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Books of Note

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Not surprisingly, like a lot of John Darnielle’s music, particularly those songs on the album The Sunset Tree (Pale Green Things springs to mind and is very much worth listening to), his writing only slowly reveals itself and its narrative direction. Not in any turgid or tedious fashion, but rather in an unhurried, gentler and more thoughtful way. Universal Harvester rolls gently along its path with only a few disconcerting and probably deliberate hiccups. It starts in Iowa in the 1990s with a young man, still living at home with his father but unable to leave because of the weight of his mother’s death, years before, in a car crash. The trauma tethers Jeremy and his father together like the gravitational pull of a dead star in a comfortable and predictable but numb orbit, but it’s never something that either of them can discuss openly.
Jeremy works at a VHS rental store, so we’re assuredly early-Worldwide Web era. His job is simple, repetitive, and keeps him and his father in entertai…

The In-Betweeners


"Golden Bollocks" talks
football and tragedy
Not everything I read makes it onto the pages of this blog. Indeed, of some books it pains me to say I may well be slightly embarrassed to admit having read them, being slightly superior and a somewhat jaded critic of the popular milieu. However, what sort of chronicler of intertextual flow would I be if I were to omit those texts that fill the void between the titles carefully chosen by me to illustrate what an esoteric and highly educated reader I am?

Therefore, I've chosen to humble myself by exposing those little items of brain candy that I occassionally treat myself to, behind closed doors of course. Those shavings of Occam's Razor I call, The In-Betweeners.

For those of you who don't want to know the scores, look away now. Equally, for those who don't give a monkeys about football, you may avert your gaze for a paragraph.
Kenny Dalglish snuck in between Portis and Hunt by virtue of the fact that if I hadn't read it now, it would have become one of those irritating books, written by the living about a period of time yet to have ended, that is out-of-date before I got around to reading it. Indeed, I suspect the paperback edition is going to have a whole lot of guff about contract negotiations and summer transfer targets missed and hit and likely other such nonsense as to render the book more unreadable than Dalglish's swaying narrative has already done. Nonetheless, for a footballer's biography, it's not as bad as, say, Ashley Cole's or, God forbid, Rio Ferdinand's. And, as a collector of rather tawdry Liverpool biographies, it would have been a betrayal of the club and the ethos to have not bought and read this. Okay, you can come back now.
More Travis McGee (#5 I think)
from master MacDonald

Travis McGee is John D MacDonald's knight-errant. A sun-browned boat bum, living on the proceeds of his sporadic employment aboard the Busted Flush, a boat won during a poker game and moored permanently in the Florida Keys, McGee takes "jobs" when his funds run low, or in this case, when his friends get themselves killed. He takes 50% of that recovered and lives for another summer in idleness and forgetting. Lots of great dialogue, some rather wobbly but noble eviceration of the soul, and action all over the shop characterise the series (21 volumes no less) and all thrills are delivered without graphic sex scenes (all done with suggestion - and there's lots of suggestion) or resorting to the shock of foul language. MacDonald is a champ of pulp fiction, and rumour has it that Oliver Stone and portly Leo Di are working on a big screen portrayal! Fame at last.

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What Readers Are Reading

Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino

Now is as good a time as any I suppose to admit that I regularly confuse Italo Calvino with Umberto Eco and when struggling for the name of one of them, invariably come up with the name of the other. What value does this add to a review of either’s work? None whatsoever. I just thought it would pay to be honest up front, so that if I start talking about semiotics, the discourse of literary criticism, or beards, then you’ll know my train of thoughts has switched tracks and is heading for a bridge under construction.
Of course, reading the Wiki pages on the two of them (to make sure I was talking about the right fellow) I noticed with some dread that Our Ancestors is one of the best known works of the most translated contemporary Italian writer (at the time of his death) and here I am, trying to make sense of it in my own personal context. Well, I’m always going to be treading down some fool’s heels so why should I care if it’s actually most people? Indeed, Calvino mentions in his own i…

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.
There, that’s out of the way.
I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.
I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Before you start, read this disclaimer:
Fans of Neil Gaiman beware – I don’t tolerate you very well, despite counting myself amongst you. It’s nothing personal (about you – it’s very personal to me), and I believe it’s Neil’s own fault for being such a very good writer. Please read on through the fan-bashing to the bit about the book. Thank you.

Neil Gaiman is an annoyance to me. I really (REALLY) liked American Gods but found that as soon as I mentioned this fact to anyone, I got one of two responses: nose-turned-up snobbery of the most scornful sort, or sickeningly gushing über-fanaticism, if that isn’t tautological. I don’t know which is worse. The snobs I can dismiss as most will be operating within the conceit that Gaiman is fantasy and therefore unworthy of further study or consideration – they are very unlikely to have ready anything by the author. The fans, though, start dribbling on and on about the time they met him in Bath Waterstone’s or how much better he is than the Latin …