Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Forks Over Knives (2011)

Red Hill: A Mining Community by Tony Parker (Coronet Books 1986)

- He says it'll burn me up in flames one day, my husband does, me and my blazing hate. He says it can't be kept up for ever, you've got to forgive and forget. I'll never forget, that's one thing that's sure: and I'll never forgive neither, at least I can't see myself doing. The Coal Board's turned my husband, who all his life's been an honest upright working man, into a criminal. They've made him someone with a conviction, and a criminal record for it. And as well as that they've made him into someone who because of it'll never again in his whole life get a decent job. He did nothing wrong in the first place: but they won't relent and give him his job back. So neither will I relent either. Those people, the Coal Board, Ian MacGregor, Maggie Thatcher, the Tories - I hate every one of them and I'll hate them till my dying day for what they've done to my husband. He can forgive them if he likes, and if he does he's a better person and a better Christian than I am. To me they're the biggest bastards who ever walked the face of the earth, and every morning when I get up I curse them and I curse them every night when I go to bed.

(from 'Me and my blazing hate')

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Football – Bloody Hell! The Biography of Alex Ferguson by Patrick Barclay (Yellow Jersey Press 2010)

And there was politics.

Michael Crick, the distinguished broadcaster, journalist, United fan and chronicler of Ferguson's life, once described his politics thus: 'Like Alastair Campbell's, Ferguson's socialism is pragmatic: like a committed football fan, his prime concern is to see the team win.' To that I should add that he is tribal. His responses are less those of an intellectual than a partisan. In an interview with Campbell for the New Statesman in 2009, he declared: 'I grew up believing Labour was the party of the working man, and I still believe that.' The first reader to respond emailed from Glasgow: 'Ferguson is remembering a dream.'

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (Believer Books 2004)

I know I'm wrong about this book, because everyone else in the world, including writers I love, think it's fantastic, but it Wasn't For Me. It's brilliantly written, I can see that much, and it made me think, too. But mostly I thought about why I don't know anyone like the people Fox writes about. Why are all my friends so dim and unreflective? Where did I go wrong?

Toward the end of the book, Otto and Sophie, the central couple, go to stay in their holiday home. Sophie opens the door to the house, and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there; she thinks about him for a page or so. The reason she's thinking about him is that she's staring at something he loved, a vinegar bottle shaped like a bunch of grapes. The reason she's staring at the bottle is because it's in pieces. And the reason it's in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie. At this point, I realized with some regret that not only could I never write a literary novel, but I couldn't even be a character in a literary novel. I can only imagine myself, or any character I created, saying, "shit! Some bastard has trashed the house!" No rumination about artist friends - just a lot of cursing, and maybe some empty threats of violence.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Modfather: My Life With Paul Weller by David Lines (William Heinemann 2006)

Getting inside the Pavilion was like stepping into a furnace. The floor swam in warm beer and the air was thick with smoke. The noise from the chanting, baying crowd drowned out the support act - a skinhead poet who went by the name of Seething Wells. I could hardly believe it, I mean, putting on a poet to entertain The Jam Army? Then I got it. I got it right there and then what Paul was trying to do. He could have stuck anyone on as support and they wouldn't have survived the audience who were so desperate to see The Jam they would have even booed The Beatles off stage. Paul was also trying to make his audience see that by having someone as support come on and recite poetry, he was distancing himself from the 'Jam Army'. Seething Wells, however, was on fire. I don't mean he was on top form, I mean the man had been set alight. The record company were handing out album sleeves on the way in, and someone had set fire to one and sent it, flaming, spinning through the air, skimming the heads of the crowd like a fiery frisbee onto the stage where it caught the sleeve of his green bomber jacket and in precisely three seconds flat the thing went up like a bonfire. Seething was seriously seething and frantically tried to get his jacket off but it had started melting into him, a roadie ran on with a bucket of water and chucked it all over the poor fat poet and then Seething ran off - it was like a trip to the fucking circus - and then, from nowhere, John, Paul's dad, was on stage and a mighty, mighty cheer went up . . . 'For those of you sitting down at the back, please be upstanding for . . . The Jam! The place exploded.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Papers Of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney (Pantheon Books 1983)

'Oh,' John Rhodes said. 'And Panda Paterson.’

‘Correct, John. Your memory's good.‘ Panda said.

