Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Trost in translation


"Thomas Bernhard in the transmission without name over the death, the pressure, the fear, the music the life and hold to end the mouth."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Further to Chavez and Chomsky

It's worth pointing out that one of the "facts" making up the famous story of President Hugo Chavez's recommendation to read Chomsky was ... well, made up.

It was repeated in all the stories I saw. Here's one example: in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano wrote:
Never one to get his facts completely straight, Chavez held a post-speech news conference in which he expressed regret that he had not met Chomsky ... before the author's death, sentencing the still-quite-living 77-year-old emeritus professor to a new form of state execution.
As the resourceful David Sketchley points out, the original story is somewhat different. Reuters reported that:
The dark-skinned, mixed race leader told New Yorkers to read Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain as well as modern thinkers like Noam Chomsky and John Kenneth Galbraith, lamenting he could not meet Galbraith before he died in April at age 97.
Sketchley assumes there are only three possible explanations for Romano's actions, which he puts to the author:
1. You have lifted your interpretation from another source without checking its veracity for yourself.
2. You have mistranslated Chavez' words.
3. You have 'edited' Chavez' words yourself in order to make him look stupid.
"Whichever explanation is correct" he adds "it is a scandal on a par with the NYT Jason Blair affair." Of course, it will receive equal attention in the corporate media and blogosphere, won't it?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hugo's there

What could be more appealing to our literary hopes and wishes than President Chavez's friendly advice to the young of the USA: set aside Superman and Batman to read authors like Noam Chomsky? ("[Hegemony or Survival] is an excellent work to understand what’s happened in the world in the 20th Century, what’s currently happening".)

Not much, I'd imagine. However, it prompts that other tireless promoter of world literature and literacy to call him a clown. How sad. Unfortunately this is not the first time it has sneered.

This is yet more evidence to back up Medialens' analysis Ridiculing Chavez, an examination of techniques used by the corporate media to marginalise this unique icon of living socialism. It has a significant task to complete. As Chomsky himself explains:
At issue in [South America], as elsewhere around the world, is alternative social and economic models. Enormous, unprecedented popular movements have developed to expand cross-border integration — going beyond economic agendas to encompass human rights, environmental concerns, cultural independence and people-to-people contacts.
And we daren't encourage that do we?

Friday, September 22, 2006

That would be an ecumenical matter

Waggish discusses the "ecumenical" editorial policy of the TLS. I tend to agree with him. Despite quietly seething when Washington-based empire loyalists like Edward Luttwak and, this week, Kenneth Anderson (who unhappily shares my blog template) are allowed to soil the pages without balance from the Left (in both reviewers and books reviewed), I do appreciate its non-political coverage.

This week's edition has a review by somebody or other of William Wall's collection of stories No Paradiso, not online. The Financial Times' review of it is online however, and Rachel Aspden isn't keen on its "smart-aleck protagonists and relentless tics of reference". The TLS review barely mentions them, due mainly to space but also because they don't get in the way. In fact, to that reviewer they opened up a mysterious, echoing void beneath the stories.

Generally, such allusions embarrass the fashion-conscious. It's odd how contemporary films win knowing smiles when they nod toward famous movies, yet books aren't allowed such leeway - unless, of course, it's not Horace or Dante's Inferno they mention but daytime TV and Heat magazine.

You wot Tommy?


(Thanks Ismo!)

Demolishing conspiracy theories

Like Ellis Sharp, I'm not convinced by the unofficial 9/11 conspiracy theories. But the other night I watched the 9/11 Mysteries film recently uploaded to Google Video. It is seriously unsettling stuff, made all the more disturbing by its sober analysis of the collapse of the twin towers and WTC7. I'd really like to witness a public debate about it and all the questions it raises.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The civilisation of the book

Of the 813 pages of Joakim Garff's biography of Kierkegaard, I've read only 100. But I intend to reach the end, to read everything and in order. I was horrified when a friend told me he began 180 pages in to read about Kierkegaard's relationship with Regine Olsen. Apparently that's when it becomes interesting (so far it isn't terribly). So why do I insist on plodding through the pages in order?

