Category Archives: Books

Spare a Thought #LivLitFest 2019

Is there a room where the famous writers can retire following the public event? I hope so. They’re all in attendance, supporting each other—it’s a veritable feast of literary dining for the paying public—but most wear a wearied look, forced to perform. You have to look closely to see it. They’re smiling, sure, but a commercial mask, a veneer separating them from the gathered crowd—the quiet, reserved members of the public, and the annoying, needy ones alike. A relatively new form of low for the literary geniuses must be the ‘posing for a selfie’ craze. There’s the mandatory line for book signings. Fair enough, you expect that. But now it’s not just a signature and polite chat with each person in the queue. Now, they come round to your side of the table. Most without even asking. They just assume it’s fine. They don’t see it as an invasion of your personal space, where you get to smell them, whether you want to or not, as phone swipes into camera mode. Wine on breath. Lipstick on lips. Perfume squirted goodness knows where. Lingering odour of tea (dinner). Faint waft of gum disease. They want to put their arms around you. You have to smile, look pleased to be a part of this. It seems to take an eternity. It’s rather unpleasant. I’m next in line. I can see the author’s utter distaste for this, but they’ve bought a book, so what are you gonna do? I offer to take the picture, so it’s not really a selfie. This, for two reasons. One: it makes a nicer picture for the couple in front of me. They both get to be in the frame with their literary idol. Two: it speeds the process, saving the literary genius from sitting through more of this torture. You see it in the eyes of the literary genius. Like a cow, drained of milk. Teets sore, struggling to lactate. That’s what the smile looks like. It’s a smile, but not a smiling smile. Aiming to please, you can see that, but the reality of the situation seeps through. You have to ask yourself… Is any amount of money worth this? My name, yes, it’s…


Infinite Jest @20 & @EmWatson (Book Clubs) #2

From my last: “[…] on the forty-five minute bicycle ride home from the train station, the latter part of which involves riding down a few hundred yards of pitch-black, serial-killer kind of country lane.”

Here is said image:

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After listening to one of the Infinite Jest @20 book club’s participants disclose that she cannot now brush her teeth without thinking of Infinite Jest‘s Don Gately, I am minded of an association of my own. Riding the final leg of the journey home down this particular path, in the dark, consistently evokes a childhood memory. As a group of 6/7 year olds my friends and I were fascinated with/horrified by tales of the Red Brick Wall – a wall made of red brick that had a path running by it and which surrounded private land next to a heavily forested area (all very secluded and quiet back in the day). During a session of who could tell the scariest story, someone came up with one about the Red Brick Wall. The wall had a small wooden door that was always locked. The tale goes that one night a couple drove their car down the path, it was raining and all that, and the car broke down unexpectedly, close by the door in the wall. The driver got out and thought of knocking on the door and maybe getting some help. It all goes quiet for a time and the passenger gets nervous/anxious about what has happened to the driver. Suddenly, the driver’s head lands upon the bonnet of the car, attached by rope, and at the end of the rope is a stick, and holding the stick is a crazed, disfigured mad-person who intends to do a similar thing to the passenger.

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And on the Emma Watson front, still working through the bell hooks book – nothing creepy there.


Infinite Jest @20 & @EmWatson (Book Clubs)

February has been a month of book clubs. After reading a tweet about thoughts on what to name Emma Watson‘s feminist book club, #OurSharedShelf, I joined (via goodreads) and got on with reading The Colour Purple, a book I never would have picked up in a million years, mostly because I’d already watched the film. With respect to TCP, the thing I found most intriguing was the use of the letter (epistolary) as a way of moving the narrative forward, along with the familiar beginning to such letters: Dear God.

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The next book club I chose to participate in requires a tad more effort as it’s in the real, as opposed to the virtual, world. Writing this comes after a five-hour round-trip, by bicycle and train, to University of Liverpool, for informal discussion on David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (@20 (years)). A nice little link between the two books, which isn’t necessarily important but it expresses one of those “a-ha” moments where I manage to find something in the text that speaks of something else, is the similarity in voice of Celie (TCP) and Clenette (IJ), which brings on a whole conversation about the rightful (or wrongful) appropriation of dialect, and which further links with a small section in Wallace’s “Authority and Usage” essay. There certainly is plenty to think about on the forty-five minute bicycle ride home from the train station, the latter part of which involves riding down a few hundred yards of pitch-black, serial-killer kind of country lane. It’s a good job I like reading.

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Esta es Voluntad?

Just a very quick post as I’m finding it hard to tear myself away from the figure of St. Theresa of Avila, whom I’m reading about because of the reference to Bernini’s sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. And so this post manifests itself in the aftermath of Reggie Yates’ documentary, more on which here, the second in his series titled Extreme UK (#ExtremeUK), which deals with a certain kind of anti-feminist rhetoric (wryly titled “meninism” by some Twitter users, a term I happen to like, funnily enough).

