Last night I finished reading Killer Tease ("Burlesque was her life but, in the seedy underbelly of Brighton, it might be the death of her"), the new book from Brighton's Pulp Press. It's one of the most enjoyable books I've read in ages. The prose is fast-paced and clean, the action violent and it's set in Brighton, name-dropping places with glee. It's not a perfect novel, with a few mistakes ("North Laines" rather than "North Laine" being a notable local one), but it's so exuberant. This is a book that doesn't care whether you like it or not, just gets on with its job.
I picked up my copy for a fiver from the Punker Bunker in Sydney Street and I'm now looking forward to the next Pulp Press book. Here's an interview with Danny Hogan, the writer (I love his attitude to books) and a more in-depth review.
Last Sunday I read at Short Fuse's erotica night. I was more nervous than normal since the material was very different – I don't often stand in front of large groups saying words like 'clitoris'. It was less stressful than I expected and I was happier with the reading than usual. In fact the only problem was the intro I wrote, which was evidently less amusing than I'd thought.
I really enjoyed the other readers too, but best of all was Catherine Smith. Her reading of a filthy story called Telepathy was a revelation, one of the best readings I've seen. All in all a lovely and inspiring evening. I want to write some more erotica in the future.
The problem with this weblog is that I don't always have exciting things to talk about but when too many things are happening I don't have time to post. Consequently the weblog documents the moderately exciting times in my life.
Life has been pretty good lately, apart from a disastrous trip to the park this afternoon. First a bird used me for a toilet and then I feel over in the playground. Somehow I avoided swearing and was very brave and didn't cry, but – MY KNEE HURTS!
I'm going to spend the rest of the evening sulking.
Sven Birkerts has written a lovely essay, Resisting the Kindle, which questions the idea of e-books. Birkerts wrote the fascinating Gutenberg Elegies and, while I disagree with most of what he says, I think his critiques are important.
Birkerts "[perceives] in the move away from the book a move away from a certain kind of cultural understanding", with the e-book reader exchanging access for context. Birkerts sees literature as "deeply contextual and historicized", giving an example of what he means:
"Somebody referenced a poem by Wallace Stevens but couldn’t think of the line. Her neighbor said “Wait—” and proceeded to Blackberry (yes, a verb) the needed words. It took only seconds. Everyone bobbed and nodded—it was the best of all worlds. My response was less sanguine. I imagined an info-culture of the near future composed entirely of free-floating items of information and expression, all awaiting their access call. I pictured us gradually letting go of Wallace Stevens … as the historical flesh-and-blood entity he was, and accepting in his place a Wallace Stevens that is the merely the sum total of his facts… Turning up a quote by tapping a keyboard is not the same as, say, going to Bartlett’s—it short-circuits all contact with the contextual order that books represent."
Derrida claimed "the end of the book is the beginning of literature". Technology threatens a certain type of reading. But it also ushers in new forms of literature, new forms of writing and understanding. I imagine e-book readers will, in time, provide their own forms of association and context, without being bound by the physical constraints of books or libraries. Imagine being able to follow Steven's life and work through every book published on him and not needing to wait for inter-library loans to check citations. Birkerts' essay outlines some risks of electronic books, but doesn't make the case that they outweigh the possibilities and opportunities of escaping the book.
One thing I love about Brighton is how many things there are to do. I've been out to three very different nights this week and had a great time at each:
- On Tuesday flashbrighton hosted a showing of Sita Sings the Blues. The film was as good as I hoped, a series of overlaid retellings of a traditional Indian story, the Ramayana. It's remarkable that such an inventive and well-produced work is freely distributed. The folks at flashbrighton were lovely and I wished for the first time that I was a flash coder. Thanks!
- Wednesday Waterstone's hosted a reading by Vanessa Gebbie and Alison MacLeod. Vanessa read a fantastic story from her new collection, which is apparently going to have two fronts like the old Ace Doubles, one side funny and the other more serious. It was lovely to hear Alison's reading, an extract from a story about the Ikea riot which persuaded me to give the collection a try. Vanessa's account of the evening is here.