He extended his hand to shake and John Rhodes punched him in the mouth. It was a short punch, very quick and very measured, costing John nothing, the punch of a man in training, emerging from reflexes so honed they seemed to contain a homing device. It was only after it had landed you realised it had been thrown. lt imparted awe to some of the others. as if thought was fait accompli.

The effect was reminiscent of the moment in a Hollywood musical when the mundane breaks into a Busby Berkeley routine. Suddenly, Panda Paterson was dancing. He moved dramatically onto the small slippereened square of dance floor and did an intricate backstep. Then, extending his improvisation into what could have been called ‘The Novice Skater‘ . he went down with his arms waving and slid sitting until the carpet jarred him backwards and his head hit a radiator like a duff note on a xylophone.

‘That's the price of a pint in “The Crib”,' John Rhodes said.

There was blood coming out of Panda's mouth. He eased himself off as if to get up and then settled back. touching his mouth gently.

'Ye've made a wise decision,' John Rhodes said, watching him refuse to get up. 'You're right. Ah've got a good memory. Ah don't know where you've been lately. Watchin' cowboy pictures? Well, it's different here. Whoever's been kiddin' you on ye were hard, Ah'm here tae tell ye Ah've known you a long time. You were rubbish then an' ye're rubbish now. Frightenin' wee boys! Try that again an' Ah'll shove the pint-dish up yer arse. One wi' a handle.'

If you could have bottled the atmosphere, it would have made Molotov cocktails. Practised in survival, Macey was analysing the ingredients.

John Rhodes stood very still, having made his declaration. What was most frightening about him was the realisation that what had happened was an act of measured containment for him, had merely put him in the notion for the real thing. He wasn't just a user of violence, he truly loved it. It was where he happened most fully, a thrilling edge. Like a poet who has had a go at the epic, he no longer indulged himself in the doggerel of casual fights but when, as now, the situation seemed big enough, his resistance was very low.

The others, like Panda Paterson, were imitating furniture. This wasn't really about them. Even Panda had been incidental, no more that the paper on which John had neatly imprinted his message. The message was addressed to Cam Colvin.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni (Melville International Crime 1985)

There was an unbearable buzzing in my eyes. My hand struck, time and again, but its aim was off. Ear, nose, mouth - mercilessly it attacked them all. I turned away, turned back again. No way. This was murder. Finally I opened my eyes and located the damned fly. Fat and black it on the white coverlet. I took proper aim, then got up to wash my hands, taking care not to look in the mirror. I went to the kitchen, put some water on, looked for fresh filters. Before long this activity produced a cup of steaming hot coffee. It was August eleventh, nineteen eighty-three. My birthday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cycle of Violence by Colin Bateman (Arcade Publishing 1995)

I'm not stupid, not stupid at all. I'm just not qualified at anything. I've no exams. Wasn't much cop at school. But I'm bright enough. I'm wasted here. I mean, I can't be a bloody waitress all my life. I can't get a degree in waitressing. I can't go on University Challenge reading menus. What Jamie was doing for me, as well as being my lover, was educating me. I'd never wanted to read before, but he schooled me in it, sitting here talking about the great writers. But it was a curious kind of schooling, all done through a drunken haze, a kind of second-hand education in which I picked up on the enthusiasm but only half picked up on all the facts. Half remembered names and titles. There's nothing like walking into a bookshop in Belfast and asking for Dr. Chicago by Doris Pasterneck."

"It's easily done . . ."

"Or The Day of the Jack Russell."

"Well, I . . ."

"A Pitcher of Dorian Grey. The list goes on. What I want to do well is write. Write my book."

"You've started?"

"A thousand times."

"It's hard, isn't it?"

"You've tried yourself?"

"Many's a time. I wrote a novel once, sent it off to a publisher. They kept it. Sent me back a copy of the Northern Ireland telephone directory, said it had marginally fewer characters and a better plot. I haven't written much since then."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Astrópía (2007)

Bad Haircut - Stories of the Seventies by Tom Perrotta (Berkley Books 1994)

It was just my luck to get Coach Bielski for driver's ed. Even when I played football, he hadn't been that crazy about me. He didn't like my attitude, the way I'd shrug when he asked me why I'd thrown a bad pass or missed a tackle. And he didn't like the way my hair stuck out from the back of my helmet or sometimes curled out the earholes. He'd tug on it at practice and say, "Cut that fucking hair, Garfunkel, or I'll cut it for you. I just got a chainsaw for my birthday." (He always called me Garfunkel, because of my hair and because he'd once seen me in the hallway, strumming someone's guitar. To Bielski, Simon and Garfunkel represented the outer limits of hippiedom.)

