Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

List of the Day: Jack Kerouac, 27 items

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Essentials of Spontaneous Prose

1. Write on, cant change or go back, involuntary, unrevised, spontaneous, subconscious, pure
2. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild type written pages, for your own joy
3. Submissive to everything, open, listening
4. Be in love with your life every detail of it
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what it is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. Work from the pithy middle eye out, from the jewel center of interest, swimming in  language sea
17. Accept loss forever
18. Believe in the holy contour of life
19. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself
20. Profound struggle with pencil to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
21. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
22. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge
23. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures
24. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
25. Composing wild, undisciplined pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
26. You’re a Genius all the time
27. Writer-Director of Earthly Movies produced in Heaven, different forms of the same Holy Gold

The Subterraneans

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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.

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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

Coincidence No.388: Sisyphus

 

mythofsisyphusThis morning I was talking to Enfant Terrible No. 1 (who is currently doing a Philosophy course) about Camus and Existentialism. I mentioned Sisyphus, an important figure for Camus, and the image that first comes to mind when I think back to my undergraduate studies of Camus, alongside the killing of the Arab on the beach.

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This evening I was working on my family tree and added Karl Radek, a cousin of my grandmother Dora, and an international Communist leader to boot (in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution). His real name was Karol Sobelsohn and he took the name Radek from a favourite character, Andrzej Radek, in ‘Syzyfowe prace‘ (‘The Labour of Sisyphus’), written in 1897 by Stefan Żeromski.

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Sisyphus coming up twice in 12 hours – a bit Twilight Zone but I imagine he’ll be happy to be remembered.

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Reflections on 2016 with a right Charlie

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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.

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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:

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Part of the Shelf of Honour

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.

Quel Coincidence!

 

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I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.

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But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.

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As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:

16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s

Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.

The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?

Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.

But what I also remembered

Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down

What are the chances?

I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page

Doesn’t that mean there must be a God? 😉

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

Boredom Boredom B’dum B’dum

spiral scratch buzzcocks record

Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.

I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding

You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe

I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.

Michael York and Simon Maccorkindale as Carruthers and Davies

Michael York and Simon Maccorkindale as Carruthers and Davies

One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).

Martin Sheen as Captain Willard

Martin Sheen as Captain Willard

Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.

Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.

I’m here a week now.  Waiting for a mission.  Getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger.  Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.

Bored to death

Bored to death

There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?

Lauren-Bacalls-style-The-Big-Sleep Bogart office Marlowe

bogart film noir phone maltese falcon

Books That Changed Lives – suggestions for book groups

I’ve been in a book group with some old school friends and a motley crew of other geezers for 13 and a bit years now. Here is a summary of our first 10 years. Well it’s my turn to choose the book again now – it takes 18-24 months for the honour to come round these days so you can’t take it lightly. I put a call out to social media friends for books that had really changed their lives or ways of seeing the world. Loads of interesting suggestions came in and rather than let them fade away in the ephemeral world of Facebook etc. I thought I’d save them here so other people in other book groups/book clubs/reading groups could make use of the titles. (The quotations are from the friends making the suggestions.)

Bookshelf books

  • Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  • My brilliant friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane
  • Don de Lillo’s Underworld
  • Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – “made me think differently about how the past shapes your present/future and how as individuals we get to choose if the negative parts of our past consume our futures or not. It is also beautifully written and made me revisit poetry too.” “it is the book that taught me how beautiful words can be”
  • Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The social animal – David Brooks
  • Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
  • Andre Agassi’s “Open”
  • The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities
  • Us – David Nicholls
  • Amongst Women by John McGahern
  • Malloy by Samuel Beckett
  • The Master by Colm Tóibín
  • The Country Girls by Edna O’ Brien
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’ Brien
  • The Quest for Corvo – AJA Symons
  • Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  • Birchwood by John Banville
  • How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
  • The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
  • Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
  • The History of History – Ida Hatemer-Higgins
  • Inventing God, Nicholas Mosley – “felt my mind shifting on religion/geopolitics/Middle East. God as the greatest invention of humankind. Humanist but generous to those who have faith – a gentle riposte to the Hitchens/Dawkins approach. In a novel.”
  • A window for one year – John Irving
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – “love, friendship and sacrifice”
  • Wild, Cheyl Strayed
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • To the End of the Land, David Grossman
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – “felt the terror of teenage girls when read and re-read both as a teenage girl/40 yr old woman”
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – “felt the power and grace of the quiet man”
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinwe Achebe
  • Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother “Made me respect young people more”
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • The Mezzanine by Nicolson Baker “It’s very short, very unlikely and some in the group will HATE it and for others it’ll change the way they look at the world around them. You’ll never see perforations or a straw in a fizzy drink the same way again.”
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman – “had a huge influence on my going to university and recognising the need to never find oneself in a position where you are wholly reliant on a man. All teenage girls should read it.”
  • William Leith’s The Hungry Years “taught me how not to be a food addict”
  • Cervantes’ Don Quixote “taught me to rely on my inner compass rather than external signage.”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow “showed me that our personal interpretation is where the colour and joy of the world are to be found, but to keep it just shy of solipsism”
  • Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book “became my personal cultural key to unlocking New York”
  • Stoner – John Williams
  • Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse “made me see my middle class/ inner animal struggle in a clear & cleansing light, Damn you Herman Hesse!”
  • Plumed serpent, D. H. Lawrence – “opening to the mythic underbelly”
  • Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ “because his characters are so compelling and so flawed. Our heroine’s youthful arrogance and stubbornness sees her turn down suitors because she values above all her freedom, only to find herself trapped in a way she could not have imagined. I was excited at her prospects and I feared for her. There were other characters I was rooting for too! Having re-read it more than 20 years later, I was interested and surprised to find I had more compassion for some characters I disliked intensely and impatience for those I felt sympathy for when I read it as a teenager. A truly astonishing, complex masterpiece.”
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road “is the most piercing book I’ve read. The description of the trials faced by the father and son has stayed with me for years.”
  • 1984 – George Orwell – “”We are the dead” “You are the dead” stopped me in my 13 year old tracks. Never saw it coming”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day – “because it really does require you to take a big chunk out of your life to read it – Rams home the idea that reading is subversive: stops you working, earning, socialising and kinda does stop time.”
  • A fraction of the whole – Steve toltz
  • Douglas Coupland’s ‘Microserfs’
  • Be Here Now – Ram Dass
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • The english and their history by Robert tombs – “Amazing and definitive book that filled in every gap for me in understanding where we live and why it is how it is”
  • The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom “Despite the title, it’s a real page turner. Yalom goes back and forth between Spinoza and Rosenberg (part of Hitler’s propoganda machine). My book club had a fantastic discussion.”
  • Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
  • Humanity: A Moral History of The 20th Century by Professor Jonathan Glover
  • Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Beingby Milan Kundera
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicle -Haruki Murakami – “Extraordinary writing that made me see the world differently”
  • Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Again, thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the list.

In the end I opted for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (partly because I thought Cloud Atlas was something pretty special). Will report back on how it goes.

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