Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Coincidences No.s 340-348

No. 340 White Album

beatles white album portraits

I walk into the office of a London production company in Shoreditch to start a new project series-producing a sports documentary series. From a varied playlist, While My Guitar Gently Weeps is playing across the office.

The same night I go to a brilliant gig at the Jazz Cafe, Camden Town. It is a young band called The Midnight Special playing the whole of The Beatles’ White Album (technically called simply The Beatles) from end to end. Today (22nd Nov) is the 50th anniversary of the UK release of the genius double LP.

No. 341 The Cure

the cure boys dont cry

I see a tweet about Brexit which makes me laugh – something along the lines of: Has anyone tried just hitting the UK on/off button? I click through to the tweeter – she describes herself as a Frenchie living in London and a Cure fan (among a couple of other things).

I am in a restaurant in Belfast as I read this tweet, over for a speaking gig at the Belfast Media Festival (about VR and the future of broadcasting). Just as I am reading it The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry comes on the music system.

I have a history of Cure-related coincidences. As a teenager I saved a small black cat from a tied sack and a watery death. The near-perpetrator was Ashley Baron-Cohen, these days a film-maker in LA. Back then a hard-hearted teen. So I offered to take the cat (I’d never had one before). I called her Woof. I took her into my other friend’s car to get her home. As Jon turned the ignition, The Cure’s Love Cats came on the radio.

No. 342 Carlingford

belfast media festival 2018 logo

I am on my way back from Belfast Media Festival. On the plane I am sitting next to two women. I get talking to the one next to me who, contrary to appearances (not the least sharply dressed, relaxed look) turns out to be a barrister from Dublin. She comes from a village called Blackrock which is near where my wife comes from in Co. Louth, Ireland. It turns out she has a property she now rents in my wife’s village, Carlingford.

We both then get talking to the third person in our little EasyJet row. She lives in London, but stems from Liverpool and Strabane. She has an English accent and a striking Irish face (the high cheek-boned type). This second woman has an auntie Rosie living in Carlingford. (I check with my wife when I get home and of course she knows Rosie.)

So that’s one row – three people (two British) connected to a small village in Ireland.

No. 343 Rugby League

david lodge a man of parts novel hg wells cover

My wife asks me if I have ever gone to watch Rugby League.

The same day I pick up a long unfinished novel with a view to finally pushing to the end. It is Man of Parts by David Lodge, about HG Wells. The bookmark marking my place where I stopped a couple of years ago is a ticket from the only Rugby League game I ever went to watch. England vs New Zealand at the 2012 Olympic Stadium in Stratford. I bought the ticket by mistake, thinking it was Rugby Union. It is one of the only sports events I have ever walked out of – take all the good things about Rugby, chuck them away and stick with what’s left – that is Rugby League in my (one-off) experience.

No. 344 The English Patient

the-english-patient movie still

The English Patient (1996) with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes

I am talking to Channel 4 documentary Comissioning Editor Fozia Khan as we enter Belfast International Airport about Anthony Minghella. She lives in the same street as my best-friend and his house was owned by Minghella just before him. Minghella directed among many other movies The English Patient.

The next day I am talking to my wife and the subject of Sikhs comes up – she mentions in particular the Sikh character in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, one of her favourite writers.

(I haven’t thought about The English Patient for many years. I have never read it, think I saw the movie back at the time though not 100% sure.)

No. 345 CUFS

amber reeves

Amber Reeves

I am reading the novel Man of Parts by David Lodge and am intrigued by one of the characters, HG Well’s young lover Amber Reeves. I read that Amber Reeves while at Cambridge set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Fabian Society. This was in 1906 and was the first society at Cambridge to include women from its founding. Female students met on an equal footing with men to discuss a broad range of topics from religion to sex with a freedom not available elsewhere in their lives.

While a Girton girl I set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Film Society. Visitors included Michael Powell, David Puttnam (with an early cut of The Mission), Peter Shaffer (who, unlike me, hated the movie of Equus) and Angela Carter. Sessions ranged from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia to French-Canadian cinema of the 70s (Les Ordres).

No. 346 Holborn

syracuse university logo

One of my best friends is over from Aspen, Colorado (we were teens together but she moved to the USA when she got married). I arrange to meet her for breakfast before work one day as my diary is rammed with work stuff and she has only a couple of days to play with. She suggests me meet at her hotel – it turns out to be in Kingsway, Holborn. I don’t check the exact address or look on the map until I am leaving the house.

