Friday, 19 November 2010

Un, Deux, Trois


I have a bad relationship with long books. First, I am fidgety and impatient. I was raised on chunks and commercial breaks. Second, I only have fifty-odd years left to live. The first fifteen years I spent not reading books and I have some catching up to do. I can’t spend a month ploughing carefully through Infinite Jest, combing for Greek allusions in footnotes. I want to read and assimilate as much as possible before I die penniless in Penicuik.

I’m currently reading 2666, Roberto Bolaño’s thumb-breaking epic, weighing in at 900 pages. Although the book is brilliant, and Bolaño shows mastery of every technique we learned recently in class, I can’t help slipping into a coma. My leg starts twitching. I flick to see how far I am from the end. I look at the spine, measuring my progress in creases.

I really can’t endorse this behaviour. Genre writers like Peter F. Hamilton produce huge tomes so his fans won’t have to read any other writers (and because indulgence is permitted). High-brow pomo artistes like Barth or Foster Wallace adhere to the “literature of exhaustion” credo and produce artistic statements that could crush a toddler.

I mean, what is going on? What are we to make of such shelf-hogging narcissism?


Winter is approaching and I am in two minds. November and December are months of desolation and despair, when the year comes to an end and people get older and nothing interesting happens and my belief in humanity to do something remotely nice once in a while slips into a bin. My heart is a block of ice, so I have an affinity with subzero temperatures.

The problem with people is that they aren’t unreal enough. I want my real-life people to behave like characters in books. I want to meet that girl with the bird obsession in Nicola Barker’s Reversed Forecast. I want to have lunch with Deadeye Dick. Have a check-up with Dr Zack Busner. As long as people keep behaving properly according to their environment and role in society, the line between fiction and reality will never shift!

Misanthropes are innocent souls who know that all people want to do is cut their own slice of happiness from the pizza of human endeavour. No harm in that, but sharing a slice once in a while wouldn’t hurt.


After last week’s class I went home and pondered my first attempt at a novel, a behemoth called The Reason Not to Jump. What struck me was how I had planned the structure, narrative position and tone for each section in incredible detail. I had somehow mapped these things out without straining. It validated the belief that the best ideas happen when you are in your teens and everything else is an attempt to replicate them.

But of course, that’s bollocks.


  1. Then you would definitely hate Les Miserables. I read that in 7th or 8th grade, and several times it bored the socks off me.

  2. I haven't read any Victor Hugo, or "Huggie" as his mates call him. I'm impressed your school did the French Romantics, though. We got Orwell and Grassic Gibbon. It was a trying time.

  3. I am tolerant of LONG books, what I seem to be intolerant of are SLOW books--too many literary techniques or things that have little to do with the plot and I have to slow way down. THAT, I don't have time for at the moment.

    And I hope you DO meet some of those people quirky enough for books... and then write about them. You will get feedback that they are unrealistic. *rolls eyes* I swear it's true. they are out there. they are just too weird to write about.

  4. You would loathe Infinite Jest. I loathe it and I haven't started reading it yet.

    That is very true. Still, I'm content to leave them out my stories and write about very normal boring people, as long as I meet them.

  5. Oh, I didn't read it for school. I was just reading it for fun, to see how it compared with the musical.