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So…I finished Lavie Tidhar's "Osama".

A post-modernist noir rewrite of "The Third Policeman", with touches of "The Man in the High Castle", but without the surreal humour and wit of the former, or the believability of the latter. The telly show "Lost" springs to mind. Oh well, it just goes to show what folk think of as being good in this day and age. I'm too out of touch with things, and my notions of literature, narrative, and style I fear are very different from those the modern world: and my response to "Osama" is merely corroborative evidence of such. Never mind.

I'm sure the fault is mine, or in my responses.
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My short-sightedness has been interfering with my reading habits for a small time now. Nevertheless, between infant heir, SWMBO, etc., I have found the odd moment or two. However, my myopia (a sign of age, no doubt) particularly impacts upon my enjoyment of this book:

The prints, from Gilray, Rowlandson, Cruickshank et al are brilliant examples of what we now consider "political cartoons", and Gatrell's commentary, presented with a sort of pastor-like oratorical didacticism, is illuminating and insightful: and sets a tone which, if not quite Olympian, nor even Augustan, still treats the subject of often bawdy levity with a gravitas wonderfully oxymoronic, as if trying to imbue it with dignity. And he makes sense doing so.

I'd give it an extravagant 9.25 out of 10. If you are at all interested in the history of political cartoons, this gives a selection from a time and place at the nascency of the artform.

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If you've read the other Jasper fforde 'Thursday Next' series, and have any background in Lit-Crit, you might just appreciate this new one:

wherein the bookworld gets rebuilt,
and Thursday's avatar saves the day
in a very amusing way.
It might as well be Spring.
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So I bought the new Philip Kerr  Bernie Gunther novel yesterday. 

Pretty good, rather than as extraordinarily brilliant as the first three collected together in the 'Berlin Noir' compendium: but I don't think it will appeal to our American chums much, as they are cast as, if not the villains, at least not the heroes, in a pretty definite way. Mind you the Soviets, French, and Brits don't come out of it much better: nor do the majority of Germans. Oh well, there's humans for you.


Oct. 9th, 2010 12:56 pm
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The new Iain M Banks novel, Surface Detail, is again confirmation of the incredible imagination of Banks, and his ability as a writer to be able to conceptualise the Sci-Fi universe in a way that few, if any writers have ever managed. In my opinion he is without equal. I've read Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, Campbell, Wells, Verne, and most of, if not all of those considered greats: Banks is without compare the most complex and far-reaching of those I've read. If I have one criticism it is that he can be confusing: he always needs a reread as he draws the threads of many sub-plots towards their denoument. Also his nomenclature is somewhat eccentric. I'd give Surface Detail a good 7/10, though I wouldn't recommend it to any religiously minded folk as it might cause a blood-pressure induced heamhorrage.

The Culture is an extraordinary invention of imagination. I want to live there, even though it is merely a fictional construct. Also, to be quite candid, I doubt that I could bear Austen-land for any length of time. Wooster's-World, the Disc, and Fforde's metafictional universe are perhaps the only other imaginary worlds I'd care to spend any time within: but none are in quite the league of The Culture.
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Whilst in my local bookshop, buying the new Iain M. Banks novel

I saw a collection of Auberon Waugh's journalism, called 'Kiss me Chudliegh'

I quote from his Wikipedia entry:

During his National Service, he was commissioned into the Royal Horse Guards and served in Cyprus, where he was almost killed in a machine gun accident. Annoyed by a fault in the machine gun on his armoured car which he drove frequently, he seized the end of the barrel and shook it, accidentally triggering the mechanism so that the gun fired several bullets through his chest. As a result of his injuries, he lost his spleen, one lung, several ribs, and a finger, and suffered from pain and recurring infections for the rest of his life. While lying on the ground waiting for an ambulance he said to his platoon sergeant, with his characteristic élan: "Kiss me Chudleigh". He later recalled, however, that "Chudleigh did not recognise the allusion and from then on treated me with extreme caution."

I have all the collections of Waugh's journalism anyway, so I probably won't be buying it: but I will recommend it to all and sundry without hesitation. Waugh was a great Englishman, a good Catholic (though such might have been thought to be mutually exclusive), and the wittiest and most vicious polemicist I can recall. His politics were much different to mine, but still....

