Short story review: ‘If you tolerate this…’ by Nicky Wire

 ‘If you tolerate this…’ is a short autobiographical story of the Manic Street Preachers’ bassist and vocalist Nicky Wire. He wrote this to convey how important libraries are to him and how vital they are in communities as they bring people, particularly social classes, together. He narrates in retrospect about his time as a child and right the way through adulthood.

The title of the story is a reference to the song ‘If you tolerate this your children will be next‘ by the Manic Street Preachers and the theme of the song is taken from the Spanish Civil War and the idealism of the Welsh volunteers who joined the fighting for the Spanish Republic. This gives us insight into the context, which is to ‘cherish these things while they exist’, as in libraries, so essentially, like the political state of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, libraries need to be fought for if they’re to be kept alive, despite its current state.

This short story opens in exposition, we get the opinion of Wire (‘hard not to feel utterly despondent’) mixed with realistic information (‘some of the few truly truly remarkable British institutions left’). Because of his expression of opinion throughout, the reader has to rely on him. The problem with the first-person narrative is that their partial opinions leaves its reliability questionable. Though the dependability is cemented through Wire’s style, it is personal to Wire’s life only, ‘Libraries have always reassuringly been there when I’ve needed them’.

Despite its format of a short critical story, we learn a great deal about the narrator Nicky Wire. We learn of the sentimental value of libraries of Wire and its fundamental role in his life. We also learn of his interests, ‘one of the biggest influences on my work, Philip Larkin’, and information of his closest relatives, ‘my wife Rachel’, and, ‘my brother Patrick’. This effectively lets us feel somewhat closer to the narrator, to share his ideals.

On a whole I find this an intriguing and absorbing piece of writing. His passion for books and his pursuit of knowledge is contagious. The beginning of each interlocking paragraph is just as gripping as the next. It is really worth the read.

A link to the short story can be found here:

Short story review, ‘The Defence of the Book’ by Julian Barnes

The Defence of the Book is a visualisation of an alternative future of England.  So in this short story despite England’s deprivation of moral and economic success, books have increased in value and importance. This happens subsequently when the government deems libraries ‘valueless’ and plans to destroy them. Towards the end of the story we learn that the survival of the books were crucial if the ‘culture of learning were (to be) kept alive’. Also it is heavily suggested that the Government’s decision to bring an end to libraries was to remove all future political threats in order to maintain power.  Thus the message that Barnes wanted to convey was how fundamentally vital books are to us and that they’re undervalued in our society.

Barnes titled his short story The Defence of the Book to exhibit themes of passion and rebellion, specifically among the working class. The author may have wanted to convey the idea that if England were to ever break away from Britain and isolation from Europe and the rest of the world, the Government would become very totalitarian and less democratic as a result of poverty. This would instinctively create rebellion as the lives of people would become less valuable and political decisions would generally be made to not benefit the people. The theme of passion is presented through the peoples’ will to preserve the books. The people are striving to maintain them, and the youths begin to appreciate and value them because the authority illegalises them.

The story begins in exposition, an extract of an article in which the story was set, and this gives us the general context and setting. England, now ‘Old England’, gives the story its futuristic setting. We see a vulnerable England after Scotland and Wales have voted for independence, evicted from Europe and rejected by every other country, including the USA.

There are no characters that are discussed in great detail and we know nothing of the narrator or his opinion of the events, but few specific names are mentioned in relation to the English authority and the preservation of the books. Angela Merkel, who is in reality the current German leader, is the ‘European President for life’ in the story. There is also mention of a ‘book-loving milkman’, who is responsible  for the first ‘secret underground library’, which subsequently led to the multiplication of the books and the increase of value among youths as they were ‘forbidden by authority’.

The short story format is incredibly effective to this plot. He allows it to be fast-paced and, in some cases, more convenient to read because of its length. In The Defence of the Book, emotion and tension builds up around the chronological order of information, ‘Trade collapsed, and the nation’s infrastructure with it. The Health Service, long privatised…’, this allows a more vivid scenery of ‘Old England’ by emphasising the need to preserve knowledge and culture.

The Defence of the Book is a compelling and thought-provoking story. We get the idea of a futuristic, yet completely realistic version of Orwellian-style way of life and political setting.

A link to the short story can be found here:

How Myrtle is presented in chapter two of the Great Gatsby.

The first mention of Myrtle is when she is described as ‘Tom Buchanan’s mistress’, as if she belongs to a man and has no separate identity. This idea is reinforced when Tom says, ‘I want you to meet my girl‘, this highlights the idea that Tom also thinks that she is one of his belongings.

This presentation of Myrtle is significantly contrasted with the introductory description of Daisy and Jordan in another chapter. Myrtle is powerful, ‘thickish figure of a woman’, whereas Jordan, the Golfer, was the ‘balancing girl’, and Daisy’s description is almost vulnerable, which is shown through adverbs, ‘helplessly’, ‘languidly’, and, ‘absently’. Notably, when we are first introduced to Daisy and Jordan, they are the ‘only completely stationary object in the room’, whereas Myrtle tends to move around quite frequently. She is also presented to be feminine and seductive, words like ‘sensuous’, ‘smoldering’, ‘dark blue’, and, ‘slowly smiled’, are used. Essentially Myrtle is presented to be quite different from Daisy and Jordan.

Myrtle is introduced to be quite materialistic, ‘I want to get one of those dogs’, and she likes to have others buy things for her, in this case Tom. This quote also suggests that she’s impulsive, she doesn’t thoroughly think things through and neither does she consider the consequences of her actions, which is evident when Tom slaps her for saying ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! I’ll say it whenever I want to!’ and during events towards the end of the novel. She is presented as a very active character which is unusual given her social and economic background. This is demonstrated through the use of active verbs, ‘she turned sharply’, ‘she let’, ‘she selected’, so she does a lot of things, which is again contrasted with Daisy and Jordan.

Fitzgerald uses her as a very fake character, ‘she changed her costume’, she likes to put on a facade. The word is used in a slightly derogatory way which implies that the narrator, or Nick as we know him, doesn’t like her. Also, ‘with the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change’, therefore it is heavily implied that she is trying to fit in because she knows that the real her isn’t socially accepted among the upper-class due to her economic background, thus her status.

Band given for this essay: Band 4.