Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Life in a nutshell

reading books life

Enfant Terrible No. 1 sent me this the other day – it more or less captures my worldview.

4 places worth visiting in Vilnius

I was in Lithuania last week working on ESoDoc, a workshop and development space for social documentaries. The last time I worked on it was back in 2010 in Tenno, Northern Italy. We were based this time in the National Library of Lithuania and between sessions I adopted my favourite role of flâneur.

1. The National Library of Lithuania

the national library of lithuania vilnius 1919

Its classical grandeur dates back to 1919, the year after Lithuanian independence from Germany and Russia. It sits next door to the modern parliament building which stems from Lithuania’s second independence day, 11th March 1990, the first of the Baltic States to break away from the USSR.

Lithuania parliament vilnius

An important emblem of Democracy

The books in the main atrium are cleverly decorated with black covering on their spines to create the faces of various key literary/historical figures.

Lithuania national library vilnius

2. Knygynas VAGA book shop

Knygynas VAGA bookstore book shop Vilnius lithuania

Knygynas VAGA book shop

A book shop where you can get strudel – what’s not to love? Really enjoyed hanging out here. Had to speak German as the strudel lady couldn’t speak English. We struggled a bit trying to identify pumpkin.

I picked up two Lithuanian novels in English here: Cold East by Gabija Grušaitė (“A new voice that disrupted Lithuanian lierature”) and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (a Lithuanian American, author of the very successful debut Between Shades of Gray).

3. The Republic of Užupis

uzupis republic vilnius lithuania

Border of the Republic

A hippy, bohemian quarter a bit like Chrisiania in Copenhagen. The name means “other side of the river” – it sits in a loop on the far side of the Vilnia. It declared itself a republic in 1998 – it has its own flag, currency, constitution and ambassadors (including my friend author Charlie Connelly who it turns out is their UK ambassador – I believe drink may have been involved in precipitating this appointment). They change the flag every season – it is currently blue for Winter.

uzupis flag vinius lithuania

Winter – blue, Spring – green, Summer – yellow, Autumn – red

It began life in the 16th century as a mainly Jewish area. WW2 reduced the Jewish population of Vilnius from 58,000 to 2,000. The Soviets then destroyed the cemetery up the hill from Užupis.

Now it’s mainly an artistic area, albeit a gentrified one at this point. Between the War and Independence in 1990 it was the realm of the homeless and prostitutes, very neglected. Needless to say, the artists moved in and made it cool and meaningful. Gotta love the artists. It still has a certain charm and some good street art. It seems to have been set up as an artistic provocation, to prompt important conversation. The Republic’s independence day is 1st April.

4. The Ghetto

the site of the great synagogue vilnius lithuania

Site of the Great Synagogue

Vilnius had two ghettos during the Nazi period – the small and the large. They both got liquidated (or “liquidized” as one Lithuanian tourist website has it) by Nazis and Lithuanian police shooting tens of thousands of Jews in the forests around the city. Above is the site of the Great Synagogue where 3,000-5,000 worshippers could be accommodated. It was damaged in the War but the Soviets were the ones who finished the job in the mid-50s, turning a magnificent building into an architecturally insignificant kindergarten (in the background above). I had an interesting chat with a Polish woman at this sign. She told me how poor all the Poles were before the war. Just like the citizen of Neulengbach in Austria (location of Egon Schiele’s studio) who told me how poor the Austrians were.

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

Commemorating the inhabitants of the ghetto

Despite these dark shadows I enjoyed the ghetto area in its autumn colours. I could sense the people. I sat in an open area reading a Lew Archer novel and sucking up the vibes. The city has peppered the area with monochrome murals of the former citizens, with QR codes linking to some basic information. I wonder what this fella would have made of QR codes…

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

QR codes schmoo R codes

Tigress

While it was very sad to hear of the death of Judith Kerr this week, it also felt like the rounding off of a life well lived. To come from flight (in 1933) from the Nazis and the Holocaust in Germany, Poland, France and across Europe (which went out to vote the day after her passing) to a constructive, hopeful and beautiful body of work which gives delight to millions is a story and a half.

I had the pleasure of appearing with her on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, talking about fathers reading to their children. Prior to entering the studio I’d forgotten that the programme was live so it really helped having a calm atmosphere engendered by Judith and Jenni Murray, the host. I can’t recall much about the conversation other than it went well, felt coherent and fluent, not stressful. And Judith was a thoroughly inspiring person.

Of course I read ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ with my boys. She kindly signed their copy after the recording at Broadcasting House.

I have a vague memory of people looking for a historical analogy in it, like the Tiger stood for the Nazis or the Gestapo or something, “It’s about the rise of Hitler, right?” “No” she said “it’s about a tiger. Who comes to tea.”

That Judith Kerr now stands widely as being about turning adversity to living fully, being constructive and defeating the forces of darkness with hope and humanity is as it should be. The family, though surprised, take the Tiger in their stride and find a joyful, united solution to the problems it causes.