I should go and put a rose on his grave sometime.
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So I bought a UK first of Jonathan Franzen's new novel 'Freedom'. But I managed to get one of the 'bad' copies before they had all been recalled.

It seemed worth a punt, as most of the 80,000 print run has either been recalled or held back for pulping.
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And produced rather a beautiful and withering critique of both the book and the author.

The London Review of Books. Something dear to my heart, really.
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After a trawl through Wikipedia about Nazi occultism (as research for a possible plot-line for the new novel) I started ordering stuff like mad from ABE Books.

First on the list was this:

by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, followed by another of his:

And just for good measure I bought this:

By Joscelyn Godwin.

I don't think I could bear actually ploughing through the Julius Evola, Miguel Serrano, or Savitri Devi texts: and I wouldn't care to own any of their books. Both Goodrick-Clarke and Godwin have more patience and stronger stomachs than I have, as is required in scholars dealing with the stuff they do.

First on the list of other books I can think of to compliment the research I'm doing at the moment is Professor Hyam Maccoby's 'The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and the Legacy of Guilt'. The major problem with that is it is quite a rare text and will cost me at least £40 odd. I had a copy some years ago: the gods themselves know to whom I leant it, but I don't, alas. The last book on this list is Lord Lytton's early Sci-Fi novel 'The Coming Race' (published 1870), which is a Victorian pot-boiler that somehow was taken seriously by folk who might have known better.

Alan Coren said sometime in the '70's that the books which sell best are about Nazis, golfing, and cats. Now how the fuck can I work 'golfing' into the equation?
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I bought this, because I haven't read it.

It will arrive on Monday. Can't wait.
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So next on the comfort rereading list comes a classic.

I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-up-to-the-ceiling-with-junk pad. Piled with sheet music, piled with garbage bags bursting with rubbish, piled with unnameable flecks of putrified wretchedness in grease. My pad, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad.
I just woke up, man. Horse Badorties just woke up and is crawling around in the sea of abominated filth, man, which he calls home. Walking through the rooms of my pad man, from which I shall select my wardrobe for the day. Here, stuffed in a trash basket, is a pair of incredibly wrinkled-up muck-pants. And here, man, beneath a pile of wet newspapers is a shirt, man, with one sleeve. All I need now, man, is a tie, and here is a perfectly good rubber Japanese toy snake, man, which I can easily form into an acceptable knot looking like a gnarled ball of spaghetti....

Ah, the life of a musician....hey. Even though I left behind the Anarcho-Syndicalist squat somewhere in the 80's, and now consort with the high-and-mighty* I still have a fondness for the chaos of those years. Nevertheless, those who do not agree with me on this fondness for content should note the content doesn't detract from prose. This novel is the exemplar of the 60's hippy musician's stream-of-consciousness as prose, and though rooted in 1970/71, still, to my mind, has not been bettered: though it has been stolen from, copied, and watered-down.

One of the great American comic novels, it should be on reading lists in schools: though of course they'd have to bowdlerise it before it got past school reading boards.

Anyway, that reminds me: it's eleven o'clock and I must breakfast.

*Relatively speaking, and for a given value of high-and-mighty. I don't ever seem to meet any of the new oligarch's, for which I suppose I can be thankful.
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It is hayfever season. Mother nature loves me not. The blanket of pollen intermingles with the heat haze and filters the sun on what is the third hot day of summer in a broken week of weather. And me, (ah, me, says the navel-gazer) I reside in rooms with the drapes still pulled, athwart a pile of books: an anonymous blue inhaler by my side.

And first of these books athwart which I'm sitting is Raymond Queneau's 'Zazie in the Metro'.

Now, if like me you read it as a teenager, it has pleasures anew from an adult perspective. Barbara Wright's translation is probably required for native English speakers: I'm pretty certain the colloquial and slang Parisian French of the late fifties is well beyond my ken. But I'd recommend it as a short read, without hesitation.
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Whenever I get low I read, or more accurately comfort reread.