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Should we be surprised at the “disenfranchised,” “disempowered” men speaking such anti-woman (as much as anti-feminist, if we’re being honest) sentiments? After all, it seems to hail from a tradition dating a long way back into our shared human history; in fact, we may pause to consider Paul’s words here: “The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

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Some doubt Paul’s misogyny, and in some respects that’s really beside the point, for it is in the countless ways in which such words have been used to keep women “in their place” over the centuries that the key issue is to be found – we need only look to St. Theresa herself for a concrete example of this. Anyway, back to the book (Alison Weber’s Theresa of Avila and the Rhetoric of Femininity (which is very good)).

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Writing of Importance – Christy Birmingham (@christybis)

Poetry is an art form I admire, mostly because it is the one form of writing that I have most struggled with in order to ‘find a voice.’ I am a huge fan of Plath’s work,[1] obsessively so, and so it was with much delight that I came across Pathways to Illumination, Christy Birmingham’s debut book of poetry. A brief bio taken from Ms. Birmingham’s publisher’s site (@RedmundPro) helps give a sense of what the overall work is about:

Christy Birmingham is a freelance writer who resides in British Columbia, Canada. She writes poetry to help heal from her past and reach out to women who are struggling. This sense of purpose began after the end of a toxic relationship, when she met the heavy hand of depression and attempted to take her own life.

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(click the image to go to the publisher’s site)

Birmingham seeks to help women understand they are not alone when they are depressed, anxious or abused. She has struggled with all three situations and is proud to live independently and healthy today. She is also a cancer survivor. Her poetry carries a unique perspective given the trauma she experienced before age 35.

The purpose with which Ms. Birmingham writes is evident from turning the first page, where one is met with a barrage of disturbing imagery constrained in a form that is disciplined, thereby creating the kind of tension that lends great power to the poems that chart the tumultuous nature of this ‘toxic relationship.’ There is also the imagery that repeats throughout, which lends a sense of the torment and difficulties that the subject of the poems exhibits. An example of this occurs most strikingly in the opening section of poems: The Toxic Us. In ‘Sink to the Gravel Bottom,’ where the image of the spine, the backbone of the human form, is evoked, we find the subject subsumed by the tide of emotion that batters her ceaselessly. Throughout much of the collection, the subject struggles with a spine that is bent, bowed, and twisted into painful contortions by the mind and body of another: ‘When your posture is firm / I know that my own back bends.’ Consider further the image of the ‘posture of importance’ held by the subject’s tormentor, as he stands with his ‘face of fury.’ The imagery of the spine is deployed across the collection as a kind of violated refrain, which draws the reader back to a consideration of the human form in crisis – a very clever piece of manipulation by the poet in question.

The opening and closing chapters, in their form, are very much akin to what is described above, whereas the middle sections, charting the loss of identity, the fragmentation, the dissolution of a person struggling with her own existence, break their constrained form somewhat, giving the reader the sense of the subject’s attempts to struggle through loss, despair, and towards eventual recovery. Pathways to Illumination is an important contemporary work in terms of situating a discussion of domestic violence, and should not be limited to those women who are struggling with circumstances similar to that of the subject of the poems, but should be widely read by those men and women who have a predisposition to exert both mental and physical torture on ‘loved’ ones. The term, domestic violence, does not sit easy with its inherent contradiction – that of violence in the setting of a ‘family home’ – but its message must be heard.

[1] And perhaps I should find some solace here, because Plath herself struggled to find a voice for a good while, sitting with her thesaurus and dictionary, teasing out the words with care but with pain.


@WorldBookNight 2015: Skellig

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Less than a week now, and I have 18 copies of David Almond’s Skellig at hand to give away on World Book Night 2015. I first read the book as an undergraduate, on a module created by Professor David Rudd, then of University of Bolton, now of University of Roehampton. The module (Children’s Literature 1945 to present) reading list, from memory, included: E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Louis Sachar’s The Holes, Skellig, and a couple of others I can’t quite remember.

Skellig is such a beautiful read, full of mythology, riddled with Blake, and it clutches at that most primitive of human drives – the gut-wrenching need to forge a bond with an other.

“Love is the child that breathes our breath / Love is the child that scatters death”


Things The Grandchildren Should Know

Bought in Union Square, NY, and on my book shelf for at least two years, possibly three, before I got round to reading it because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a post-reader of the book – being a pre-reader usually helps avoid disappointment.

Not your usual ‘rock star’ (or whatever) crappy book. This guy has some serious stuff to say, not only here but in his music, and is way more articulate and interesting than many of his contemporaries. An easy going everyday prose makes it a light read, whilst the subject matter clashes harshly with this, making it even more of an essential read to boot.

E has to be in contention for the title of ‘Least bull-shitty music performer alive today with the vast majority of his/her dignity in tact,’ and so you’d be foolish to pass this one by…

He also sports the most awesome beard, but that’s extraneous at best.

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