Archive of March 2009

Tue 17 Mar

Beer, Chandler, Weldon, Smart, Smith, and Updike.

In an ideal world I whould really have made at least six posts since my last one.  But I have been having a period where it has been hard for me to get online and other parts of my life simply assume more priority.

Last month the library reading group had selected "Man walks into a pub" which is subtitled as a Sociable history of beer, by Peter Brown.  Apparently he is a local author and the library will likely be inviting him for an event.  Well I hope the members of the reading group are not there!  The book was criticised quite heavily, then again it is obviously no work of literature.  It does give a fairly exhaustive history of beer and pubs.  I found it odd that the author chose to name personal friends in various contexts, even adding footnotes to insist that these were their real names.  The author works in advertising, and it shows up particularly towards the end of the book.

I had to break this book up with a number of novels, it was so indigestible.  One of these was "The Long Goodbye" by Raymond Chandler which was thoroughly enjoyable.  I had the feeling I was reading in black and white almost, if that makes any sense.  I wondered how he managed to come up with all those metaphors and similes which are the hallmark of the genre, and one he more or less invented.  I also loved observing how Chandler manages to make social commentary on America, one of the Detectives gives a great speech about how he hates the advertising and packaging which the Americans buy into and he often finds that after he has seen enough advertising he no longer wants to buy the product.

Advertising and Alcohol could almost have been an alternative title for the post.  I was reading Fay Weldon's "Mantrapped" and discovered that she started out in her career working as an advertisement copy writer.  I actually found the format of this book unpalateable, she interleaves autobiography with a fictional story that parallels it.  I abandoned the book - which is a very rare thing for me to do!  But not before I discovered that Fay Weldon shared an office with Elizabeth Smart!

I have also read Elizabeth Smart's "By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept" recently.  This was a new experience for me.  The novel is not strictly narrative, although one is left at the end with a very clear idea of what the events behind the writing are.  I found this powerfully evocative of what it is to be in love.  But not in a good way.  The sort of love that is doomed, but is totally overpowering and all absorbing.  I am not sure I shall ever be able to look at a chalice in the same way after reading this.  The book had to be ordered up from storage and the library copy had pencil notes all over it, I know some people like that, but in this case I found it a bit annoying.

I had been reading Zadie Smith's "Autograph Man" for the longest time, and finally got around to finishing it.  The story picks up and becomes more engaging towards the end of the book, but I did not find it as enjoyable as I had found "On Beauty".  I'm going to read "White Teeth" soon, so that will be interesting.  I did enjoy reading the account of Alex arriving in a bar and having the idea to take a drink for every letter of the alphabet!  Particularly since I was reaching the end of the beer book at the time.  However, starting with Absinth was clearly a recipe for disaster (no doubt Advocaat would have been a safer choice!).

I cannot make such a neat link for another book I read, which was John Updike's "Beck is Back".  I do like the way Updike writes, and with his recent sad demise the library had dug up a number of his works from storage and put them on display.  I did not fancy re-reading any of the Rabbit ones, so I chose this.  I wonder if any part of it was self-referential?  (Beck is an author who had ha da long "dry" spell and then after being badgered by his wife at the time comes up with a long awaited novel).  I think Updike is probably better known for the way he is so very pre-feminist in his writing.  Also he gets a very hard time whenever he writes about sex.  Fortunately I think this book largely suffers more from his latent sexism than any of the hilarious prose arounf the subject of sex (though come to think of it I think at some point nipples get compared to funnels on a ship!).

I shall have to try to keep the blog going now with more regular posts on particular books - there are at least two more I have read already which I should post about soon...