Inspired by Dan Schwent I thought I’d blatantly steal his idea and dish out 8 awards for all the stuff I read this year.
Award for restoring my dentedInspired by Dan Schwent I thought I’d blatantly steal his idea and dish out 8 awards for all the stuff I read this year.
Award for restoring my dented faith in the novel goes to Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson - I know I just finished it and my head’s still in a cloud but there were only two other contenders this year, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters and The Book of New Strange Things by Michel Faber. This is where it was really tough handing out the 2014 award - heartbreak lesbians and Jesus-besotted aliens would have easily swung it in any other year. (Note – 34 novels read this year, and a further 12 started but abandoned in disgust.)
The why did I wait so long? award goes to : Sinclair Lewis for his brilliant 1920 novel Main Street. This guy was a genius writer and I will be checking his other stuff out soon. (I prolly say that a lot so if you’re listening, Sinclair, don’t shoot me if it doesn’t happen in 2015.)
Best horror movie memoir (well, okay, the only horror movie memoir I read): Chain Saw Confidential by Gunnar Hanson. The moral of that story is, if you need a few thousand more dollars to finish your gorefest, try to avoid going to the Mafia. You’ll get your money, no prob, but you won’t see one cent of profits if it happens to make, say, 50 million.
The creepiest and most unpleasant reading experience this year is a two-part award. For fiction, there was only one name in the frame, Elfriede Jelinek, and her so-far-out-there-you-need-the-Hubble-Telescope-to-see-it novel The Piano Teacher. I nearly had to read it standing in the shower. For non-fiction, it was the academic book with the most eyecatching title Torture Porn : Popular Horror After Saw. If I’d thought of it, I could have sent Professor Steve Jones a copy of American Guinea Pig as a Christmas present and asked for his considered response.
The If You All Love Jesus Clap Your Hands award for popular theology was also an easy winner - step forward Rev Rich Wagner for his Christianity for Dummies - he managed to make his fairly hardline fundy views (you’re all going to HELL!) a lot of fun to read about.
Biography of the year is a tie between Shirley Jackson (Private Demons by Judy Oppenheimer) and Andy Warhol (Warhol by Victor Bokriss) – both these Americans were very peculiar people, no question about it.
Weird shit of the year award: The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull. This was a 1972 anthropology book and wow, it was off the scale in strangeness, all about the Ik tribe of northern Uganda. Especially with all the other anthropologists saying that you couldn’t believe a word of it (“obvious nonsense”).
Special award for cuteness : The Shelf by Phyllis Rose. Although the sub-title “Adventures in Extreme Reading” will leave you with a permanently raised eyebrow, this was the best book-about-books I’ve read for a whole long time & I believe it would make any Goodreader curl up and purr in a corner. ...more
I got this email. What the hell, I thought, I could do with a bigger penis. So I replied to the email. Sent them money. What a mistake! The process w I got this email. What the hell, I thought, I could do with a bigger penis. So I replied to the email. Sent them money. What a mistake! The process worked – only too well! Now I couldn’t leave the house any more, no clothes were bulky enough. I did not wish to suffer the indignity of being pursued down the street by insulting children, so I had to resign from my job. I was in a real pickle. Fortunately I saw an ad on the internet saying that I could make £2500 per month tax free from the privacy of my bedroom by doing absolutely nothing. It seemed too good to be true but I thought what the hell. You won’t believe me but that turned out to be true too, so I didn't need a job and I could get all my groceries delivered. But I needed more money than that to pay for the reverse operation (I wanted my old penis back). As luck would have it, I got another email from a bank manager in Benin, which is in West Africa. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a relatively simple banking transaction, I really don’t know why the Bank of West Africa guys couldn’t do it for themselves, but anyway, what do I care – I’m now rich! After the operation it’s going to be great. I’ll definitely be dating some of these hot women who live one third of a mile away from my very house and are waiting for me to contact them – I see their alluring pictures wherever I go on the internet. I must live in a really great area for hot women. ...more
THERE'S 1000 STORIES IN THE CITY OF GOODREADS - THIS IS ONE OF THEM - Yes, Another Dreadful Reviewer/Author Encounter
I surfaced into consciousness unwTHERE'S 1000 STORIES IN THE CITY OF GOODREADS - THIS IS ONE OF THEM - Yes, Another Dreadful Reviewer/Author Encounter
I surfaced into consciousness unwillingly like a resurrecting Jesus with too much alimony to pay. A slap to the chin and I remembered whose cleancut chiselled features were going to be framing the next supercilious question.