Over the years my comfort rereading books have been many and varied, though with some obvious similarities. The first comfort book I can remember was LOTR and I must be candid here....I was about seven or eight. LOTR lasted me until I was almost thirteen, but by then the list had grown to include C S Lewis's Narnia books, and Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows'; the latter of which for me still retains its charm.

In my late teens I was dreadfully pompous and read anything supposedly 'difficult'. Y'know the scene: pretentious youth with a copy of Ulysses in his pocket, pontificating on the nature of art, literature, and rock 'n' roll. At different times I have reread for comfort all of Hornblower, Aubrey/Maturin, Shakespeare, Eliot's poetry, Homer (in translation, alas), Jane Austen's oeuvre (especially 'Persuasion'), Wodehouse, Waugh, and a few others: all of which brings me to my latest comfort reread of choice: Anthony Powell's 'A Dance to the Music of Time' sequence.

Though I dip into Montaigne, and have ploughed through Proust, there are few extended pleasures that have assuaged my sorrow in and of the world quite as much as Powell: maybe Wodehouse and O'Brian of the C20th English novelists. But as of now Powell is my choice, and is as good for me as any SSRI.

I'd love to have been Nick Jenkins (the beautifully detached and dry observer), but alas know I'm merely an inferior avatar of Trapnel, dammit: and without his vast technical knowledge. But it could be worse: I could have turned out like Widmerpool.

What comfort books do other folk have, I wonder?
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So I had lunch with Felix: who was especially sane today, baring the odd blip or two. His most impressive quote was:
"I saved one....four....two-thousand-six-hundred-and-three planets from criminals last night." Followed by:
"So is it true that I won the Booker Prize and am on the cover of 'Guitar Player'?"

I want to record what Felix says on my iPhone and transcribe a complete conversation in all of its non-linear glory....but it seems intrusive and making of him a spectacle, so perhaps not. I want never gets: and as Felix is an adjunct to this blog, rather than its central character, I have a moral dilemma here.


On the way home I stopped off at Forbidden Planet to meander amongst the comic-books. I came across a British first of 'Persepolis' (hardback dust-jacket - Jonathan Cape, 2003) for £12.99, which will replace my paperback. About the right price, though some in the US and Canada are charging $175 for the same book.

Sorted the Mother's few little computer problems. Booked her holiday in the Republic and my train tickets. As an aside, the Mother can't fly, being disabled, and the drive from London to the edge of Wales to catch the ferry is a bit much for her, so I do the driving to Swansea, whereupon I pass the last stage of the journey over to her, and board a train for London. Then, when she's returning, I do the journey in reverse, and she picks me up at Swansea and I drive back to town.

This year, as soon as I'm back in town, I'm packing alongside the missus in order to catch the train down to Faro in the Algarve, where we have booked a villa with a pool for a week. Through the Chunnel then change in Paris and (probably) Lisbon; though there may be an alternative route via Madrid. No more planes for me thank-you-very-much. There's something so much more appealing about the train, especially if you're travelling first class.

Of course, next year we'll probably go to Calcutta (as was) where I have an appointment at a family graveside: so we'll have to fly. I will also have to try to find a bit of spare moolah to employ someone local to look after the graves. But this is in the future: for now my ears are safe from the pressure differentials occasioned by flying for another whole year. Yippee!
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So I bought the first hardback collection of Kick-Ass.

Comics of a superhero kind have changed radically since my childhood. I blame Frank Miller: but I didn't vomit, so I must be becoming desensitised.

Also bought the new Alastair Reynolds Terminal World. An improvement on House of Suns, which was readable, if slightly flawed.

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Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance by Multiple Authors.
A compendium of short stories. Most are pretty good, some excellent. Few as good as Vance himself, but that's to be expected.

I bought this on Sunday at the South Bank and read it yesterday.

The Giles Family: The Illustrated History of Britain's Best-loved Family by Peter Tory
Now I have to declare an interest here. During the sixties and seventies Dad worked for the Express, and I have all the Giles books from '61 onwards, and a few from the fifties too. Dad knew Peter Tory, and I am loathe to criticise....however I do feel he has missed some salient points in his biography of the Giles family: and there are some errors in the text which early cartoons from the fifties rather give away. Nevertheless, as a social record it has many admirable qualities, and as an introduction to Carl Giles' work it more than suffices.