Actually, on page 100 Garff tells of the actions of two early editors of Kierkegaard's papers that offers an answer. Heiberg and Kuhr divided the material into three groups, A for journal entries, B for his pseudonymous and nonpseudonymous writings and C for notes from his studies. This systematization, Garff explains, was further divided into subgroups: aesthetic, philosophical, and theological. He comments that this
was laudable in principle but is unfortunate in practice, because it obscures the range of Kierkegaard's journal entries and gives the reader a false notion of uniformity and consistency in the profusion of texts.
I'm not sure how laudable it is to systematise such writings in the first place, though I suppose it's not far removed from Garff's own project which perhaps gives a false notion of Kierkegaard's life - the one he lived forwards and we try to understand backwards.

The more I thought about possible alternatives, I realised my intention to read each page in turn was not itself far removed from either of the above. The impulse to organise, contain and control - an impulse which is inherent to reading and writing; perhaps also inherent to living on.

It helps explain a line from Blanchot that has stayed with me:
Whatever we do, whatever we write [...] literature takes possession of it, and we are still in the civilisation of the book.
Later, he explains that:
If one ceased publishing books in favor of communication by voice, image, or machine, this would in no way change the reality of what is called the 'book'; on the contrary, language, like speech, would thereby affirm all the more its predominance and its certitude of a possible truth. In other words, the Book always indicates an order that submits to unity, a system of notions in which are affirmed the primacy of speech over writing, of thought over language, and the promise of a communication that would one day be transparent and immediate. [trans Susan Hanson]
One might presume then that those early editors of Kierkegaard were neutralising his disruption of that submission to unity. But Garff reminds us that the first editor of Kierkegaard's papers was Kierkegaard himself.
After my death, this is my consolation: No one will be able to find in my papers one single bit of information about what has really filled my life; they will not find the inscription deep within me which explains everything, which often makes what the world would call bagetelles into events of enormous importance to me, but which I, too, view as insignificant when I remove the secret note that explains everything.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A voice comes to one in the dark


A room.
He stands at the window.
And a voice says: Everything passes. The
good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow.
Everything passes.






There are some books whose first lines, the opening lines, are enough. Reading them, you know this is it. This is why you read.

For me, the first in memory was in 1986: the beginning of chapter 2 of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (after the digression about Eternal Return).
I have been thinking about Tomas for many years. […] I saw him standing at the window of his flat and looking across the courtyard at the opposite walls, not knowing what to do.
Then in summer 1989, the first line of Peter Handke's Across:
I shut my eyes and out of the black letters the city lights took shape.
A year later, it was Thomas Bernhard's Concrete.

The more one reads, however, the less it seems to happen. Books become more and more alike. They do what novels do. That's all. Sometimes it seems it'll never end. But when I read the first paragraph of Gabriel Josipovici's new, sixty-page novel Everything Passes, it happened again.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Look into the seeds of time

In this unobtrusive, peaceful documentary from 1960 about a young Canadian pianist, look out for Gould playing in his Lake Simcoe retreat, 7 mins 50 seconds in. And in part two, enjoy Banquo the collie's contribution to the discussion about Webern with Franz Kramer. And see more of Gould's furry friend in part three.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Deutschland, doucheland

The pleasantly-surprising headline review in the TLS last week (and which I got round to reading only this evening) was Rectifications along the Rhine, a review of David Blackbourn's The Conquest of Nature, a "wide-ranging and highly original study" showing that "the management of water has been central to the making of modern Germany". It features some startling facts - "More than 2,000 islands and outcrops – comprising a billion square metres of real estate – were excavated out of existence" - and is told from an array of perspectives: "His protagonists include engineers, fisherfolk and peasants, but also eels, alders and beetles."

At 500-pages, it begins to sound like one of those "ambitious" novels many readers seem to want; a grand delta of narratives promising to sluice free the congestion of modern consciousness into one big, becalmed sea. The reviewer Christopher Clark suggests the book is less anachronistic than that.
Blackbourn does not exactly "think like a river", as the environmentalist historian Donald Worster has suggested we should, but his book has a meandering, riverine motion.
This is because his writing
has always been informed by a critical awareness of how grand narratives – whether pessimistic or optimistic – can distort and impoverish our understanding by imposing retrospective coherence on a profusion of contradictory impulses.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A review attached