(From the short story, 'You Start to Live')

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (Little Brown and Company 2010)

Cruel and unusual punishment, he thought. He had been around violence in one form or another all his life, not always on the receiving end of it, but you had to draw the line somewhere. A small, helpless dog seemed like a good place to draw that line.

He followed the man out of the park. The man's car was parked nearby and he opened the boot and plucked up the dog and flung it inside where it cowered, shivering and whimpering.

"You just wait, you little bastard," the man said. He already had his mobile phone open, holding it to one ear as he raised a warning finger to the dog in case it made a move to escape. "Hey, babe, it's Colin," he said, his voice turning oily, a cage-fighting Romeo.

He frowned, imagining what would happen to the dog when the man got it home. Colin. It seemed unlikely it would be good. He stepped forward, tapped "Colin" on the shoulder, said, "Excuse me?" When Testosterone Man turned round, he said, "on guard."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Colin said and he said, "I'm being ironic," and he delivered a vicious and satisfying uppercut to Colin's diaphragm. Now that he was no longer subject to institutional rules governing brutality he felt free to hit people at will. He might have been around violence all his life but it was only recently that he was beginning to see the point of it. It used to be that his bark was worse than his bite, now it was the other way round.

His philosophy where fighting was concerned was to keep clear of anything fancy. One good, well-placed blow was usually enough to lay a man down. The punch was driven by a flash of anger. There were days when he knew who he was. He was his father's son.

Right enough, Colin's legs went from beneath him and he dropped to the ground, making a face like a suffocating fish. Strange squeaking and squealing noises came from his lungs as he fought for breath.

He squatted down next to Colin and said, "Do that to anyone or anything again - man, woman, child, dog, even a fucking tree - and you're dead. And you'll never know whether or not I'm watching you. Understand?" The man nodded in acknowledgment even though he still hadn't managed to take a breath, looked in fact like he might never take another one. Bullies were always cowards at heart. His phone had clattered to the pavement and he could hear a woman's voice saying, "Colin? Col - are you still there?"

He stood up and stepped on the phone and ground it into the pavement. Unnecessary and ridiculous but somehow satisfying.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011)

I saw a real dead person. It was where I used to live, at the market in Kaneshie. An orange lady got hit by a trotro, nobody even saw it coming. I pretended like all the oranges rolling everywhere were her happy memories and they were looking for a new person to stick to so they didn't get wasted. The shoeshine boys tried to steal some of the oranges that didn't get run over but Papa and another man made them put them back in her basket. The shoeshine boys should know you never steal from the dead. It's the duty of the righteous to show the godless the right way. You have to help them whenever you can, even if they don't want it. They only think they don't want it but really they do.

Friday, August 05, 2011

In America (2002)

One Man, One murder by Jakob Arjouni (Melville International Crime 1991)

They had fled. They had travelled halfway around the world with two suitcases. They had filled out applications, they had been rejected, they had applied again and had been rejected again, they had sought shelter in barns or shared a room with nine others. They had gone into hiding and lived without papers, and now they wanted to get at least these forged ones. Out of the void they had conjured up three thousand marks - they had tried everything just to be able to say, one day: tomorrow I'll sleep late, or I'll save up for a video recorder, I should be able to get one next year, or this weekend I'll get so smashed I'll crawl home, and if a cop shows up, I'll just stand up and pull out my wallet. But they never had a chance. Those who were rejected would remain so: the refugee "in whose native culture torture is a common and transitional method of interrogation:" the refugee "who, if he had not become politically active, need not have feared reprisals - and who was fully conscious of the risks of his activity;" and the "economic asylum seeker" who is labelled a parasite in the world of German supermarkets, as if hunger and poverty were a kind of "human right" for three quarters of the planet's population. He or she was merely the ghost of the "at our expense" notion, never mind the fact that we lived for centuries at his expense, and that he is trying to go where "our" pedestrian malls, "our" air force and "our" opera houses have been built - at his expense. He is a "parasite", never mind that coffee, rubber heels, and metal ores do not grow in the forests of Bavaria.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Brecht's Mistress by Jacques-Pierre Amette (The New Press 2003)

