I haven’t read any fiction since last summer, and then this week I read Revolutionary Road. The plan had been to get stuck into my dissertation reading on my tube journeys but AS IF there is a place for Slavoj Zizek on the northern line at 8.30am. So I picked a paperback off the shelf on Monday morning and for the past seven days I’ve been living in 1950s Connecticut.
Well, actually, no. I haven’t been living Revolutionary Road, I’ve been living in a palpable sense of relief. Seriously. THANK FUCK my life is good right now, because reading this book when you’re in a difficult place must put you on suicide watch. Richard Yates’s writing is so wonderful, his characters so completely fraught with terror about their decisions, it doesn’t really matter that the decisions they have to make are different to mine. It just matters that they’re terrifying decisions. And each one can go a million different ways.
Everything I’ve seen this week - the show that we’ve been doing at work that I’ve already seen once before, then RomCom by Glen Neath and a piece of writing by Jess Latowicki at Forest Fringe on Friday, then tonight Mies Julie at Riverside Studios - everything has been watched through a veil of Revolutionary Road Relief. I’ve been so fucking grateful that I’ve not become a freedom fighter; not become complacent in a boring, easy, comfy relationship; not been shackled with an urgent need for pretty dresses and kitchen appliances; not been tied to a hometown that offers me nothing. At Mies Julie tonight I was so fucking grateful for my own life and my own directionless decision-making that I actually started the standing ovation. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. It was such a visceral, bleak, can’t-even-breathe performance that it was really tough. Just like reading Revolutionary Road has been this week. Like watching a slow-motion car-crash, constantly believing that there’s an opportunity to change the course of the story but then everything ultimately turning to shit anyway. I’ve been able to read Revolutionary Road in little bits, two or three chapters at a time, depending on how long I’ve had to wait for a Charing Cross train. Getting to my desk at 9.30am has felt like a welcome rest from an emotional battleground. I’ve been able to pause the car-crash to live my life, but the never has the car stopped crashing.
It’s a brilliant, exhausting, ordeal of a book. Totally recommended. Maybe wait a few days before attempting Mies Julie though. I feel like I need a whisky and a dark room.
I had to go into Crewe this morning to sign on for the first time, and then I had to go to the library because YOU CAN’T PRINT YOUR CV AT THE JOB CENTRE. I’m glad I did though. Did you know that you can borrow books from libraries FOR ACTUAL FREE???? It’s amazing!
I used to spend all my school holidays in Macclesfield library. Every single day. Dad was always trying to get us to go walking places in the bloody Peak District but I’d worked out that if I left for the library early enough, I wouldn’t need an anti-outdoors excuse. I’d read everything in their teenage fiction section several times over. All of Sweet Valley High, all of Point Horror, everything by Christopher Pike. Before that, all those make-your-own-adventure things and The Saddle Club. Then when I was 14 I discovered wine and boys. So long library!
Somewhere in my early twenties I became the kind of person who buys books. Fuck knows why. I never had any bloody money. I blame Hay-on-Wye. I’ve got so many books now that they’re currently sitting in my parents’ shed because I can’t afford to house them appropriately. Plus I went through a big phase of buying IMPROVING literature that’ll never get read. God, think of the trees.
And then today I joined the library. I joined in Crewe but - get this - I can use the one in Sandbach too, and all the others all over Cheshire. Fucking MINT. I got the book about radio by that poet guy from Latitude who wrote a poem about Gomez, John Osborne, and a Nicola Barker novel and she’s ace. She wrote a book with a guy in it whose toenails were so long they curled over and tapped on the floor when he walked. MINGING. And I got a thing about grunge and the Mark E Smith autobiography which is just bound to be the best bitter ranting since the one by that dude from The Auteurs. And a Daphne Du Maurier and an Evelyn Waugh and an Andrea Levy and a thing by John Niven, who is good on twitter even though I wasn’t entirely convinced by Kill Your Friends when that came out. And they’re all free and I have them all until AT LEAST the 23rd of July and it’s perfect timing because Dad’s about to start nights so I won’t be allowed telly or radio for aaaaages.