One has written a review of Ron Butlin's Belonging for ReadySteadyBook (and having mentioned that esteemed site, don't miss the recent interviews with Robert Kelly and James Reidel). I don't quote much from the novel but here's the first one:
It would be a glorious, incandescent, mind-expanding, post-craziness fuck ... and afterwards we'd promise each other the world all over again. Letting ourselves be wounded and healed - we called this love. And, for those brief moments, it probably was. Craziness, then forgiveness. More craziness, the more forgiveness. That was love. That was us.
I mention this here only because I didn't mention there that it reminds me of the Afterword Nabokov adds to later editions of Lolita. He tells of how a reader of the manuscript
suggested that his firm might consider publication if I turned Lolita into a twelve-year-old lad and had him seduced by Humbert, a farmer, in a barn, amidst gaunt and arid surroundings, all this set forth in short, strong, 'realistic' sentences ('He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess. I guess God acts crazy.' Etc.).
I love that. I am drawn to such repetition. Even the repetition of fullstops at the end. Repetition rules.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

More Amis fiction

Confronted this morning with Martin Amis' 12,000-word essay on "Islamism", I felt a tremendous urge to respond. I had to in order to return to the unique calm of Sunday. But it's all too much to absorb and reply in full with any coherence without ruining the entire day. But the day is ruined now anyway.

For Amis, it isn't just Sunday that's threatened. For quite a time I have felt that Islamism was trying to poison the world. So never mind messianic fundamentalists in charge of the most powerful army in world history, never mind greenhouse gases, global corporate capitalism and Simon Cowell, the problem is isolated, violent resistance to Western hegemony in far off lands (with oil). He says the virulence of the poison made him abandon a satirical novel (so it does have its plusses!).
Islam [...] is a total system, and like all such it is eerily amenable to satire. But with Islamism, with total malignancy, with total terror and total boredom, irony, even militant irony (which is what satire is), merely shrivels and dies.
He still managed to write about the last days of Muhammed Atta, which is sullenly, despairingly satirical. Failure is always good for fiction.

Amis compares what has happened in the world with what might:
On our side, extraordinary rendition, coercive psychological procedures, enhanced interrogation techniques, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mahmudiya, two wars, and tens of thousands of dead bodies. All this should of course be soberly compared to the feats of the opposed ideology, an ideology which, in its most millennial form, conjures up the image of an abattoir within a madhouse. I will spell this out, because it has not been broadly assimilated. The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution.
So, on our side the reality of invasion and occupation, on their side the fantasy world of a few. Which do you think worries him? The answer suggests the feats of Islamic ideology are not the only ones that haven't been "broadly assimilated".

Later on, Amis mentions the derangement of Mao to show how institutionalised irrationalism can take over a country. A figure of 70 million Chinese dead is used. No doubt this will become a mantra like so many other figures circulating among empire loyalists. But there's no mention anywhere in the 12,000 words of the very long history of the ideology of capitalism and the number of dead it has caused and is still causing. 70 million would be a conservative estimate, for the post-war period at least. Who's counting? Maybe it doesn't count because it's a coldly rational ideology.

As you plough though Amis' essay, it's worth bearing in mind Jason Burke's (mercifully) shorter piece on Islamism in the same edition of Guardian Books.
The question now, five years after the atrocious day of the attacks, is has al-Zawahiri ["the poster boy of al-Qaeda"] succeeded? It is tempting to point to the bombs in London and elsewhere, to the hideous mess in Iraq, to recent victories of Islamists, to the violent and polarised rhetoric and answer yes. But though a growing number may be answering the call of al-Zawahiri and others, the total remains minimal and the great uprising of the Muslim masses that he hoped to spark has not occurred. His most recent interventions have had a defensive, almost peevish and frustrated air. Yet he and bin Laden are still in Afghanistan - or just over the border in Pakistan - apparently easily evading the clumsy attempts to catch or kill them.
(Why on earth would the enemy not want to catch them? Gosh, that's a tough one). If Burke is correct, where does this leave Amis' fetishistic focus on Islam and "horrorism"? Well, the caricature of reality that constitutes his fiction gives a good indication.

UPDATE: Ellis Sharp has some intriguing links about Amis, Updike and research into Islam.

And here's proof, if proof be need be, that Richard Seymour is Amis's and Hitchen's polemical equal.
Amis's irrational attachment to a racist state in the Levant is only a logical corrolary of the passionate intensity with which he embraces the capitalist Herrenvolk. Its crimes must be externalised.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Lost" in literature: more despair

There's that old chestnut: if Dickens were alive today he'd be writing soap operas.