The job I have immediately after the get-together is a guest lecture for Syracuse University. They have a London campus. It is in an obscure small lane behind that self-same hotel.

No. 347 B & K

matzah-balls chicken soup jewish

I have a craving for chicken soup and so go for lunch with my middle brother at a Jewish deli at the far end of Edgware – the delicious irony being that is run by a lovely family of Greeks. It is called B & K Salt Beef Bar.

As I sit looking out the big front window onto the wrong end of Edgware High street a van passes belonging to B & K Plumbing & Heating Engineers from Camberley in deep South London/Surrey.

No. 348 Nick & Nora

the thin man movie poster 1934

(1934)

This morning I get an email notification from the Goodreads website. The subject-line is: Updates from Noora and Nick. Noora is an ex-Channel4 colleague who now lives in Finland. Her name is Arabic, as opposed to the Irish spelling. Nick is another old colleague – we worked together on Embarrassing Bodies among others when he was at Maverick TV.

Nick & Nora are the heroes of Dashiell Hammett’s noir detective stories, both fast livers with bad livers (i.e. hard drinkers). I was going to call my son Noah Nora if he had turned out to be a girl – after Nora from The Thin Man.

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The State of NME

joy division nme newspaper magazine cover 1980 ian curtis tribute

Ian Curtis tribute edition (1980)

You never listened to a word that I said
You only seen me from the clothes that I wear
Or did the interest go so much deeper
It must have been to the colour of my hair

Public image you got what you wanted
The public image belongs to me
It’s my entrance my own creation
My grand finale, my goodbye

Public image
Public image
Goodbye

NEW

Today the last printed edition of NME is being published. It played a vital role in many British teens’ lives at a certain point, especially during the dynamic days of Punk and Post-Punk. In many ways it was our internet.

MUSICAL

It was the place to find out about gigs, get the latest band news, find upcoming talent, get hold of the most desirable records, get insights into the musicians that mattered.

EXPRESS

It also nurtured a generation of writers from Paul Morley to Danny Baker, from Julie Burchill to Nick Kent. My friend & former colleague from Channel 4, Stuart Cosgrove, was among their ranks. His latest book ‘Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul‘ has just this week been shortlisted for the Penderyn Prize for Music Book of the Year, which the NME dubbed “The Mercury Prize of Books”. It’s the second book in the trilogy that began with ‘Detroit 67’ – he’s currently writing the third, ‘Harlem 69‘. It’s up against Cosey Fanni Tutti’s ‘Art Sex Music‘ which looks like formidable competition (though I haven’t read it yet).

Cosey Fanni Tutti was in Throbbing Gristle. I saw a then unknown Marc Almond perform a 15-minute version of the Throbbing Gristle song ‘Discipline’ at Hammersmith Odeon, supporting an emerging band called The Cure and headliners Siouxsie & The Banshees. Years later, down the road at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I saw Marc Almond (son of Leeds) perform Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter Comes Tears’, a Northern Soul classic. Stuart is an aficionado of Northern Soul, it’s from that passion that ‘The Soul Trilogy‘ springs. These are the threads that made up the text and texture of NME in its heyday when it was ENeMy of the state and friend of new musical expression.

NME
NME
Goodbye

NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS (NME) Music Paper 28th MAY 1977 SEX PISTOLS GRATEFUL DEAD JOHNNY THUNDERS (NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS NME)

Changing of the Guards: The Pistols meet The Dead – May 1977

The original NME Cover of the Clash from April 1977 By Chalkie Davies

The Crossroads: The Clash meet Fleetwood Mac – April 1977

keith levine guitarist public image limited PIL NME cover

The Tangled Web: Keith Levine of Public Image and The Clash – 1980

undertones nme cover

The Threads: The Undertones meet Siouxsie meets PiL

nme cover the slits

The Slits – September 1979 (one was married to PiL’s John Lydon)

the specials nme cover two tone

Two Tone: The Specials – August 1979

16 years and counting

 

mothering sunday graham swift novel book cover

Had a splendid evening yesterday at the annual Dickens gathering of one of the members of the book group to which I belong (and have done since it was set up in November 2001 by David Price). We drank a Victorian brandy & rum punch made to a recipe of Dickens himself, the preparation process reaching its apex when the whole thing was set aflame (harder than you’d imagine). Besides the vigorous blue flames, other highlights included lively readings from Bleak House and Great Expectations among others. I chose the passage from Our Mutual Friend (my favourite Dickens) which gave T.S. Eliot his working title for The Waste Land – ‘He do the Police in different voices’. It culminates in…

“I aint, you must know,” said Betty, “much of a hand at reading writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I do love a newspaper. You mightn’t think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.”

