There’s nothing like a week off for catching up on the books and music that fall by the wayside during busy times. Here, then, is a quick round-up of recent reading and listening that, if you’re looking for ideas, I can strongly recommend.
Hubert Selby Jr, ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn.’ As brutal and brilliant as I remember it. Not so much a stream of consciousness as streams of despair. The chaotic, hellish world that Selby wants to portray can’t be contained by the traditional form of a book, so syntax, language and structure break down and instead you feel that you’re dropped directly into that world. You find yourself holding your breath when you read it.
VS Pritchett, ‘The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories.’ Finishing this feels like having read 25 different novels so distilled are Pritchett’s stories which are completely new to me. No twists, no epiphanies, they are mini-masterpieces of melancholy. With a few notable exceptions, people either miss or misunderstand each other. They are lonely and lacking in love; they lose and some find each other. What’s not stated is often as important as what’s made explicit. I loved them.
Dai Smith, ‘In the Frame.’ I started this as part of my research for an interview with the author but became hooked and read on in great gulps of hundreds of pages at a time. It’s a sort of history of the South Wales Valleys but an intensely personal one, mixing memoir and personal contact with the people he writes about. And they are not the usual suspects; no leaders or politicians. Instead they are painters, writers, artists, boxers, film stars, photographers. This is history seen through personal interests, obsessions and connections.
Bruce Chatwin, ‘Utz.’ I’ve written in a bit more detail about this here. It cost me just £2 in a perfect second-hand bookshop in Lyme Regis.
Carly Holmes, ‘The Scrapbook’ is an impressive first novel. My detailed review of it appears in the latest Wales Arts Review here. You’ll find a visit to the site very rewarding anyway because there’s a load of good stuff there.
Despite its brisk and upbeat tone, Doris Lessing’s short story ‘To Room 19’ was utterly devastating. Good Friday always reminds me to read John Donne’s poem ‘Good Friday Riding Westward’ and this year was no exception. In it he reenacts the thoughts which led him to converting. Whatever your beliefs, it’s powerful stuff. I re-read Craig Raine’s ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ which still makes you look at things differently. My favourite bit:
Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground:
then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.
After a long period when I haven’t heard much in the way of new music, I’ve been enjoying St. Vincent’s self-titled new album. My favourite so far is ‘Prince Johnny.’ Speedy Ortiz is new to me but I very much like ‘Major Arcana’ particularly ‘No Below’ which has become an instant favourite. I’ve also been reminding myself how good is ‘Star Map’ by Golden Fable. Music in which to lose yourself.