ALL HAIL THE LIBRARY!!
Back at the band’s hotel, Nicky was thrown out of the bar for wearing only his boxer shorts. James collapsed on his bed having drunk so much that he temporarily went blind. Richey got into a fight with an Irish businessman about Catholicism. Sean, ever the sensible one, ended up at a rave with 2 Unlimited.The library was closed again today so I’ve been reading Simon Price’s Manic Street Preachers biog. He tells me on twitter that a lot of it is bullshit. I’m pretending otherwise.
Remember, it’s just maybe, someday, sometime, somebody will pick you up and look at your picture and read your message, and carry you in his pocket, and lay you on his shelf, and burn you in his stove. But he’ll have your message in his head and he’ll talk it and it’ll get around. I’m blowing, and just as wild and whirling as you are, and lots of times I’ve been picked up, throwed down, and picked up; but my eyes has been my camera taking pictures of the world and my songs has been messages that I tried to scatter across the back sides and along the steps of the fire escapes and on the window sills and through the dark halls.
This is from Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory, but I found it quoted in the prologue to Dorian Lynskey’s new-ish book about protest songs, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, which is a great title.
I’ve finished uni for the summer now and I’ve had a holiday and my boyfriend’s been away, so I’ve rediscovered reading-for-pleasure, and I’ve been reading some absolute fucking gems. I think that I’m better at choosing books now, possibly because I’m so, like, old and wise and stuff, yeah? but probably also because I’ve put enough years between myself and my failed English degree to have stopped bothering reading the stuff I think I’m supposed to. I can see people on twitter talking about the latest David Nicholls and Caitlin Moran books and log into Amazon without hearing that niggling “but you haven’t finished The Trial yet” voice.
Ali Smith has got a new one out, called There But For The, which whisks you away into childlike imaginings where it’s always summer and enigmatic people show up to make all the characters examine themselves deeply. I love Ali Smith. No, really. Like, ACTUALLY LOVE HER LIKE A FAMILY MEMBER. She’s just the most incredible, amazing, perfect writer, and I know I’ll be able to read There But For The another ten times before I stop finding amazing new things hidden in it.
As well as the Ali Smith one, and One Day by David Nicholls (totally tragic btw, if not quite so nuanced), I’ve been getting back into music biogs and non-fiction, like the Dorian Lynskey thing (although I’ve only just started that) and the embittered rantings of Luke Haines in Bad Vibes and Patti Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I bought that one because she read from it on Radio 4’s Book Of The Week when it first came out, and I remember thinking she had a wonderful reading-aloud voice. I wish she did my internal monologue of dissertation thoughts and future plans and relationship autopsies. She’d make it all sound so much more VITAL and DYNAMIC. Even if you have no idea who Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe are, it’s a beautifully written story about two young people discovering who they are, as artists and just, y’know, in general. And the edition I have has an epilogue which made me absolutely weep with how wonderful the world is. Soppy fuck.
I’m looking forward to my final year of uni, because I’ve chosen decent modules and I’m interested in my dissertation topic, which helps, but I’m also mega-excited about getting out of Leicester and having my life re-start. Going back to uni has been a wonderful decision and I don’t regret it at all, but I have kinda exiled myself for three prime years. I just hope I can get a decent job quickly enough, so that I can come home to read or go out to the theatre and just absorb myself in my interests again without the pressure of expectation. My degree is at least 50% just learning stuff about the arts but next year I’ll be able to do that without the deadlines. If I want to spend six months listening to every protest song listed in Dorian Lynskey’s appendices, then I can do that in my own good time. Can’t fucking wait.