I last wrote about Dickens in Simple Pleasures part 4 a year ago almost to the day. I was reflecting on 2016 through the lens of the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Not much changed there then.

Nor has much changed in the book group. Same personnel since June 2015, which is when I last listed what we’ve read since the very first gathering – for Atonement. I seem to have become the de facto archivist so here is an update to the on-going list which is put out there in the spirit of offering ideas to other book group title choosers.

In The Country Of Men by Hisham Mitar – June 2015
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford – Sep 2015
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami – Nov 2015
Soumission/Submission by Michel Houellebecq – Jan 2016
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Feb 2016
The Man without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates – Apr 2016
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – May 2016
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam – July 2016
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany – Sept 2016
The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt – Nov 2016
The Sell Out by Paul Beatty – Dec 2016
Autumn by Ali Smith – Jan 2017
The Vegetarian by Han Kang – Mar 2017
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis – Apr 2017
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift – June 2017
Men Without Women by Haruki Murukami – July 2017
Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo – Sep 2017
The Remains of the Day by Kasuo Ishiguro – Nov 2017
The Information by Martin Amis – Jan 2018

The first 14 years

brooklyn colm toibin novel book cover

The Subterraneans

32514015731_cf83ebce7b_k

1958

Here’s a beautiful copy of Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Subterraneans’ I bought in Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. It dates from 1958 and inside was the original receipt for $1.45 plus tax, a grand total of $1.51, from the UCLA bookshop.

31793595254_be560afab3_k

1958

I began reading it on 7th August 2015 on the BART from San Francisco to Oakland. I read some of it in North Beach the next day, at Columbus & Filmore, in a coffee shop with a jazz band playing on a chilled out Sunday afternoon. I finished it today in Chancery (not Heavenly) Lane, at the heart of the British establishment (a Molotov cocktail’s throw from Gray’s Inn).

Anyhow, because like most of Kerouac’s novels ‘The Subterraneans’ is a roman à clef, I thought it would be worth sharing who is who in the book in terms of the real-life counterparts/inspirations of the characters to save other readers the hassle of figuring it out:

  • Adam Moorad = Allen Ginsberg (poet)
  • Frank Carmody = William Burroughs (writer)
  • Leroy = Neal Cassady (cocksman and Adonis of Denver)
  • Yuri Gligoric = Gregory Corso (poet)
  • Austin Bromberg = Alan Ansen (poet/playwright)
  • Sam Vedder = Lucien Carr (killer)
  • Harold Sand = William Gaddis (novelist)
  • Annie = Luanne Henderson (cool chick)
  • Balliol MacJones = John Clellon Holmes (author of first Beat novel)
  • Larry O’Hara = Jerry Newman (record producer)
  • Arial Lavalina = Gore Vidal (writer)
  • Jane = Joan Vollmer (Beatess & Mrs Burroughs)

The central character/love interest Mardou Fox in real life was Alene Lee. She was mixed race, black and half-Cherokee. Kerouac met her in the summer of 1953 when she was typing up manuscripts for William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs & Ginsberg were sharing an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York at the time. Alene also shows up as Irene May in Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’. Ginsberg was with her when she died at Lenox Hill Hospital, NYC in 1991. This is what she looked like:

alenelee

Foxy

Here’s a couple of related past posts:

4 Characters from On The Road

4 More Characters from OTR

OTR Triptych

Highway 1 Revisited

Reflections on 2016 with a right Charlie

bowieessential

A right Charlie wrote this, which seems to say something about the year we’ve just gone through:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way

The Charlie in question was Dickens, written in 1859 about 1775 in A Tale of Two Cities.

dickens-1_2794642k

Charles Dickens

I read A Tale of Two Cities between May 1989 and January 1990. Much though I loved it, I can be a slow reader. The story is set in the run up to and during the French Revolution. During the 9 months it took me to read the novel a number of actual revolutions broke out across Europe from Poland to Turkmenistan, Hungary to East Germany. The book sits on my Shelf of Honour:

31959998735_c95b172a17_k

Part of the Shelf of Honour

4 reasons to read The Sellout

thesellout-mar20151

So we had our 15th Anniversary Book Group gathering last night and the book in the spotlight, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, was highly praised by all but one of our number, getting 9s and even 10s in our scores (for Literary Merit and Enjoyment), one of the most popular choices in the whole decade and a half.

