Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford (Vintage Books 1935)

'The Union Jack Movement is a youth movement,'  Eugenia cried passionately, 'we are tired of the old. We see things through their eyes no longer. We see nothing admirable in that debating society of aged and corrupt men called Parliament which muddles our great Empire into wars or treaties, dropping one by one the jewels from its crown, casting away its glorious Colonies, its hitherto undenied supremacy at sea, its prestige abroad, its prosperity at home, and all according to each vacillating whim of some octogenarian statesman's mistress -'

At this point a very old lady came up to the crowd, pushed her way through it and began twitching at Eugenia's shirt. 'Eugenia, my child,' she said brokenly, 'do get off that tub, pray, please get down at once. Oh! when her ladyship hears of this I don't know what will happen.'

'Go away Nanny,' said Eugenia, who in the rising tide of oratory seemed scarcely aware that she had been interrupted. 'How could anyone,' she continued, 'feel loyalty for these ignoble dotards, how can the sacred fire of patriotism glow in any breast for a State which is guided by such apathetic nonentities? Britons, I beseech you to take action. Oh! British lion, shake off the nets that bind you.' Here the old lady again plucked Eugenia's skirt. This time however, Eugenia turned round and roared at her, 'Get out you filthy Pacifist, get out I say, and take your yellow razor gang with you. I will have free speech at my meetings. Now will you go of your own accord or must I tell the Comrades to fling you out? Where are my Union Jackshirts?' Two hobbledehoys also dressed in red, white and blue shirts here came forward, saluted Eugenia and each taking one of the Nanny's hands they led her to a neighbouring bench where she sat rather sadly but unresistingly during the rest of the speech.

'We Union Jackshirts,' remarked Eugenia to the company at large, 'insist upon the right to be heard without interruption at our own meetings. Let the Pacifists' - here she gave her Nanny a very nasty look - 'hold their own meetings, we shall not interfere with them at all, but if they try to break up our meetings they do so at their own risk . . .'

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Man Who Lost His Wife by Julian Symons (Penguin Crime 1970)

'Think it's a bore,' Bunce repeated, and laughed in what might have been a meaningful manner. He turned to the sports page in the paper, as though reading an account of the previous day's play would provide some final answer to his questions. Gilbert closed his eyes and saw the cheek he had kissed at parting, wonderfully smooth. Why had she not kissed him on the mouth, did she now find him repulsive? Such ideas were alien to him. He was startled when Bunce said emphatically, 'Sex.'

One of the batsmen had been bowled, his middle stump knocked out of the ground. 'What?'

'That's why you get a kick from it.' He tapped the paper. 'You use the ball, see, and you try to get rid of the stump. See what it says here, Herman uprooted the middle stump and that's what just happened now, right?

'Yes, but -'

'Boy, that bowler's uprooted his middle stump all right, it's a castration symbol, see? And those pads the batter wears, he's protecting his stump with them. He wants to hit that ball, get the damn' thing away from him to the boundary, the limit. Get that ball away, he's saying, I don't want it near my stump. You read what Melanie Klein says about bat and ball games?'

'I can't say I have.'

'They symbolize a fear of sex, keep it hidden, that's the thing, destroy it if you can. And the white clothes, what do they mean but purity? It's a hell of a funny game.' The players went into the pavilion. 'That's it then, glad to have seen it.'

'They'' be coming out again. This is the tea interval.'

'I guess I've seen enough.' With cricket satisfactorily explained Bunce rose to his feet.

Peep World (2011)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette (City Lights Books 1981)

Martin Terrier had no visible reaction when he grasped that Anne had left for good (if indeed he grasped it). During the night, he had audible reactions: he moaned or maybe groaned in his sleep, making that noise that others had called blabbering and had even tried to decode.

Every now and then, these days, Terrier still blabbers in his sleep. Otherwise, as a waiter in a brasserie, he is normal. He performs his duties properly, even if he is sometimes physically clumsy. It has recently been noted that his clumsiness increases when he drinks. Late at night, young people occasionally have fun buying him drinks until he behaves in an eccentric manner. He has even climbed up on a table and bleated like a sheep, interspersing this with grand operatic arias. Each time he is brought to such extremes, he gets angry and violent immediately afterward. But he is not dangerous, for he has indeed become so very clumsy that when he tries to hit someone, he succeeds only in falling on his face.

He lives in a small apartment.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Strike for a Kingdom by Menna Gallie (Harper and Brothers 1959)

The miners' strike in 1926 lasted from May until December. Then the cold beat them. They came out demanding an increase in the minimum wage and the eventual nationalization of the industry. They were not troublemakers for the fun of it, they were not Marxists out to destroy Capitalism, they did not think of themselves as "one of the Factors of Production," but they felt they were poor devils having a raw deal and they had had enough. Their strike, for most of them, had little to do with economic theory. They were sick of working underground in the dark, getting silicosis and accidents galore for two quid a week - and this only for the lucky ones who were at work. On the dole a single man got seventeen bob a week. This was a strike of Oliver Twists, and the Owners had much in common with the Beadle.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reheated Cabbage: Tales of Chemical Degeneration by Irvine Welsh (W. W. Norton & Company 2009)

As far as it went wi me it wis aw her ain fuckin fault. The cunts at the hoaspital basically agreed wi ays n aw, no that they said sae much, bit ah could tell they did inside. Ye ken how it is wi they cunts, they cannae jist come oot and say what's oan thir fuckin mind like that. Professional fuckin etiquette or whatever the fuck they call it. Well, seein as ah'm no a fuckin doaktir then, eh! Ah'd last aboot five fuckin minutes wi they cunts, me. Ah'll gie yis fuckin bedside manner, ya cunts.

