plus; those whose idea of a bad week involves missing the start of Doctor Who for an essay deadline, or only going punting once. Those who still succumb, on occasion, to happiness and optimism about university life.

So, firstly: we’re sorry about the library. We’re sorry for giving everyone baleful looks as we stagger in with an armful of books (i.e, about three), inviting you all to commiserate with us because we have A Deadline. We’re sorry for diverting ourselves by whispering, and laughing – we know, we know it’s not okay. And we’re sorry for taking any books out. We do know that you need them… but, sometimes, we just have to beat our tute partners. You know how it is.loads of books

Secondly, we’re sorry about the evenings. We still go out. We still drink too much, we still stay up all night just because we can. We’re still loud when we come back, because we forget. We still do the whole morning-after ‘oh my God I got so wasted lollll what am I like?’ for a good day or so, because we still think that it’s endearing rather than mass-murder-inspiring. Our alcoholism is still a product of choice, not necessity. And for that, too, we apologise.

Thirdly, we’re sorry about our attitude. In general. Moaning about a bad tutorial. Getting “really stressed” because the college vending machine has run out of Coke and “I totally can’t function without caffeine right now”. Complaining because our phalanx of extra-curricular activities just takes up so much sunbathing time. Or, conversely, being excited. Seeing the joy in life – and trying so hard to share it with you, as your dust-covered forms cower in the stygian enclaves of the Rad Cam. We understand that you don’t appreciate our feeble efforts to make conversation (tip: “how’s revision going?” will only ever be met with a stony, dead-eyed stare) – we just want you to know that we try. Please know this: we cannot change the fact that your lives are abominable. We are not selfless enough to sacrifice our pleasure for your peace of mind. But, if it helps, do take solace in the realisation that one day we, too, will be in your miserable position; we, too, will lose our days to the Radcliffe Humanities library and our sanity to the Gladstone Link. We, too, will become red-eyed creatures of the night, crawling out of bookshelves only to glare at the passing adolescents who dare to be happy too loudly…

But that’s years away yet. So, in the meantime – we will mourn your demise in the clubs. We will mourn your demise in the bar. We will mourn your demise on the croquet lawns. But we shall do it with a glass of Pimms in hand.

Here, brave adults, is to you.

With love from the Freshers

PHOTO/Johannes Jansson

Reading from the wrong corner

Reading from the wrong corner

[caption id="attachment_24355" align="alignright" width="300"] A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson/Fajar Nurdiansyah[/caption]

One of the unfortunate things about science is that once you get to a certain level you either tend to get it, or you don’t. For those of us who find that working through formulae and lab practicals is all a bit much, the only future seems to be to give up any hope of ever understanding more complex science and concentrate on those English texts.

Not so with Bill Bryson’s book, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, which seeks to provide just that: a basic summary of the central aspects of science. Although I picked the book up with some wariness, having guilted myself into buying it so that I could at least try to keep up with my science studying friends, what I found inside was a pleasant surprise: an extremely accessible and easy to read book about science. From the Big Bang to evolution, with chemistry and history in between, Bryson uses colourful biographical details to bring the scientists and their discoveries to life.

Although the book lacks the total coverage that you might get from spending a few weeks in the Radcliffe library, and it fails to examine too far beyond biology, chemistry and geology, it touches on what most people genuinely want to know. It even does it in enough detail that you feel like you actually learn something. A lot of what is covered is admittedly present in your science GCSEs, although I for one didn’t pay much attention to those anyway (and I’m sure I’m not alone), but some of it, such as the concise and careful description of particle physics, is so accessible that I found myself flicking back to it when CERN made its big announcement this summer, and again when I last visited the Museum of Natural History (where they claim the first dinosaur bones were found in Oxford – a slightly dubious accolade, as Bryson describes it).

The trick of the book is that it’s just so readable. Bryson’s years as a writer have enabled him to convey what he knows brilliantly, in neat little segments, so that you can pick the book up and put it down days or weeks apart and not lose the thread. But for this reader the book’s real brilliance was in the fact that it was a science book about people. As time and time again, Bryson points out the people who were brushed aside by scientific history for being before their time or just not loud enough, you come to feel a much greater connection to the scientists of history than any textbook could evoke.

So, for readability, clarity, and for just getting it right, this book makes a great casual read for the scientist and non-scientist alike.

Oxfam granted Freedom of the City

Oxfam granted Freedom of the City

Oxfam is to receive the Freedom of the City of Oxford in October in recognition of its achievements both in the city and worldwide.

Chief Executive Dame Barbara Stocking and Oxfam Chair Karen Brown will be presented with a Freedom of the City scroll at the Town Hall by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Alan Armitage.

The honour will mark the 70th anniversary of the organisation. Oxfam’s started in 1942 to help those suffering in Greece in the aftermath of World War Two and is now working in 90 countries on a number of projects such as providing emergency water sources and supporting community health projects.

Either distinguished individuals or people who have “rendered eminent services to the city” are eligible for the accolade.

The Lord Mayor said: “Oxfam has made a huge difference to the lives of many millions of people across the world, during 70 years. We in Oxford can be very proud of the organisation’s strong links with our city, and the unfailing support it has had from our citizens.

“This is a good time to demonstrate our appreciation by awarding Freedom of the City.”

Oxfam retains a strong presence in Oxfordshire with 20 shops and providing 700 local jobs. The outlet on Broad Street is Britain’s first charity shop.

CEO Barbara Stocking expressed her “delight” at accepting the award. She said: “We are very proud of our beginnings in Oxford and what we have gone on to achieve in the past 70 years, working to overcome poverty and suffering worldwide.

“Oxford residents have played a big part in our success over the years; as staff, volunteers and supporters, and Oxfam shops play a special role within the community.”

Oxfam has expanded to include second hand book shops, with books and music contributing 35 percent of the stores’ overall income. In 2009, the Arctic Monkeys released a vinyl version of their single “Crying Lightning” exclusively through the charity.

However, Oxfam’s work has been made more difficult in recent years with the UK in recession. An Oxfam spokesperson told The Oxford Student: “Although Oxfam shop sales are doing well in the current financial climate, donations of items are down.  We still need people to donate items such as clothes and books to stock the shops.”

The organisation has launched its “Shwopping” campaign in partnership with Marks & Spencer which encourages customers to exchange an unwanted item of clothing when they buy a new one.

She added: “Continuing to generate income to fund our work overseas is vital to Oxfam in the current economic climate.  We therefore have to be innovative about the ways we engage with the public.”

With its resources “stretched more thinly than ever”, fundraising initiatives are vital if Oxfam is to continue responding to large scale emergencies. The organisation is currently tackling the food crises in East and West Africa and Yemen and the displacement of millions of people following the conflicts in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The spokesperson said: As well as responding to these emergencies, Oxfam is also campaigning for Governments and other actors to take concerted action to address some of the flaws in the production and distribution of food around the world, which mean that 1 billion people go to bed hungry nightly despite the planet producing enough food for everyone to eat.”