Mini-series more like.

In his now-infamous essay How to Read, Nick Hornby presents what he evidently perceives as the pinnacle of literary achievement: US readers of Dickens waiting "on the dockside in New York for news of Little Nell". We can now only dream of such cultural prominence for fiction. (Harry Potter novels are perhaps regarded as merely early drafts of screenplays).

So what is the contemporary equivalent of the Little Nell vigil? For me it would have to be Lost. After the first series (i.e. not "season"), I wanted to know what was in the hatch. So when I got the chance to see the second series-not-season, I jumped at it. But even now, after 48 episodes, I'm unhappy. I know what's in the hatch, but it's not enough. I want to know more. It's not a pleasant need. For all the memorable characters and the series-not-season's compelling storylines, there's a void echoing with hunger. As I described in my original post about Hornby's essay, this is despair. Once it is satisfied, it's forgotten. The need for satisfaction would make anyone stand on a dockside and wait for news or, more probably, a burn of a download.

"Dickens is literary now, of course" Hornby added sarcastically, "because the books are old." Presumably The Old Curiosity Shop was like Lost is now. This is the despair popular authors want to foment.

The intriguing question from this is: why Dickens is 'literary' now yet wasn't then?

Following Hornby's logic, it's unclear. He offers only two definitions of "literary" fiction. The first can be deduced when he writes that he has rejected "contemporary literary fiction" from his reading diet because "I am not particularly interested in language". He does not like "prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes". A literary novel is one that tends to be "opaquely written". Yet how can anyone tell if prose is drawing attention to itself? If one likes prose that effaces itself, how can one recognise that quality without it immediately clouding over?

If that point seems sophistical because one recognises it only after being seduced, after putting the book down and reflecting, then what do you do if you happen to think about it during a read? Is that when a work becomes literary? Do you have to avoid thinking throughout a sitting? It seems that is precisely what Hornby seeks when he reads: thoughtlessness. (He certainly seems to achieve it when writing.)

His other definition of 'literary' is that it is educational. Literary books make you think; they "must be hard work" in order to be any good. "But [Dickens'] work has survived not because he makes you think" he insists "but because he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters." His sarcastic remark about this being literary only because it's old suggests that such entertainment is only a sweetener for the dose of education his novels offer about social history.

So why is it I find Dickens hard work? According to Hornby's logic, it's because his novels are too literary. I wouldn't argue with that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The despair of popular authors (part 2)

What is it with popular authors? Not content with their novels steepling on 3 for 2 stalls in WH Smith's, with posters advertising each new smash hit at every bus stop (great storytelling is back in fashion!), with adverts covering tube platform walls and billboards in railway stations, not content either with "the Berkshire vicarage, the house in France, the Aston Martin, the Jack Yeats paintings, the well-stocked wine cellar, the rows of stiffies on the chimney piece, the book-lined study with windows looking on to manicured lawns", they feel it necessary to complain at length about the lack of attention and respect given to their bestselling products by "the literati". Poor loves. Why are they denied the one thing missing from their lives?

It's one of the great mysteries of our age.

In part 1 of my investigation into their complaints, I didn't mention the most prominent article in last weekend's edition of Guardian Books (from where the above list of possessions comes): Lynn Barber's interview with Nick Hornby's brother-in-law, Robert Harris, the author of Fatherland, Enigma, Pompeii and now (herald of farty, out of tune trumpets) Imperium.

Harris shares a grudge with his relative. He particularly hates the sort of 'literary' novels that win the Booker Prize Barber reports. Harris says: 'It must be good if it's difficult. Oldest con trick in the world.'