My review on GoodreadsA dense and intense tour de force with shades of Catch 22 (absurdity), David Foster Wallace (intensity) and Candide (humanity), filled with insight about how black people are seen and see themselves in the USA (and beyond).

sellout

Here are 4 good reasons to read this standout satirical novel:

(i) On lawyers:

The Chief Justice meekly raises his hand.

“Excuse me, Mr Fiske [the defending lawyer], I have a question…”

“Not right now, motherfucker, I’m on a roll!”

 

(ii) On education:

Two hundred kids quieted instantly and turned their attention deficit disorders toward me.

 

(iii) On weed:

“What the fuck is this, dog?” Puppet coughed.

“I call it Carpal Tunnel. Go ahead, try to make a fist.”

Puppet tried to ball his hand but failed.

 

(iv) On intellectuals:

The meetings consisted mostly of the members who showed up every other week arguing with the ones who came every other month about what exactly “bimonthly” means.”

Classic satire in the heritage of Waugh and Swift that’s laugh-out-loud funny.

All Fall Down

This review originally appeared on A Penguin a Week.

 

Penguin no. 1742: All Fall Down
by James Leo Herlihy

Cover design uses still from the MGM movie ‘All Fall Down’.

“Tomorrow I’m going on a health binge, get some filter cigarettes and start doing push-ups every night. Maybe I’ll do some right now, to make myself sleepy. Because I’ve got about forty-seven big knots in my chest, and they hurt.”
 
When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered. 

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love. 

A fair proportion of the story is told through Clint’s diary – it’s like an external hard drive he relies on to compulsively capture memories and documentation from his chaotic family life. He steals his mother’s private letters (outgoing and incoming) to copy into this notebook which he keeps tucked in his trousers, right against his flesh. It’s the one place he controls and to which he can bring some degree of order.

Clint’s hero, his older brother Berry-berry, is absent for much of the story, on his low-life travels around the USA, much of the time just one step ahead of the law. Yet his being has immense gravitational pull on the family. The disparity between what mother, father and little brother hope for from Berry-berry and the real man (in as much as he is grown up) is the source of the all-round disillusionment which engulfs the family.

When the Williams move to a new house across the city in Cleveland, Ohio, the cracks open up. Berry-berry takes off before he’s even spent a night in his new room. The father, a former left-wing activist, spends his time in the basement doing puzzles. The mother immerses herself in domesticity on the ground floor, while Clint eavesdrops from the laundry chute upstairs and records the exchanges in the diary which he “made use of … with an unconscious ease similar to that of walking or feeding oneself”.

Clint, in an attempt to come to the aid of the older brother he idolises, goes on a road trip across the country to the Florida Keys. He loses his innocence along the way when he is sheltered by Shirley, a young tart with a heart, whose inner beauty and profound loss influence Clint for life.

The person who catalyses the final destruction of both the dysfunctional family and their illusions is the unmarried daughter of one of the mother, Annabel’s, friends. Echo O’Brien is a dynamic young woman, very attached to her perfectly preserved 1929 Dodge touring car. Tall and slender, she could, in a parallel universe, have been in the pages of  ‘The Great Gatsby’. Think ‘Gatsby’ and Tennessee Williams for the kind of tension Echo brings into the Williams household as she becomes the object of both Clint’s innocent, tender love and Berry-berry’s careless lust, the latter returned to his home city and the proximity of his family, but living on the edge of town with a dark secret.

Watching Berry-berry live a lie and talk up his hollow, self-centred life, gradually grinds away at Clint’s hopes and illusions. Like Holden Caulfield’s obsession with ‘phoneyness’, Clinton Williams can’t take the lies: “I just stayed there at the table and thought about what big liars we all are”. Berry-berry tells his biggest, most unforgivable lie at the climax of the novel and it is this which finally severs his bond with his once adoring brother. Berry-berry ultimately cares only for himself and loves no-one, not even himself. Clint though has a great capacity and desire to care and cherish. His growth into adulthood is complete with the realisation that “[in] the difference in the love offerings people make to one another, lay the reason for all the pain in the world.”

First published in the U.S.A. 1960. Published in Great Britain by Faber & Faber 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1962.

