Monday, August 31, 2009

Gather round your wireless...

...because tonight, from about 11:30, I will be discussing the best and worst of the past decade with Aasmah Mir, Neil McCormick and Zara Rabinowicz on BBC Radio 5live. Let me know if there’s anything I should mention. Apart from plugs for the book, obviously.

(Expect more of this sort of stuff in the coming weeks. Sorry.)

PS: It’s here for the next week; from about an hour in.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The book of Daniel

Stan of Bête de Jour infamy recently bemoaned the state of being An Author Who Is Not Dan Brown; in WH Smith, he was offered 50% off The Lost Plot or whatever DB’s latest extravaganza is going to be called, which is bad enough if you’re just a run-of-the-mill sentient human being, but if you have your own book on the market, that you know is better than Brown’s but your sales figures will be about a squillionth of his, it’s pretty depressing.

So it was with some trepidation that I entered Waterstone’s in Croydon today (yes, am back in the temperate zone). The till chap scanned my copy of Loops (the Domino/Faber muso periodical) and informed me that the Nick Cave novel, an extract of which is included therein, will be published next week.

“And my book’s published the week after that,” I said, and immediately worried whether I sounded too pushy.

“Oh right,” he said, “I hope we can get some signed copies.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” I said, took his business card, and strolled off. There’s the cultural landscape mapped out for you, I pondered: on one side, WH Smith and Dan Brown; on the other, Waterstone’s and Nick Cave and me. And, of course, Stan Bête.

I slipped the receipt into my wallet, and only then noticed at the bottom the half-price offer on the new Dan Brown.

PS: And here’s Expat@large with yet more evidence of Brown’s essential shiteness as a writer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Winging it

On Saturday I shall be embarking upon a longish plane journey, and just in case a combination of Kate Hudson movies, articles about luxury watches and scented towelettes doesn’t sustain me, I’m thinking of taking a couple of books. But what to pluck from the pile? Any suggestions gratefully received.

Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
“A wildly original novel of erotic fulfillment and spiritual yearning.”

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
“ extraordinary feat of imagination and of style funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece.”

Will Self, The Book of Dave
“Will Self is such an overpowering presence in his own books that it’s sometimes difficult to tell what he's actually written.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills
“If you need all mysteries to be solved and all plotlines to be resolved, this book will frustrate you to no end.”

Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World
“This is a book not about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else.”

Charlotte Roche, Wetlands
“It's a famous woman talking about vaginas – of course it’s going to sell.”

PS: Scott Pack offers his criteria for chucking books out. Is there some variant of this I might be able to use?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009


Mary Pols in Time, reviewing Julie & Julia, the first big-budget feature film of a book of a blog:
There are memoirists like Child who write about what made them famous, or infamous. There are unremarkable people who write about a remarkable thing that happened to them. And there is the 21st century memoirist, who makes him- or herself interesting in order to write about it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The trouble with Harry

Just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s story collection Nocturnes, which isn’t bad – I don’t think Ish is capable of bad writing – but is, it must be declared, a little on the slight side. The subtitle, ‘Five Stories of Music and Nightfall’ says it all really: there are five stories; all involve musicians; all take place, at least in part, as night falls. And, uh, that’s about it, really. No buttoned-up butlers, no cloned teenagers, no pianos in the toilet.

The best of the bunch – and the one in which music is least central to the narrative – is ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, which involves a 40-something language teacher staying at the London flat of some rather more successful university friends. Ray (the teacher) and Emily (half of the successful couple) once bonded over a mutual appreciation of the Great American Songbook; which makes it especially jarring that Ray refers to the work of ‘Howard Arlen’, especially since it’s a Harold Arlen song that gives the story its title. (When I saw David McAlmont in London last year, he said that Arlen had been his favourite composer for many years, but he hadn’t realised it, because he’s a wee bit anonymous when set alongside the likes of Gershwin and Porter.)

Of course this may not be a mistake on Ishiguro’s part. He’s renowned for the unreliability of his narrators, so perhaps it’s a subtle hint that Ray doesn’t really know as much about music as he thinks, like Patrick Bateman not being able to distinguish the Beatles from the Stones. But it does feel rather similar to Julian Barnes’s booboo in Arthur and George, in which the Jesuit-educated Conan Doyle appears to confuse the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception.

I need to be careful here. Ishiguro’s writing fiction, as is Barnes, and that offers any number of get-out clauses for factual imprecision. I write about reality, and unless I’m going to pull the postmodernism defence, readers and critics would be fully justified if a book or article of mine includes something that just ain’t so. Moreover, my next book, The Noughties, aims to cover a whole decade, which means they’ll be entitled to point out errors not only of commission, but also omission.

