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And My Arse Saw My Angles … Andy’s Inflated Bum Sums Up 2010

January 7, 2011

So like most people I’m trying to lose weight, yeah? And I’ve lost a bit, five or six kilos. Not that much actually. But I’ve kept it off over Christmas/New Year, which is impressive I think. And then I get to the Social Club for dinner and they’ve got this on the menu.

Pork belly. Chorizo and borlotti bean ragu. Sage, mint and pistachio sauce. And here’s me, back to being Mr Creosote.

Actually it looks kinda gross in this picture, although it wasn’t, and frankly I have no fucking idea why I’m inserting photos of my dinner at a local pub into a blog about books. But anyhoo…

As Netty says, I’m not a list person. So I looked at this year’s list (OK, I’m a sort of a list person, just not Netty’s sort of a list person), and I thought, I know what I’ll do. I’m not going to list things in any order. What I’ll do, though, is go through this year’s books and tell you what I think you should read, and what you can read if you’d like, and what you should avoid at all fucking costs.

The good news is that this year there’s nothing you should avoid at all fucking costs. As Netty herself said 12 months, ago, not a Black Swan or a Melancholy Whore to be seen. (I’m still withholding judgment on Pynchon.) OK look, Cave’s fiction isn’t as good as his music and nobody has to read Ass/Angel. But if you’re a big Cave fan and you want to, go ahead. It will probably stop you doing drugs, and that’s probably not a bad thing. (Unless you’re in your early 20s, in which case you should smoke a shitload of dope and realise what your life is really supposed to be and then at about 25 stop, just like that. Except for the occasional choof to remind yourself that you don’t need to smoke it any more. Hey, worked for me.)

Malouf’s Johnno and Byatt’s Possession fall into a category a little higher than Cave’s Ass (ooh err vicar). Both books are good and I can understand why many people consider them great. But I don’t. A litmus test that has naturally evolved between Netty and me is, Does this book make me want to read anything else this person has written? In Cave’s case the answer is “Only if it’s set to music.” In Malouf and Byatt’s case, it’s “Errrr… Maybe…?”

Jean Rhys, for me, is only marginally superior to these two. Wide Sargasso Sea was a far more engaging read that Johnno or Possession but Rhys didn’t strike me as a writer that absolutely had to be further explored. Others this year did. But I’d strongly recommend a couple of hours reading her Bronte prequel, especially if you’re a Jane Eyre fan.

That Dutch bloke whose ridiculous name I can’t be arsed checking right now was pretty cool. His take on the Middle East, Fit to Print, had holes in it, I thought, but they were small holes. He’s got another book out and assuming it’s not about Dutch politics (snore) I’d be interested in having a look.

Faulkner. Faulkner needs to be read. Faulkner demands to be read. Even when he’s not getting it quite right, and I don’t think he did in As I Lay Dying, he’s still doing some pretty amazing things with narrative and language. I want to read more Faulkner.

So that’s six books, is it? Oooh, half way. Goodness, it’s like fuckin’ Eurovision.

Ballard should actually be in the same paragraph as Faulkner but if push came to shove and I had to choose which of those two authors I wanted to read again I’d probably say Ballard. Until I finished typing this sentence, at which point I’d have decided, no, actually, I’d rather read Faulkner. Anyway, As I Lay Dying and The Drowned World – completely and utterly different novels – are both well worth reading, by writers who are well worth exploring further.

In another year Tobias Wolff might well be a couple of notches higher than this. Wollf’s a great writer and his mastery of the short story cannot be denied. His stories should be read by those who love short stories – and I do. In fact they should perhaps be read by those who don’t love short stories. Maybe they’ll realise what they’ve been missing. Although there are other writers who make the point more strongly.

Thom Gunn would be at the other end of this list if it weren’t for the poetry he wrote in his later years. His early stuff is sometimes good but often overly formal, frustratingly obsessed with classical allusions that are lost on many modern readers. His later material is more concerned with what is happening around him, California’s counter-culture, his sexuality, his capacious drug use (Gunn’s recreational habits had a far more impressive impact on his writing than Cave’s). And as a result far more interesting, and far more rewarding, to read.

Interesting fact: Bukowski and Joyce Carol Oates have something in common. Or at least they seem to. I’ve been checking out a few Oates books over the past week or two (Netty will explain why later) and I’ve noticed that in a number of her books she seems to QUITE LIKE CAPITAL LETTERS. As I said in my post about Post Office, Bukowski is one of the few writers I’ve struck who can use caps copiously and not annoy the shit out of me. Having perused a number of Oates’ works, I can’t say the same about her. I haven’t bought one of her books yet, anyway, although that can’t detract from Black Water, which is one of the most awesomely powerful pieces of writing I’ve struck in a long, long time. Read it. You must. And you must read Post Office. And you should definitely read Thom Gunn’s poetry, and Wolff’s short stories, and Ballard and Faulkner are definitely worth a look too.

But.

Drum roll, please.

Hang on. Sorry. What? What? WHAT???

You haven’t read Carver? What do you fucking mean you haven’t read Carver? What?

That’s what someone should’ve been saying to me for years. I didn’t discover Carver until January 2010. Someone should have to pay for that.

Since reading Carver’s selected stories Netty and I have bought his complete stories and his complete poems. In fact we did that a week or two after finishing his selected stories.  That should be testament enough. If I ever lose my job I’ve decided I’m going to become an official Carver basher. As opposed to a Bible basher. I will hit people over the head with a copy of Where I’m Calling From until they submit. And you will. You will submit.

Read Carver. It’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2011. Read Carver. Just do it.

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