"Feeling better, Mr Bryant?" Yes, of course. It was The Don. But I wasn't going to go quietly.
"Not really, you post-modern gargoyle of unmeaning. You can take your silvery convolutions of ungrammatical feverdreams and shove them where the sun has never shone in a cavern measureless to man down to a sunless sea, O Felchmeister of the English tongue."
Crack. That was my head bouncing off the dingy walls of whatever foul rag and bone shop DeLillo had me banged me up in.
"Less of your mouth, and more of mine," he sneered.
I felt two pairs of strong arms grip me from each side. I caught a glimpse of DeLillo's vile acolytes. Just as I guessed. Steve Erickson on one side and yep, the notorious transvestite Bret Easton Ellis (“Bretsy” to his friends, of which there aren’t any) on the other. They were giggling like schoolgirls.
“Oooh, the things he said about me, and in public!”
“Oooh, let’s do page 149 and then page 301!”
"You won't get away with this," I grunted.
"We will, you know, we aren't in the YA business and we're not going to blog about this!" hissed Bretsy.
The Don told them to shut up and they squeaked into silence. It was pretty clear to me that there were American postmodern novelists and there was The Don. His very eyebrow had been reviewed ecstatically in the NYRB more times than all the others' entire sets of genitalia. And they knew it. And now he was heating up a pair of ordinary garden secateurs over a pile of remaindered early Franzen novels ( the ones before Oprah spotted him).
“Snip snip, Mr Bryant. One snip for every nasty little thing you said about me in your nasty reviews, and one more for encouraging your friends to mock me in surrealistic boxing match fantasies, and a final little snip for my two good buddies who have been really quite hurt by the dreadful things you say. I suppose you wish us all to write like your precious but sadly dead Raymond Carver? Hmm? ‘And then this sad alcoholic fell over and then this other sad alcoholic went shopping for a mop. The end.’ Is that it? That’s how you want us all to write?”
I was about to demolish his crude travesties of my crude travesties of his and his good buddies’ rancid fictions – I had vowed wild horses wouldn’t get me to remind him that I’d given five stars to Libra – but the application of the secateurs to my dorsal extremeties put an end to rational thought. I heard the terrible giggling of Bretsy – “Just one more finger, please! Hee hee!” and I pitched back into the welcome abyss of no more book reviews ever. ...more
Defenders of Bob Dylan say – as I do to my profoundly sceptical daughter – well, okay, he does have a funny way of singing (“it’s not singing, it’s talking in a singsong voice – maybe that was singing in the 1960s but people have improved since then” says Georgia) – yes, well, let’s not argue – but he wrote these great songs – listen to the words!
Well, don’t listen to ALL the words, please, because Bob’s internal quality checker quite often goes on the blink - you can be enjoying a great song and suddenly a real cringer of a line whaps you when you least expect it.
We’re not going to wag a digit at Bob’s early ultra-earnest stuff, which he didn’t even officially record:
If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!
- it would be in poor taste, Bob was just the same as any other high school poet until 1962 when he started to be able to write social commentary which didn’t sound embarrassing, and he was on a roll for two straight years, but he couldn’t keep up with the finger-pointin’, his finger just got so tired, so he decided his great subject was the phoniness of American life, the chaos of modernity (to give it a non-Holden Caulfield gloss) and this led him to become Very Poetical – ditching the reportage (“Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen, she was 51 years old and gave birth to ten children”) for something a whole lot more significant with a big S
Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin’ high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps “We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I Proud ’neath heated brow Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now
or, the following year
The lamppost stands with folded arms Its iron claws attached To curbs ’neath holes where babies wail Though it shadows metal badge All and all can only fall With a crashing but meaningless blow No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden
I think we’re back to the Promising High School Student again, but these horrible lapses come on albums which also contained To Ramona, Subterranean Homesick Blues and Love Minus Zero/No Limit, and a lot of other wonderful stuff. I’m just being mean here.