I am writing this in the garden of Keats’ house in Hampstead. Up the road in Downshire Hill, opposite the house of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, is the home of Fred and Diana Uhlman. I met her many years ago to speak about her husband’s work as an artist and their joint role as catalysts of the London art scene before and after the Second World War. Fred came to London in 1936 and became the centre with Diana of a network of artists on the run including Oskar Kokoschka (who followed in the wake of Egon Schiele). This whole area became a home to artists escaped from Nazi tyranny. Judith was the widely admired standard bearer for art and culture’s triumph over the dark side.

oskar kokoschka kunstler und poeten book cover design

The Artist Who Came To London (acquired this week from Black Gull book shop, East Finchley)

A Day in Dublin

Sweny's chemist pharmacist drugsture Dublin Ulysses James Joyce

Following a meeting with RTÉ in the Docklands in East Dublin I had the afternoon free to wander the city. On the way in to the centre from the airport the bus passed the end of Eccles Street where Leopold Bloom lives and is having breakfast in the second chapter of ‘Ulysses’. An hour later I walked across Holles Street where the maternity hospital is where another chapter of the Greatest Book Ever takes place. After that I looked into the window of Sweny’s the pharmacist where Bloom buys his lemon soap (and they still sell it in waxed brown paper). In a couple of hours I am heading back there for a ‘Ulysses’ reading group as it is now a volunteer-run centre dedicated to the book. It is just opposite the back entrance to Trinity College, Dublin where I am due at a lunch at noon.

Yesterday I also passed the Ormond Hotel (which, if I had my bearings right, is largely a space on the North bank of the Liffey at Ormond Quay, having been pretty much demolished since my last trip to Dublin) where the music-centred chapter of the novel occurs, the chapter which is the focus of the long-running Charles Peake seminar at Senate House, University of London which I attend every month. It takes the group several years to get through a chapter as it is a close-reading approach – we cover just a dozen or so lines per two hour Friday evening session.

proclamation of the irish republic

Back to Friday afternoon, I passed the old Ormond Hotel on the way to Kilmainham Gaol where the leaders of the Easter Rising were imprisoned in 1916. There I met my younger son who was also over, meeting his cousins. I had the great honour in the course of the visit to read to him (he has severe dyslexia so I am in the habit of reading to him) one of the surviving twenty copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a poster size text printed in two sections, and then parts of the original letters written by the condemned men as their last words. These are displayed in dim light for preservation but the lighting also adds to the vibe. A particularly resonant one is by Joseph Plunkett to his girlfriend who he recognises he should have married – signed “Your lover, Joe”. My son is an Irish citizen hence the honour of introducing these things to him. Later in the afternoon we passed the GPO in O’Connell Street where I concluded my history to him of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. (Which reminded me that I wanted to ask my RTÉ colleague how the preparations are going for the tricky centenary of the Civil War. When I was over speaking to the RTÉ Board in December 2017 they were just starting to address the project with the President that same day.)

We went back into town via the Irish Museum of Modern Art, taking the Luas (tram) back to the river. My son is really interested at the moment in wild/open water swimming and imagined swimming the Liffey. I told him about Yeats’ energetic painting of a swimming race in the National Gallery of Ireland.

IMG_6382 finnegans wake 1st edition 1939 james joyce

1st edition (1939)

I rounded off the day seeing both a 1939 1st edition of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (€2,000), which I sent to Finn Fordham who leads the monthly Wake seminar at Senate House I also go to fairly regularly, and a 1922 1st edition of ‘Ulysses’ from Shakespeare & Co., Paris, 1 of 750 copies, with the famous (among a small but dedicated circle) Greek blue cover (€30,000) at Ulysses Rare Books shop off Grafton Street. I’ve seen and even handled the ‘Ulysses’ 1st edition in that fabulous shop before – this one has only been in a month. If I was rich I would buy one alongside a powder blue Mark 2 Jag. My son wanted to know how Joyce had managed to fill 700 pages with two people’s wanderings around Dublin for just one day.

img_6383

I concluded the day in another book shop, The Winding Stair, named after the other Yeats’ volume of poetry. For the last 15 years the book part has shrunk to just the ground floor and the 1st and 2nd floors up the eponymous stairs have become a really good Irish restaurant with a view of the river, quays and Ha’penny Bridge. In the past the dining room, where I enjoyed Irish duck and Irish trout this evening, used to be covered in bookshelves full of second-hand volumes. Now just a couple of shelves of books tip a hat to that literary past. The tome I acquired from here that comes first to mind is Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’, a vintage Penguin paperback. Every book becomes a friend.

iew from The Winding Stair restaurant Dublin

View from The Winding Stair

Coincidences No.s 285-290

No. 285 Geno (16/4/19)

I am sitting outside Bar Italia in Soho talking to actress/producer Sophie Shad and her business partner Dalton Deverell. We are talking about their drama-documentary film Oh Geno! which is now available on Real Stories and which I wrote about in this post in November.