I reread this:

Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold
Which was also worth my time.

And this:

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
because I'd been somewhat out-of-it when I read it first time around (some two or so weeks ago). I think we should all hope Pratchett doesn't succumb to his illness before he can finally get a few more good tales finished. IMO Vetinari is one of the best characters in fantasy fiction: though I'm pretty sure that of all the discworld characters, I resemble an unsuccessful Moist von Lipwig more than any other.

I am ploughing through Lindsay Davis'  oeuvre again before starting on Robert Harris's

Archangel by Robert Harris
which I picked up from a local charity shop.

But in the meantime I'm trying to get my tax sorted before the 31st of this month, else I'll have to submit it online.

Go well, do good things, and if you come across an exceptionally good read, don't forget to recommend it to me.
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It has been remarked that I have no Hentai in my library. I have books with Shunga woodcuts from 'the Floating World', full of Hokusai and Utamaro et al, but they are all pre 20th century; and if you don't mind, Art.

Does anyone have any recommendations as to something fitting, and not too morally questionable? Incest is definitely not on, for example. Neither would Lolicon or Shotacon be at all suitable. It doesn't have to accord with conventional Western sexuality, but should be as archetypal as possible, taking into acount my obvious reservations. Good taste would help, but given cultural differences, I'm prepared to forego such niceness.

Much obliged.

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The last two days there have been TV crew in TPA Studios.
G P Taylor (who wrote 'Shadowmancer') has been in interviewing authors for an upcoming Television series.
Really nice bloke. He's about the same age as me (born '61) and amongst other things has been in his time a PR person, a Policeman, and a Vicar. When He was a PR person (late 70's) he used to pop into TPA Studios and he may have been the reason that the TV company decided to do their interviewing therein.
When Mr Taylor was a Vicar his parish was in North Yorkshire. In fact he lived in the next Village to Hackness, where my bridge partner's parents live. Small World. We got on like a house on fire.
Now Steve, God bless his soul, then happened to mention that I'd written a novel a few years ago. So Graham (as I've been instructed to call him) told me the story of how he got started.
He wrote his novel, and then self-published it.
After that small (2500) first edition from Mount Publishing, the book was taken up by Faber whereupon it became a best seller.
So I immediately went on to ABE books to try to find a first (so I could get him to sign it etc) only to find the prices were ridiculous. In fact, the most expensive copy (hand corrected) was some $40,000. I showed this to him and he said: 'Oh, I gave that away.' He then promised each of us a copy as he still had a few left. Which was nice.
Yesterday, when I got in to TPA, during a break in recording, I thanked him for the previous day's advice, and told him I was investigating self-publishing costs. He asked me to hang fire for a bit as he is a director of another publishing house, and there may be no need to self-publish.
Picked chin up off floor etc.
It may come to nothing, never know. Here's hoping.
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Spoke to the Glamorous Ex today. She's still in Blighty, having failed thus far to go back to Darkest Africa and young husband. Her mother needs her to oversee various improvements to the new house, liaise with builders, and keep things running smoothly. Amusing 'phone call, nevertheless, and full of gossip, and kindness: she asked after Mother, and was understanding about our emotional responses to Dad's death. I think she's a bit down (she said as much, and even I'm not that dim). Will try to pay a visit to her and her family sometime next week. She's finding it hard to play guitar at present, she cramps up after fifteen or twenty minutes. Will have to look at what she's doing wrong, or whether it's just age and frailty -  she's been unwell too, which can't have helped.

The Library Thing gets more addictive: 594 books thus far, some 2000 more still to go. I still have 6 shelves of non-fiction to go before I start on the novels, which comprise the bulk of my collection. But I've worked out tags.
Now I have to go back through all my LJ posts and tag them.
Luckily I have a bit of time on my hands, so....
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Well, I finally started on the books at Library Thing.
I've managed two shelves thus far. 36 more to go in my study and some 12-15 others dotted about the place. Ah well, this is most of the poetry, anyway (only about half a shelf left).

Anyway, they're here:

if anyone really wants to look.
I reckon I'll get a shelf done a week. I'll be finished by New Year, with luck.


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