It's not the first time he's had the freedom of the Sunday papers to express his contempt for all things literary. In 1998, and after appearing on the BBC's coverage of the Booker Prize, he raged in the Sunday Times against the pretensions of the literary circus: "It sets out with the noble intention of making 'literary writing' (whatever that is) more accessible and it ends up doing the opposite". He's not wrong. But Harris doesn't see the prize as the problem so much as the one
that has afflicted English literature for 70 or 80 years: the idea that a proper novel is not primarily a means of entertainment but somehow a "higher calling". [...] The idea that there was such a thing as a specifically 'literary novel' would have seemed absurd in the 19th century, and novelists like Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and Eliot would have looked with bewilderment at the pretensions of the Booker Prize.
Putting aside the problems of such a narrow historical comparison, that "higher calling" is fascinatingly vague. What does it mean - is it part of the "noble intention" of which he speaks? But what's noble about promoting something he sees as pretentious? Perhaps it harks back to the ambitions of the pre-Victorian Romantics seeking a more spiritually-attuned, more authentic literature in contrast to the periwigged games of the Augustans? I would guess for Harris it means just a writing inspired by concerns other than merely entertaining a potential audience. No wonder there's a contradiction. And Harris is sure of the culprits:
Nobody has ever nailed this schizophrenia more brilliantly than Professor John Carey in 'The Intellectuals and the Masses'. 'The spread of literacy to the masses' he argues, 'impelled intellectuals in the early 20th century to produce a mode of culture (modernism) that the masses could not enjoy.'
So it was literacy programmes that caused To the Lighthouse, Ulysses, The Waste Land, The Trial, The Rainbow and The Golden Bowl! And all this time, I thought ...

Lest we forget: the great works of 20th century art were created solely to exclude plebs like you and me.

(The masses, the masses, how strangely that sounds to me!)

As I reported in part 1, such crowd-displeasing novels didn't feature much in the sample edition of our best serious newspaper even though the Booker shortlist is almost upon us. It rather counters Hornby's contention that the broadsheet press is the last bastion against a return to the halcyon days of Victorian fiction in which everyone skipped merrily together through sunlit groves with a copies of Little Dorrit in their hands, far from the sneers of "intellectuals".

So why do he and his brother-in-law accuse the medium, in which they feature so prominently and so regularly, of being dominated by those promoting "a kind of literary apartheid: [where] there are novels people want to buy and novels they are told to buy, and rarely the twain do meet"?

Perhaps it's because sales and marketing hype does not impress critics who have read the book it is selling as much as it does potential readers who haven't, and the brothers by marriage cannot comprehend the contrast. The TLS reviewer Richard Jenkyns says Imperium is "flat-footed from the start" and "curiously pointless". Perhaps he would have said something different had he been restricted to reading the blurb. People who buy the novel tend to have only that to go on, that and the posters, the adverts, the appearances on Channel 4 News (with Harris' buddy Jon Snow) and innumerable press features (none of which "tells" the punter to buy anything, of course).

It's odd too that Harris does not name one Booker-winning author who justifies its becoming, as he claims, a byword for "unreadibility and affectation". In an aside about the negative effects of winning, he reckons Penelope Fitzgerald and Salman Rushdie wrote good novels after winning the prize, while (another buddy) Ian McEwan "to his eternal credit" wrote a readable winner with Amsterdam. So it seems there are a lot of exceptions to his rule. In fact, not one inclusion.

However, in a comic moment, Harris claims that John le Carré is the one writer who "bridges the worlds of the literary novel and bestseller". This is hilarious enough in itself but remember only a few lines before he wrote "literary fiction (whatever that is)". If it's defined by unreadibility and affectation, then that would explain why I don't rate le Carré's novels. So I guess Harris is right: he's a bestseller too.

Curiously, Lynn Barber reports that Harris "regards Imperium as his most 'literary' novel when he claims to despise any such thing". So we might want to look more closely at this novel despite what the TLS says. Harris offers this insight into its inspiration:
It may not be as popular as the others - I hope it is, but it may not be - but I feel it is something worth doing, that is making sense of my entire life, of what I've done and seen and known about.
Pretentious, moi?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A work fury

A fun interview on Sign & Sight with Germany's dinosaur literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Apparently he's written a great deal: it's not a matter of an unbroken will to work, but rather a work fury that refuses to be tamed says Julian Schütt. He's now at work on a huge publishing venture: a canon of German literature. The presentation boxes look like the carriers for cartons of milk at my local supermarket!

In the Romane box there are 18 names and 19 novels, the last of which is Bernhard's Holzfällen (Cutting Timber). While it's gratifying to see Bernhard chosen, this is hardly one of his best. Perhaps the libel scandal that surrounded it gives it more presence among German speakers? Yet Harold Bloom also chose it for The Western Canon. I'm bewildered.