Bit it wis her ain fault because she kent that ah wanted tae stey in fir the fitba this Sunday; they hud the Hibs-Herts game live oan Setanta. She goes, - Lit's take the bairns doon tae that pub it Kingsknowe, the one ye kin sit ootside, ay.
(from 'A Fault on the Line')

The Descendants (2011)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fast Times at Ridgemont High - A True Story by Cameron Crowe

In the summer of '79, I had just turned twenty-two. I discussed the idea for this book with my New York publisher. Go back to high school, he said, and find out what's really going on in there with the kids. I thought about it over a weekend, and took the project.

I had attended Ridgemont Senior High School in Redondo Beach, California, for a summer session seven years earlier, and those eight weeks had been sublime and forbidden days, even if it did mean going to school in the summer. I normally attended a rather strict Catholic school, and there were many of us who believed that all our problems would be solved, all our dreams within reach if we just went to Ridgemont public high school.

In the fall of '79 I walked into the office of Principal William Gray and told him the plan. I wanted to attend classes at Ridgemont High and remain an inconspicuous presence for the full length of the school year. The object, I told him, was to write a book about real, contemporary life in high school.

Principal Gray was a careful man with probing eyes. He was wary of the entire plan, and he wanted to know what I had written before. I explained that I had authored a number of magazine profiles of people in the public eye.

"Like who?" he asked.

I named a few. A president's son. A few rock stars. A few actors. My last article had been on the songwriter-actor Kris Kristofferson.

Principal Gray eased back in his chair. "You know Kris Kristofferson?"

"Sure. I spent a few weeks on tour with him."

"Hell," said the principal. "What's he like?"

"A great guy." I told him a few Kris stories.

"Well now," said Principal Gray, "I think I can trust you. Maybe this can be worked out."

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi (Seven Stories Press 2000)

Grandad started scooping water onto the stones again, ignoring his sons' protestations that they were still made of traditional Finnish hardwood. Instead he declared that they had all become idle layabouts, that Tornedalen had been conquered by knapsut and ummikot and that what he regretted most of all was not smacking them more often when they were little. But it was too late now. Nobody understood any more the feeling of sitting in a sauna where you'd been born, where your father had been born and his father before him, where the family's corpses had been washed and shrouded, where kuppari, the medicine men, had bled the sick, where children had been conceived and where generation after generation of the family had cleansed themselves after a week's work.

His voice broke and, with tears in his eyes, he announced that life, my boys, is cold and pain and lies and rubbish. Take just one example: the revolution he'd been waiting for since the Pajala transport workers came out on strike for the first time in 1931, where the hell was it, had anybody seen any sign of it around here lately, well, had they? Only once had a spark of hope been lit, one day when he'd gone to Kolari to buy some provisions, and among the crowd of customers in Valinta Firberg's he'd caught a glimpse of Josef Stalin with a cart full of meat. But Uncle Joe had obviously decided it was a waste of time coming to Pajala.

A bottle was handed to Grandad as a crumb of comfort amidst all the heat, and he splashed a drop on the stones as well. A whiff of fusel oil drifted towards us. Grandad passed on the bottle, wiped his nose on his arm and said that life was a load of shit anyway and death wasn't far away. But he was still a Communist, he wanted to make that clear once and for all, and if on his deathbed he started rambling about seeking forgiveness for his sins and asking for Jesus, it would be no more than confusion and senility and they should stick a plaster over his cakehole. He wanted everybody to promise they'd do that, here and now, in the presence of his family and other witnesses. The fear of death was nothing compared to the fear of going gaga and talking twaddle at Pajala Cottage Hospital for anybody to hear. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Toy Collector by James Gunn (Bloomsbury 2000)

Our basement had a paneled corkboard ceiling. You could climb a ladder, push up the panels, and hide things in the space above them. Through the years the space housed chewing gum (my father despised the cracking sound), fireworks, smoke bombs, cigarettes, love letters from Stacey Kees, magazines with naked people, witchcraft tracts, porno videos, anarchist newsletters, condoms, a pair of handcuffs, alcohol of various grains and proofs, pills, grass, coke, a Graphix bong, a foam vagina, a .38 revolver, and many other useful items not sanctioned by the Gunn family government. The space's longest resident, though, was Scrunch 'Em, Grow 'Em Dinosaurs, known to the authorities only as The Lizard Game. Back in the early seventies my mother would probably have turned us in had we not outwitted her by hiding our contraband in the basement ceiling. She seemed all right, but after you had lived with her for four years you knew she'd turn rat if the circumstances were right. Due to renovation the space is now gone. Neither my brother nor I know what happened to the toy.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Rise of Gerry Logan by Brian Glanville (Delacorte Press 1963)

It was the openness of the face that struck me most, more even than its intelligence. Openness, in the sense of wanting to know, was what really set it apart from all the other faces in that dressing-room. They were heavier, of course, they hadn't the same friendliness, the unexpected welcome, but above all, they were closed, they didn't aspire. They knew what they knew, and that was enough; they knew it at twenty-five, which was his age, they'd know it at thirty-five, and they'd know it still - no more, no less - at forty-five. But his greeting had more than friendliness, it had eagerness, too, as though he might find through me some part of what he wanted to know.