Maybe I can redefine myself as an unreliable author.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Deckchairmen of the board

Apparently upon my recommendation, the lovely Geoff has been rediscovering The Korgis; just to move the goalposts, here’s the band from which they evolved, Stackridge. I have decided to adopt the clarinet player as my sartorial role model:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lost Symbollocks

First mainstream media mention of my Noughties book, in the midst of Andrew Collins’s witty yet thoughtful analysis of Dan Brown's lasting appeal.

PS: It would appear that the current definition of an intellectual - or perhaps "a so called interllectual" - is someone who doesn't think TDVC is very good.

Dewey Dewey, oh no, me gotta go

Awful Library Books is a fun, newish blog, set up by a couple of Michigan librarians who have set out to create
...a collection of public library holdings that we find amusing and maybe questionable for public libraries trying to maintain a current and relevant collection.
In this sense it’s like the splendid Plaid Stallions, in that it pokes gentle fun at things that used to be current and relevant, but now seem faintly ludicrous. For example, this fascinating tome from 1993:

The concern is apparently that a young person coming across such a tome might think, “Hey, these old farts who run the library think we use big phones with those spiky bits coming out the top. And her shirt looks a bit Primark. Bollocks to that, let's go and rob the 7/11.”

Which would surely be a problem if the only reason people used libraries – the only reason people read books – were the Gradgrindian pursuit of the facts contained therein. But surely some people come to look at the books themselves; books like Ms Skurzynski’s fine work, a relic from 1993, a time before most people had cell phones, a time before txt and Twitter; a time of Whitney, not Britney; a time when the vast majority of Europeans didn’t have a bloody clue what the World Trade Center looked like. They wouldn’t read that book because they wanted to buy a new phone; they’d read it because they were interested in what people 16 years ago might have been thinking, doing, saying, buying, reading.
Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row.
—Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why 0 wire?

When the wireless connection fails on my laptop, as seems to happen quite regularly, I get the following message:
None of your preferred networks are available.
Which is annoying on two counts: first, it should really be "None of your preferred networks *is* available", since "none" is singular; but also because when I want to complain about Apple's lousy grammar, I have to use Small Boo's computer.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Class Waugh

I’ve long felt uneasy about my fondness for the writings of Evelyn Waugh, simply because the man was such an utter bastard. I’ve just come across a piece detailing some memos that he wrote when two of his books were being considered for Hollywood adaptation. (Neither happened.)

The first, on Brideshead Revisited, surprises only because it contains so many errors of grammar and spelling. Maybe he didn't take as much care when writing to mere Americans; or maybe his novels had the benefit of a good proof-reader.

But it’s the note about Scoop that’s a real jaw-dropper. On the decision to move the setting of the story from Africa to Europe, he writes:
It is appreciated, however, that this is a question of higher policy involving race relations in the USA and that if, for the moment, niggers may not be treated as the subject for comedy, dagoes must suffice.
And then:
It has lately been demonstrated that cinema audiences do not know whether the films they see are spoken in Italian or English. It is useless to write down to their level. Try to produce a work of art.

Friday, August 07, 2009

You break his heart, I break your face

John Hughes didn’t write great films; he wrote some OK films that meant, and continue to mean something to me because I was about the right age, and went to high school in North America at about the right time, and was a bit of a square peg, if not really a rebel (Duckie, not Bender).

But he was good on the details. Maybe it was a bit naff to use Rolling Stones references to name the main characters in Some Kind Of Wonderful. But at least he picked the cool ones (Keith, Watts, Miss Amanda Jones). Someone like Spielberg would have called them Mick, Woody and Ruby Tuesday.

John Hughes, 1950-2009

PS: And, via Cath Elliott, comes this remembrance.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


The things you find when you self-Google... The Footman was apparently created in the early 70s as a curmudgeonly counterpart to the horribly ubiquitous Smiley. You know the rest of the story: Smiley became associated with everything from acid house to Nirvana to e-mail, while the rival went Betamax.

Obviously the world would have been a far better place had the Footman, with his cynical, pessimistic demeanour, achieved cultural supremacy. But would he have ended up in Watchmen?

Saturday, August 01, 2009


I suppose if you’re going to keep your loved one's ashes, you may as well keep them inside a replica of your loved one’s head. What does strike me as a little icky is the idea of taking the likeness at the moment the loved one realised the brakes had failed.

(Via Cynical-C.)