- Last night was Hammer&Tongue. Abi Curtis was the local poet, reading some fantastic pieces from her forthcoming Salt collection. Also appearing was Spliff Richards. It was the longest set I'd seen from him and very impressive. His work is intricate and uplifting with an incredible delivery. There was also a great atmosphere, which made it worth the late night.
I'm also very happy because of my run yesterday. I didn't have much time and ended up running faster than usual, cutting over a minute off my best time for 4 miles. I've definitely got my speed back. At the weekend I'll find out if I have the endurance for the marathon.
One of my favourite books is American Psycho. The constant bored tone Ellis uses is stunning. I've never seen fiction handle boredom and disconnection so well. When the film came out I decided not to watch it. I couldn't see a movie replicating the things I admired about the book. The requirements of a Hollywood movie would sensationalise a book I loved for its lack of sensationalism. I didn't want this completely different work to alter the way I thought of a novel I liked.
I feel the same way about Watchmen. I love the book. I remember arguing for hours with friends about which characters were the most moral, who was 'right'. Then I watched the first trailer and heard Rorscach's voice. In my mind Rorscach speaks in a weasely voice, closer to his secret identity than the figure he cuts in costume. In the clip I saw he sounded more like the trailer-man.
I love the novel Watchmen. I love the way it's paced, the speed at which it unfold when I read it. I love the details in the background, the detours the story takes. Like Alan Moore I can't see these things working in a movie.
A couple of links from LinkMachineGo sum up two other reasons I don't want to see the film: the tacky associated merchandise ("we're society's only protection"?) and that it's not likely to be a good adaptation.
I hope everyone enjoys the film, it's just not for me.
One of the most useful things I learned on my masters was the importance of citation. It's not enough to provide a fact: you need to be show where it came from.
I once spent a few hours in the University library tracing William Burrough's assertion that Tristan Tzara caused a riot by performing random poetry on stage. I'd seen the fact quoted in various places but ended up fairly sure it was an exaggeration on Burrough's part (as unlikely as that sounds). By a process of repetition the story had gained an academic credence.
Another important thing I learned was to be suspicious of common sense. If 'everyone knows' something it's worth figuring out where that belief comes from and what its limits are.
David Aaronovitch has written a brilliant article in the Times investigating the statistic that we are caught on CCTV 300 times a day. It's a fantastic demonstration of how 'everyone' can come to know something. (via As Above)
What did I do at the weekend?
Well, I spent Sunday revising a story, which involved reading a great deal of Anais Nin. Reading industrial doses of erotica is a strange thing. After the first hundred pages or so it all blurs together. You turn the page, hoping for a surprise and… Oh wow, people fucking again.
Still, I persevered, finished the story, and sent it off. I received an email this morning to say it's been accepted and I will be reading The Dirty Bits at Short Fuse's erotica night this Sunday.
The story is on it's 3rd title, having previously been called Dirty Books and Madrugada. I originally wrote it back in 2007 and it's waited on my hard drive since then. The revised version is much stronger, and features excerpts (samples?) from Anais Nin and Georges Bataille. It's going to be an interesting piece to read aloud, a little showier than my usual pieces.
Short Fuse is on March 8th in the Komedia's Studio Bar and costs £4 entry. The night also features short stories from Tom Rice, Afsaneh Gray, Naomi Foyle and the poet Catherine Smith. It should be quite a night.
Back in December Roger Ebert raved on his blog about an obscure movie called Sita Sings the Blues on his blog. The movie is described as "An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw". Reading Ebert's description I decided I had to see this film. But the article ends on a sad note: "the songs Annette Hanshaw sings (composed and recorded in the 1920s!)
in the film are still restricted by copyright, and therefore no one is
free to distribute a film that uses them, no matter how brilliant the
film may be."
Then yesterday an event turned up in the upcoming RSS feed for Brighton: the local Flash programmers group are showing the movie. It turns out the rights issues have been resolved and the film is now available for free download.
I don't yet know if the film is as good as promised but I'm excited to see the Internet is working as it should be. You read about an odd, obscure film, then a locally organised group put on a showing. No marketing or advertising required, just a couple of appropriate RSS feeds.