There was a welcoming speech in the hotel salon. As they thanked him for being there, Brecht drowsed and his mind wandered; he was thinking of a very ancient German folk-tale that he'd read at school in Augsburg and later remembered during his stay in California. A serving girl had noticed a familiar spirit sitting near her by the hearth; she'd made room for him and chatted to him during the long winter nights. One day, the serving girl asked Little Heinz (the name she had given the spirit) to show himself under his real identity. But Little Heinz refused. Finally, as she persisted, he agreed and told the serving girl to go down into the cellar, where he promised to show himself. The serving girl took a torch, went down into the vault and there, in an open barrel, she saw a dead child floating in its own blood. Many years before, the serving girl had secretly given birth to a child; she had slit its throat and hidden it in a barrel.

Helene Weigel tapped Brecht on the shoulder to bring him out of his torpor - or rather, his meditation. He sat up straight, put on a brave face and reflected that Berlin was a barrel of blood, that Germany, ever since his teens, at the height of the First World War, had also been a barrel of blood and that he was the spirit of Little Heinz.

There had been bloodshed in the streets of Munich, and modern Germany had been swamped in the rivers of blood that flowed through the old Germanic folk tales. He had come back into the cellar and what he now wanted was, with his modest reasonableness, to pull the child out, educate it, and wash away with cold water the blood that still lay on the cellar flagstones. Goethe had down the same with his Faust, Heine with his On Germany; but the stain was now bigger than ever; Mother Germany was half-drowned in it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Mixing Footie and Orwell

I didn't think my opinion of Joey Barton could get any higher after that quote about England's 2006 World Cup prima donnas - and the funny quip at Lampard's expense back in '07 - but he's gone and topped it in the past few days by quoting Orwell on his Twitter page:

It's not so implausible when you think about it: Barton's been at Newcastle Utd now for just over four years, and I'm sure during the course of that time he's been a regular reader of the North East's premier SPGBer blog, 'Class Warfare', which just happens to have Orwell's self-same quote on its masthead.

I hope the rumours are right, and that Barton does sign for Arsenal. Wenger's teams have lacked that midfield enforcer with a touch of footballing class since Grimaldi left . . . and SPGB's Enfield & Haringey Branch would welcome the infusion of fresh funds to the Branch collections.

Of course, this isn't the first time that an Orwell and Footie have been in the mix. Most people with a passing familiarity with Orwell will know that famous quote of his that football " . . . is war minus the shooting.” but it's only in recent seasons that Orwell scholars have discovered that Orwell's quote was specifically referring to those teams managed by Alex McLeish.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Memo to self

Must update the Booksiveread2011 label - and the other one - on the blog sooner rather than later. It's getting ridiculous.

In mitigation, I have had my reasons for this particular tardiness.

I'd hate for the geeks, dweebs and enormously successful nerds hanging out at Mountain View, California to think that this car crash of a novel was the last thing I'd read.

If it had been, it could have laid claim to being the most important novel I'd ever read . . . the novel that stopped me from reading novels ever again.

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse (W.W. Norton & Company 1959)

The breakfast ceremony at Hillcrest had never been my idea of fun. I had made one disastrous attempt to break the monotony of it, entering the room one day with my eyes shut and my arms outstretched like a sleep-walker, announcing in a shaky, echo-chamber voice: 'Ay York-shire breakfast scene. Ay polished table, one leaf out, covahed diagonally by ay white tablecloth, damask, with grrreen stripe bordah. Sauce-stain to the right, blackberry stain to the centre. Kellogg's corn flakes, Pyrex dishes, plate of fried bread. Around the table, the following personnel: fathah, mothah, grandmothah, one vacant place.' None of this had gone down well. I entered discreetly now, almost shiftily, taking in with a dull eye the old man's pint mug disfigured by a crack that was no longer mistaken for a hair, and the radio warming up for Yesterday in Parliament. It was a choice example of the hygienic family circle, but to me it had taken on the glazed familiarity of some old print such as When Did You Last See Your Father. I was greeted by the usual breathing noises.

'You decided to get up, then,' my mother said, slipping easily into the second series of conversations of the day. My stock replies were 'Yes,' 'No, I'm still in bed' and a snarled 'What does it look like?' according to mood. Today I chose 'Yes' and sat down to my boiled egg, stone cold as threatened. This made it a quarter to nine.