If Modern Life is Chaos then meaning is abandoned, you can write absolutely anything, who cares – a whole lot of Bob’s stuff is like that, and suffers accordingly
The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits To Jezebel the nun she violently knits A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits At the head of the chamber of commerce
Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley With his pointed shoes and his bells Speaking to some French girl Who says she knows me well And I would send a message To find out if she’s talked But the post office has been stolen And the mailbox is locked
It's really doggerel. But, as it happened, Bob found a brilliant new sound and some great musicians to help him put out his anti-message in 65 to 67, ending up with a lot of delightful whimsy in the famous Basement Tapes – new deluxe version out soon!
The next 50 years have been fairly patchy. Occasionally he takes up an actual subject (Hurricane, George Jackson) but mostly it’s Life is Chaos or, increasingly, These Women will be the Death of Me. It’s not a nice thing to say, but the awful bust-up with Sara did re-energise Bob’s songs. The remarkable outpouring of viciousness in Idiot Wind starts with a weird and fairly silly first verse
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me I can’t help it if I’m lucky
Bob explained that if he put that in first, he could then be as insulting as he wanted (“you’re an idiot, babe, it’s a wonder you can even feed yourself”) because he was “in character”. This is surely a terrible reason to start one of your greatest songs with a daft verse.
A few years later Christianity of the ranting variety gave him a whole new subject. The songs and the energy of the gospel period were good, his voice was probably never better (listen to “When He Returns”) but many times the lyrics make these songs unlistenable :
Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots
Adulterers in churches and pornography in the schools You got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules Spiritual advisors and gurus to guide your every move Instant inner peace and every step you take has got to be approved
When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
(Answer : “Tomorrow, Bob, or maybe next Monday, I’m kind of busy this week.”)
After the apocalypse faded, Bob went right back to songs about chaos and meaninglessness
The cat’s in the well, the horse is going bumpety bump The cat’s in the well, and the horse is going bumpety bump Back alley Sally is doing the American jump
And has stayed that way pretty much since, although with a whole new songwriting technique – Songwriter as Diligent Magpie. This is where Bob raids the vast reservoir of old Americana (blues & hillbilly music before the 1940s, 19th and early 20th century poets and novelists, the more obscure the better) and rearranges and stitches and nips and tucks until
My pulse is runnin’ through my palm–the sharp hills are rising from The yellow fields with twisted oaks that groan Won’t you meet me out in the moonlight alone?
She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand She says, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can.”
Okay, I have now demonstrated Bob sometimes writes less than brilliant lyrics. A guy like that (there is no other guy like that) gets over-praised (e.g. by the French Academy or the American Academy of Arts and Letters
"For more than 50 years, defying categorization in a culture beguiled by categories, Bob Dylan has probed and prodded our psyches, recording and then changing our world and our lives through poetry made manifest in song – creating relationships that we never imagined could exist between words, emotions and ideas"
and knee-jerkily dismissed as overrated by bewildered 17 year olds. Ah well. The lamp-post still stands with folded arms and Shakespeare’s still in the alley and I'm in trouble with the tombstone blues. ...more
Note to all relevant parties : This book made me laugh and cry. I absolutely fell in love with the characters!
PROBABLY HOW NOT TO READNote to all relevant parties : This book made me laugh and cry. I absolutely fell in love with the characters!
PROBABLY HOW NOT TO READ MARCEL PROUST
In series three of The Sopranos, Tony tells his therapist about his latest fainting spell which happened when he was cooking meat. Then he remembers his very first fainting spell, which happened a short time after he witnessed his father chop a guy's finger off with a meat cleaver. She says his very first attack happened when he short circuited after witnessing his parents’ sexuality, the violence and blood associated with the food he was about to eat, and the thought that some day he would have to, in the words of his father, bring home the bacon like his father. Classic dialogue then follows :
Tony: “All this from a slice of gabagool?”
Dr. Melfi: “Kind of like Proust’s madeleines.”
Tony: “What? Who?”
Dr. Melfi (getting excited) : “Marcel Proust. Wrote a seven-volume classic, Remembrance of Things Past. He took a bite of madeleine — a kind of tea cookie he used to have when he was a child — and that one bite unleashed a tide of memories of his childhood and, ultimately, his entire life.”
Tony : (building up to another dyspeptic outburst): "This sounds very gay."
Dr Melfi wisely drops the subject of Proust....more