To his credit, Reich-Ranicki admits the novel section excludes too much (quite so: Extinction and Handke's Repetition!). I did the canon he explains because a project like this was what I was missing in my youth. I wanted to know what was worth reading. The canon is neither a directive nor a decree, it's a recommendation for readers. The collection of stories does include Handke, which reminds me that there is no collection of them in translation. In fact, I haven't seen one translated anywhere. More bewilderment.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Four free songs

Daytrotter has four free songs to download, all specially recorded by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. That voice. Two are old favourites, one is new and the other a century old.

The last days of fiction?

In his new book The Sight of Death, TJ Clark is moved to write about a painting by Nicolas Poussin, yet, in doing so, asks:
Can it be that there are certain kinds of visual configuration, or incident, or play of analogy, that simply cannot be retained in the memory, or fully integrated into a disposable narrative of interpretation; so that only the physical, literal, dumb act of receiving the array on the retina will satisfy the mind?
The key word here is satisfy; and I think of the line: It can never be satisfied, the mind, never, the final line of Stevens' poem; an insistence opposed only unsatisfactorily. The mind goes on. It cannot know death. Hence a fascination with what precedes it, what lies beyond, and the eminence attached to pure experience, free from all mediation, reflection or repetition, and so an impatience with art, perhaps even an unacknowledged hatred, particularly of the literary art, the anything-but-dumb act.

Martin Amis' already famous story The last days of Muhammad Atta, printed in this weekend's Observer, is really an extended delay before its inevitable failure to know. The moment the story ultimately seeks to illuminate - the time of life before death, the moment of life becoming death, in this case as Atta's plane hits the tower, the sight of death we have all (unsatisfactorily) witnessed - remains in fascinating darkness.

Atta, Amis writes, didn't expect paradise in death but he did expect oblivion: "And, strange to say" he adds "he would find neither." I presume this means Atta lives on in world history, in this fiction, in our obsessing minds. This might be, I suppose, Amis' way of refusing him oblivion, the only punishment now possible, yet probably the worst. A small act of revenge.

Apart from that, it certainly seems odd to claim that Atta was committed to the crime because, in addition to the jihad, he also needed desperately to separate mind and body. He "had not moved his bowels since May" we're told. Where did that come from? If it isn't fact, I suppose it enables Amis to have some desolate fun with the pathetic corporeality of the idealist. Just before Flight 11 takes off, Atta needs the toilets because just then he is assailed by "the popping, the groaning, the creaking, as of a dungeon door to an inner sanctum - the ungainsayable anger of his bowels". But the doors are locked. It's a neat inversion of that great, liberating moment in modern fiction (liberating from Victorianism at least) when Leopold Bloom loosens his bowels in the jakes, described with relish by Joyce and loved by Amis. Here, Atta can only void himself.

But the fiction can't follow him, and so we remain, unsatisfied. What the story needed was perhaps a frame for the investigation, if it is indeed an investigation. My dissatisfaction with Amis' fiction in general (and most of the big British literary names) is the sense that brilliance obscures an essential satisfaction with the form. Fiction becomes less a source of discovery than an entertainment with pretentions to comment on world events. In Amis' case, the distinction comes in the confidence of the voice and the familiarly arcane choice of words - depilation, marfanic - rather than an engagement with the question, the question of the possibility of engagement. Maybe fiction has to take this route in order to find its own oblivion. After the final no there comes a yes ...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The despair of popular authors (part 1)

In an article that has been discussed by me and others, Nick Hornby claimed that the broadsheet press commonly sneers at readers who prefer to be entertained rather than suffer "opaquely written novels", i.e. the kind that win literary prizes. Evidence for this must come from the tenor of each edition. So let's look at this morning's Guardian Books page.
What's going to upset Hornby today? Well, there are prominent articles on Roddy Doyle, Toby Young and a celebrity chef, plus a story about Wayne Rooney's autobiography, a bookclub focus on Ian Rankin, an interview with Bill Bryson and a review of William Boyd's "pacy espionage thriller".

Oh, but wait, look further down, there's a picture of Gunter Grass! No doubt this will contain conclusive proof. Here we'll cower submissively as some highbrow intellectual type tells us to thrust aside any thoughts of a thumping good read and, instead, to immerse ourselves in Grass' ouevre of (no doubt) dour and unreadable 800-page prize-winning modernist tomes.

Er ... no. It's another news story concerning the "furore" about his life which "shows no sign of abating".

Friday, September 01, 2006

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