Warning: You Will Buy Books

January 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

People think Reddit is for lonely, fat trolls. It is. But it’s also home to some of the funniest, cleverest and most melancholy people I’ve ever come across.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a thread about book pairings. It had never occurred to me to turn to Reddit for literary criticism, but these guys had me buying four books in a row. Seeing books that have changed my life (White Oleander, Lolita) paired with mysterious titles, backed up by intelligent and beautifully written reasoning…it really got me going.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I read them all back to back in a different order awhile back and it was a long, wicked torrent of drugs, sex, and jazz. Stick Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight (short stream of consciousness poetry book) somewhere in the middle for good measure and proceed to lose your grip on life and reality. [DeusExBubblegum]

I’ve always read indiscriminately. Book pairing, the intelligent selection of a complementary piece of literature, is a completely new concept. Another side to this, beyond thirsting for more of what made my favourite books so important, is the realisation that a lot of these books go together because one was influenced by the other. Old school fan fiction – well! I’d never really thought of it in relation to real books, because they’re so…of another time, of another world.

But of course, writers as game-changing as Orwell, Salinger and Hardy are going to breed their own following, who eventually grow up to be incredible authors in their own right. And create their own amazing takes to extend one’s enjoyment beyond the original. Oh, life.

I’ve become one of those people who ‘don’t have time to read’. I love having a car but I’m probably about 20% stupider already, just from the last few months of not reading three books a week. Something has got to be done: I already had a pile of 10 books to read and I bought four more after reading this thread.

Open your wallet in preparation and read it.

(I bought The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenide, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and A Separate Peace by John Knowles.)

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Books…Beyond Number

April 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’ve lost count. I’ve been hitting the library – reading in and out of order, and reading a lot on the side too. Gosh I like reading.

Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis
Fantastic. Rough and jarring and tense. Amazing character descriptions, caricatures really. It seems all funny and exaggerated and then you realise the truly grim undertones.

Roxy’s Story by V.C. Andrews
I had a good idea what this would be like. This is a lady who wrote a long series of books about some siblings living in an attic and touching each other. Roxy’s Story is about a 15/16-year-old (inconsistencies) who leaves home and is discovered/rescued/press-ganged into servitude as a high class escort. Oh, the clothes! The holidays! The luxury! It’s a cliché from start to finish and I can’t even be bothered to go into a rant about how these kinds of books make young girls think they’d quite like to be prostitutes instead of getting GCSEs.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Awful things happen and are delivered in flat misery, which I like in a book. The whole thing is written in the voice of a poor, uneducated woman in 1930s Georgia, through her letters to God and (after losing her religion/starting to find herself) her sister. People are violent and mean to each other, there are betrayals and affairs, prison, birth, marriage, death, and the sewing of lots of pairs of trousers in many colours.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Everyone (women) was going on about this book a while ago, which always makes me suspicious because I think that most females read fluff. By most females I mean the females who aren’t like me. There’s loads of them. I have to say, I enjoyed it. The pages turned quickly and there were some twisty bits. But it was fluff, good and proper. I think girls like it because they identify with the female protagonist, which is worrying as it turns out she’s a sociopathic murderer.

Left Bank by Kate Muir
More fluff! I was seduced by its promise of “an invitation to Paris” but under the constant stream of name-drops, it was just run-of-the-mill chick lit. Typical slightly-alternative-but-very-beautiful, spunky, intelligent, adorably awkward and vulnerable heroine. Ugh, how I hate her but I can appreciate how much people want and need to write her. I’ve struggled with it myself – one of the main reasons I don’t write fiction.

Love In a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Perfect, of course. After the delicious wonderfulness of The Pursuit of Love, the discovery that this was actually a side-along story was so comforting.

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford
At first I found new characters a bit sad but I did really enjoy this story too, which is about a posh English girl going to live in Paris with her French husband, and dealing with the realisation (bless her) that French gentlemen don’t consider marrying as the end of previous love affairs.

I Am Not a Scienceman

February 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m reading a book about science. Cor, s’bit bloody hard. It’s A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, so it’s as layman as thermodynamics and half-lives and relativity can be. But my brain just doesn’t bend that way.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bill Bryson is a genius with detail. Good grief, the facts on a page! The research that must have gone into this book is astounding. And you never feel pissed off with him because you know from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (which I just read) that he barely made it through grade school, used to wee in a jar on long car rides and was involved in Iowa’s biggest teen beer heist.

He’s got such a likeable style – he’s ripping everyone to shreds but doing it so pleasantly that you’d give him a finger of your Kit Kat without him even staring longingly at it. (I could learn a few things from him – hopefully I already am – about approachable prose. I’m so very AGGRESSIVE in my writing, why is that?) But anyway, Bill Bryson: king of chuckles and factoids, as well as sporter of beards and walker of hills.

What a guy.

Biblioperambulation

February 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

I don’t know when I started reading while I walked. Probably when I began secondary school and suddenly had the dead time of a familiar route on my hands every day. Not a particularly scenic route, so no need for exalted appreciation of my surroundings: just dead time.

In my house, dead time didn’t really exist. We didn’t have television but I don’t remember ever being bored. We had books, and games that continued the stories in those books. Between gobbling down Malorie Blackmans and Dick King-Smiths, we were playing at being The Famous Five and Five Children and It. As a gang of only three, this took some imagination, especially as my sister always made our little brother be Timmy the dog in the former – a role with very little scripting.