(Just to keep you in the loop on other stuff, as I’ve been quiet of late: I’ve been on holiday to Marseille, done a whole bunch of overtime working on a heritage project in Northamptonshire, got good exam results - *exhales with relief* - and my Dad had a pulmonary embolism, which was a little too exciting for my liking. He’s fine now though. They pumped him full of this clot-busting stuff that made his blood so thin his gums bled for hours. He’s back at work next month, just in time for our holiday in Suffolk, which includes a weekend at Latitude. And then it’s Edinburgh, for which I’ve already booked a ridiculous number of shows. Still taking recommendations though, if you have them.
This summer’s going to fly by.)
So I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a lady at Canongate Books. She’d found me on Twitter and noticed I was a David Shrigley fan so she was offering me a copy of his new retrospective collection. I was all like “ummm… I don’t really do ‘proper’ reviews anymore because I’m a cynical bastard who hates everything” but then she was like “it’s okay, we’re just trying to drum up a bit of interest on Twitter so a couple of tweets’ll be fine”. I didn’t tell her that I tried to crowd-source my dinner a while back and not one of my followers voted in either the two categories I offered. It was a fucking disaster. Had to eat pizza and a carbonara ready meal. (These hips don’t lie.)
But it is in situations such as this that I am reminded of my intention to bring down the system from within, until we are living in a left-of-centre intellectual paradise and all school leavers can distinguish between a zither and a harpsichord. SUBVERSION FOREVER! FUCK THE SYSTEM!!!
David Shrigley I love you and I’ve loved your stuff since I was about this big and I’ve already got two of your books and a poster of massive thumbs that you drew and about SIX postcards and the extra stuff in this book that I’ve never seen before is amazing, especially the bell that you ring when Jesus comes back and the one with Newcastle in between heaven and hell and the pigeons Timmy the squirrel has fucked and I am an Arts Management student so I would like to do work experience with you as your assistant/tea maker/paintbrush cleaner/whatever. I also think you would win in a fight with Antony Gormley who is a twat.
So yeah. This book’s okay I guess. Might tweet about it. Might not. Whatevs.
Dahl’s life story, it turns out, is less a normal human biography than a series of grisly and fabulous yarns that stretch back 30 or so generations. He was a direct descendant of the Scottish hero William Wallace, whose family got hunted out of Britain in 1305, after Wallace was hanged and beheaded. They ended up in Norway, where, centuries later, Dahl’s great-great-grandfather, a Norwegian pastor, escaped a church fire by stacking Bibles against a wall, climbing them, and throwing himself out a stained-glass window. Dahl’s father, as a child, had to have his arm amputated after a mishap with a drunk doctor. His uncle introduced himself to his aunt by rescuing her from a fire that killed 100 people.NYmag.com on Roald Dahl
The fact that you are a unit of labour whose mind and body are purchased for an allotted time to be at the service of an organisation does not in itself preclude intrinsic motivation. If you write down all the different tasks you perform in your job, you will find that some of them give you more flow than others. If you can, angle for them. Of course, you may be stuck in a job which has no flow whatsoever. If so, you need a new career, which may entail some retraining and a major change. However, this is not often necessary. Once you start going with the flow, the surprising thing is that often you start doing better in your work, giving you more options for what to do next, moving steadily towards posts with greater and greater elements that you find intrinsically satisfying.
Guess who’s been reading pop psychology? Mmmm-hmmm.
This is from Affluenza by Oliver James.
Steve paused. What did he think of Kyle’s book? All the pop culture references had been totally lost on him, and with all of the technology it discussed, Steve had felt like he’d been reading a NASA manual on how to fix a lunar module. However, ‘I do think you tapped into something universal,’ he said. ‘The not wanting to get out of bed aspect of the first chapter. The notion of no longer wanting to go on with life and wondering what possible benefit could come of decades and decades of life past one’s prime when all of life’s big strokes have been made, when one is left only with regrets and no options. That I liked - the sensation that grief is like a werewolf that moves into your house one day and never leaves, and every time you open a door or round a corner, it’s there, lying in wait.’From The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland. Ace.
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’
So it goes, indeed.(via ronbailey)