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Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care by Lee Server

Guilt appears to play a major role in the selection of my next read. In lots of recent decisions it has been pretty evident, and it is intriguing that one should feel guilty about buying (or possessing) a copy of a book without having read it. In my case, I suspect, it’s because I’m a big old mess of guilt, stemming from a child-like disbelief that I appear to have gotten away with “it” for nearly 34 years. What “it” may be is open for debate.

"Do you want to hear the
story of old Love and Hate?"
Nevertheless, I guilt-tripped myself into finally reading this stupendously thick biography of icon Robert Mitchum by the ever studious Lee Server and am endlessly glad I did. Despite the impact it had on my relationship (it appears that the subsequent and repeated renting of black and white Mitchum vehicles on my wife’s dime is an act with internecine repercussions) I literally rushed home from work at lunch times to cram in another paragraph between mouthfuls of cous-cous salad, dog-releasing-into-the-garden-to-prevent-damage-to-property and washing up. Not that it’s all that surprising a biography* when one boils it all down, but it does represent a snap-shot of a life well-lived, and of a man so adept at going with the flow that it was almost as though the flow was going with him. And, in essence, it’s just a “here’s the next entertaining thing he did, and here’s another” type roll call of classic cool comportment, with no major departures from any other Hollywood eye-opener. However, the subject is the star, something to which all good biographies (and probably also reviews) should aspire, and in this case, the star is such a paragon of anti-establishmentarianism (“paragon” being an amusingly apposite word for it despite the satirical undertones) that he could not possibly NOT appeal to me, romantic old fusspot that I am.

Of course, a badly written biography therefore would do nothing but slap me in the face with a wet haddock. Instead, I was basking in the warm embrace of prose that never tried to be something it was not, grammar and syntax that echoed that of Mitchum himself, and masses of superb contextualising evidence that did nothing but support a balanced and comprehensive report on the life of a man who despite his clear flaws and unapologetic (and in fact, undefended) opinions was someone I would probably liked to have shared some time with. But only a little: I’m quite the lightweight these days and that goes equally for drinking and fighting. In spite of my early reservations (about size, quality, encroaching apathy) at page 660 when I realised the rest was taken up with copious references and notes, I was suitably upset!** If I had to be one of those guys who make a fantastic and frankly disturbing connection with a movie star, then I would probably be one who was ridiculous in his adoration of this one. Server is a great biographer (of Hollywood stars) and I would urge any cinephile to read it, just as I would urge any fan of well-tempered biography to do the same.

And lastly, quoting verbatim as I don’t have my copy with me, I would love to repeat to you one of my favourite Mitchum anecdotes:
When on set with Loretta Young, a devout and some might say prickly Catholic, he was amused when an assistant came over to explain her curse box system for those who swore on set – it was fifty cents for ‘hell’, a dollar for ‘damn’ – so, imperturbable as ever, and whilst making eye-contact with her across the room, he asked in as loud a voice as possible, “Just how much does Miss Young charge for a ‘fuck’?”

*I should clarify that it IS a surprising biography in that it comes to 660 pages without any direct input from the man himself.
** It doesn’t help that, as with all linear narrative posthumous biographies, you know they die at the end...


How's about that then?

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…