I knew how to amuse myself in the house, so why wouldn’t I take that out onto the street? People always comment on my readwalking habit and I find it surprising. It’s really not hard as long as you have eyes. You hold the book slightly to the side and use your peripheral vision to watch your feet and the path ahead. Only once has this gone awry: about seven years ago, I walked into a lamppost on my way to work. Hard.

Interestingly, my mam never seemed to worry about the potential road-car-smash implications of readwalking. Roads in general, yes. Men following at a short distance and not crossing over to the other side (the only gentlemanly way to behave in her eyes) – but not traversing just under a mile of uneven pavement and busy road crossings with a book in my face. And hey, she was right. Here I am, alive and infinitely better read after all the extra hours of book time.

Half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening, say four days a week since I was 12. Adjusting for school holidays and university (when I did barely anything joyful and nourishing), I calculate around 1,660 extra hours of reading in my life due to being a bibliopedestrian. That’s nearly 70 days: two months of solid reading. And I got that for free, while other people were blankly zombie-ing along, arms swinging impotently at their sides.

From a little nose about the internet, it seems most people are surprised and amused by the concept, which suggests to me that not enough children are taught that library day is treat day. Kids seem to me obsessive little things (I collected monkey nut shells for a time) so why not feed them an obsession that can make their adult existence so much easier – or if not easier, richer? I’ve never struggled with grammar (your basic everyday grammar that is; I struggle with grammar choices all the time) and that’s because the more you read, the more you subconsciously absorb all the wonderful and awful things that the best and worst writers do. A reader knows what they like, what works.

Over time, that liking or disliking forms an internal stylesheet. As a kid who was destined to be a writer, that is the most precious gift my parents could have ever given me.

Books Five and Six

January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga, which was OK. And The Girl in the Mirror by Cecelia Ahern, which was decidedly not.

I knew when I picked up a bloody Cecelia Ahern that it would be pants. But this was not just pants – it was short story pants, with a bit of ‘magic’ chucked in. Dammit Cecelia, you’re a grown-ass woman. Don’t write a children’s book with a bit of sex blobbed on to keep it ‘relevant’. Jeez.

Between the Assassinations had some fairly interesting characters in it but after the AMAZING Half of a Yellow Sun, I’m really alright for tales of life in a war-torn developing country – soz.

Have also read In Your Prime by India Knight (a HOOT plus v. sensible), Silk by Alessandro Baricco (fairly good) and Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (ace, thank GOD – couldn’t have taken another Jamaica Inn).

What would we do without beautiful, wonderful reading?

When I Need a Quick Word Fix

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I can’t really be arsed to write, or I want to write but haven’t thought about what, I do little challenges. Most often that’s Slow Writing, which you may have seen from me before. Six sentences, each of which must contain a proper noun, a question, a semi-colon or any other GCSE English titbit. You can find my first foray with it here.

I also write poems from lists of found phrases; the magical, accidental positioning of words next to each other in Words on hellpoetry.com, for example. Sometimes the randomly generated strings of words are more beautiful than anything I could come up with alone, but combining them fills me with the resonating joy of loving curation.

When I was young, I had a set of magnetic words from Waterstones. They weren’t your usual nouns, verbs, funny words and punctuation. They were words like dream, shine, wonder. I used them to generate poems and here’s one from memory:

Shh!
Let the silent waters lap.
And the love of angels fly free.

Building with a set of words that are not your own is so oddly freeing; I’ve always found my creativity flies with restrictions. I’m sure some purists would say that poetry jigsawed together from crumbs of other people’s work is not poetry. But you know, no words are your own really.

I have always written poetry provoked by books. My earliest attempts (excluding the era that saw very down-to-earth poems about writing on bananas and washing paint down the sink) were inspired by – copied from – White Oleander by Janet Fitch. Stolen phrases from disparate chapters, stitched together into how I felt about the book’s SOUL.

The one I wrote the other day was about Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I found so incredibly affecting. That’s another thing I do: I write as someone else. That one, I’m pretty sure I was an old (male) guide who was showing British journalists around an abandoned compound after the Nigerian civil war in the 60s. The poem I wrote about the funeral, I was me but I was me if Phil had just died.

This is it: we don’t write as who we are, not usually. I always write with ‘What if?’ in my mind. These funny little writing exercises are the warm-ups and shake-downs I do when I need to stretch. They’re small and they’re quick; they make it so easy to imagine and not worry about how things will turn out.

Books Four and Five

December 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Quite honestly, the Ackroyd was a bust. It wasn’t poorly written, just oh so dull. The trouble with translating very old stories from the original French is that you end up with quite odd prose. Stiff and abrupt. I found it very tiresome indeed and didn’t enjoy it at all.

On to three and four. Both by the same author (I am such an idiot for not seeing this would happen) but very promising. I’ve read about half of the first, which is about the emergence of Biafra in the 60s. A young boy from a rural village goes to work in the house of a university lecturer and the story follows his life with the family, veering off with a few other characters (and time periods) every now and then. It’s a horrific account of civil war but the way it’s told is so beautiful. Quite spare description, but so effective. I like it so much that I want to lend it to my mam but I can’t because it’s a library book.

~obeys library rules and strokes library card~

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