Trigger Happy

So back to Trigger Mortis. The question was: Is the cover superior to the content of the new Bond book by Anthony Horowitz? I ended up reading it as a double bill with Fleming’s own rocket book Moonraker. So that’s this one, set in 1957 and published in 2015:

Trigger-Mortis-James-Bond Anthony Horowitz novel cover 2015

versus this one, set in 1955 (I think)  and published in 1955:

Moonaraker Ian Fleming novel Bond 1955 1st edition

james_bond_03_moonraker

Moonaraker Ian Fleming novel Bond 1955 casino royale live and let die paberback pan book cover

Somehow Trigger Mortis fails to capture the essence of Bond – it lacks his hard brutality and the underlying S&M going on in Fleming’s books. The cover wins out in the end. Though even the cover loses out to echt Fleming. The flame cover of the Jonathan Cape 1st edition of April 1955 was conceived by the author. The Pan ones are charming version after version.

Moonaraker Ian Fleming novel Bond 1955 paberback pan book cover

Moonaraker Ian Fleming novel Bond 1955 paberback pan book cover

This is the edition I read, picked up at Black Gull Books, East Finchley. A nice phallic rocket and a slightly naughty underwear shot (resonant of the beach skinnydipping scene with Gala Brand under the virgin white cliffs of the Kent coast).

Moonaraker Ian Fleming novel Bond 1955 paberback pan book cover

For anyone else who embarks on Trigger Mortis, and don’t get me wrong it’s an entertaining enough read, there are a couple of fine machines towards the climax which are worth following up. First of all the Triumph Thunderbird 650cc on which Bond and the heroine Jeopardy Lane chase the baddie into the centre of New York City.

Triumph 6T 650 cc Thunderbird (1950)

Triumph 6T 650 cc Thunderbird (1950)

Triumph Thunderbird (1962)

Triumph Thunderbird (1962)

The baddie meanwhile is hurtling along on the R-11 subway train, the so-called ‘Million Dollar Train’. As Horowitz explains, “they had caught the spirit and dynamism of the (post-war) age.”

R11-R34_8013_at_Rockaway_Park_-_Beach_116th_Street_Station subway train

MTA_NYC_R11_(R34)_8013_interior subway train

NYCS_R11_exterior new york subway train

Bond is a world of style and glittering surfaces, the right motorcycle and subway carriages as much as car, watch or booze.

Trigger Mortis

Apparently I registered with WordPress 9 years ago today. How time flies. I’ve got to fly myself now (to Bournemouth to drop off Enfant Terrible No. 1, which is a far more important landmark) so this is a quickie to reflect on the statute of limitations on titles. I’ve written before on the importance of titles such as in Starless and Bible Black.

Any way, it looks like 56 years is the statute of limitation in the world of Anthony Horowitz / James Bond / The Fleming Estate. The title of the new, just published Bond book is Trigger Mortis. The book below was published in 1959 and it’s also a thriller.

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

By the looks of things, the covers are far superior to the contents. Whether that’s the case with the new Horowitz book, I’ll find out soon as I broached it last night. Its cover is well designed and cool but not much fun, promising something very different to Frank Kane and Johnny Liddell. The title’s crucial. and so is the cover/image. That applies equally to other media such as the one I’m currently focused on: Short Form Video.

Trigger-Mortis-James-Bond Anthony Horowitz novel cover 2015

Tattoo Twists Channel 4 Adam Gee

14 years and counting

The best of the last 4 years

The best of the last 4 years

I marked the 10th anniversary of our old slippers of a book group by listing all that we had read to that auspicious date. The personnel is remarkably stable, adding members very rarely, so to herald the arrival of my friend Martin Bright I am updating the list:

  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell * (Apr 15)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan  (Mar 15)
  • Oblivion – David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What Was Promised – Tobias Hill (Jun 14)
  • Stoner – John Williams * (Apr 14)
  • Rabbit at Rest – John Updike *** (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (Dec 13)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Nov 13)
  • Irretrievable -Theodor Fontane (Sept 13)
  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (July 13)
  • Bring out the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (March 13)
  • Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • There’s no such thing as a free press – Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor (Nov 12)
  • The Uncoupling – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Nemesis – Philip Roth ** (April 12)
  • Old School – Tobias Wolff (March 12)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Jan 12)
  • the first ten years
The runner-up of last 4 years

The runner-up of last 4 years

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