At the exact moment the topic comes up a Twitter notification arrives on my phone:

Liked by Geno Washington

twitter notification geno washington oh geno

 

No. 286 Riding House (17/4/19)

I am emailing Lauren Laverne about a project we discussed a couple of years ago and I remind her of the meeting at the Riding House Cafe on Riding House Street, close to BBC Broadcasting House.

I am at my book group and the friend next to me is talking about his recently deceased dad’s history – he was in the GB Basketball team at the 1948 Olympics and he had a furniture business based in Riding House Street.

1948 olympics GB basketball team lionel price

1948 GB Olympic basketball team

 

No. 287 Airplane (18/4/19)

I am reading Rory Sutherland’s book (see No. 284 above) and he uses an example of where you don’t want creativity or irrationality:

I don’t want a conceptual artist in charge of air traffic control, for instance.

A couple of minutes later I get a LinkedIn notification on my phone flagging up a post by consultant and author Mark Brown with whom I made a few films on creative thinking including The Blue Movie. His post uses much the same illustration of where you don’t want creative empowerment (an example featured in The Green Movie from 1994):

When you or I are about to land at Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle or John F Kennedy, which of these values do we like the pilot to fly by? ‘Get it right first time’ please. And certainly please don’t experiment with a bit of ‘Continuous Improvement’ or ‘Innovation’ thank you.

the green movie cover design video

The Green Movie (1994)

 

No. 288 Corpus (11/4/19)

I get on a tube at East Finchley and the woman sitting next to me is reading a paperback entitled Corpus by Rory Clements. I reckon it’s a relatively obscure book, a Robert Harris read-a-like, from a couple of years ago.

I pull out of my bag a second-hand hardback of Corpus which I am currently reading for some easy diversion. We strike up a conversation about the book, Rory Clements and Robert Harris.

Corpus by Rory Clements book cover

 

No. 289 Amy (11/4/19)

I go to the last day of a photography exhibition in a church in Hampstead of rock/music photos by Danny Clifford (one time official photographer of Bob Dylan) – Rock Stars Don’t Smile. I chat to Danny for a bit and end up buying this photo:

amy-winehouse-by-danny-clifford

Amy Winehouse backstage at the 4th BBC Radio Jazz awards held at the Hammersmith Palais, London in 2004. Photo: Danny Clifford / FilmMagic.com

I really liked it because of the naturalness of the look, just the hint of tattoo, no mention of Blake in sight (unlike Danny’s big hair Amy on stage shots) and the colour of the dress matches her grave (which is a few yards from my dad’s so it’s a train of thought back to my old man). I’m a bit worried about breaking the news of the purchase to my Mrs as we don’t have much wall space left.

As I pluck up the courage to mention the photo purchase in our kitchen the next day Back to Black comes on the radio.

I’ve had radio coincidences like this before. Two days ago I met up with my old friend Ash Baron-Cohen at Bar Italia (straight after the Sophie & Dalton meeting in No. 285 above). I got my first cat, Woof, thanks to Ash who was about to chuck it in a river in a sack with rocks in. I offered to take her off his hands. To get her home a mutual friend offered me a lift in his car. As we got in and switched on the engine Love Cats by The Cure came on the radio.

 

No. 290 Dinner (12/4/19)

I go round to dinner to my cousin in Hampstead Garden Suburb. My Mrs has told me about the invitation earlier that week and said there was us and another family invited who my cousin and his wife didn’t know well. My other half has a ticket for a dance performance and my sons are out and about so there is only me going. I do a talk at the National Film Theatre for the BFI & Radio Times TV Festival then make a bee-line for the dinner.

tv in the digital age careers talk bfi and radio times television festival 2019

As it turns out I arrive on time, the first guest there, then a few minutes later I hear others arrive. As I wander towards the hallway a face appears framed in the doorway – “Hallo Adam!” It is the wife of an old interactive TV colleague from way back when. And then his face enters the frame. The other not well known family turns out to be someone I’ve been working with for the best part of two decades (and still do via the AHRC and Royal Holloway) and his wife who I’ve also known a long time and two of their children.

 

 

 

4 quotes of Amos Oz

Amos Oz, 10 September 1979

10th September 1979

1

Every single pleasure I can imagine or have experienced is more delightful, more of a pleasure, if you take it in small sips, if you take your time. Reading is not an exception.

2

The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.

3

The kibbutz way of life is not for everyone. It is meant for people who are not in the business of working harder than they should be working, in order to make more money than they need, in order to buy things they don’t really want, in order to impress people they don’t really like.

4

I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world.

Amos Oz

4 great Amos Oz books:

  1. Black Box
  2. A Tale of Love and Darkness
  3. To Know a Woman
  4. Don’t Call It Night

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.

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

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