Thursday, 30 September 2010

My Month in Novels (Sep)

Amazon Sales Advisor: Greetings, MJ! I’m Lorna, your Amazon Sales Guide. From your account, it looks like you read lots of bewks! Have you checked out our list of bestsell—

Me: Let me stop you there, Lorna. You can stick your bestsellers.

ASA: Ho-ho! Isn’t he wacky, ladies and gents? We love that impish Scottish humour! You just don’t care, do you? Ha-ha-ha!

Me: Umm.

ASA: So what did you read this month, MJ? I’m sure the people don’t care, ‘coz they reads their own bewks, but if some bewk-loving imp like yourself finds this post, maybe they’ll find something!

Me: That is my hope.

ASA: Oh, isn’t he haughty?

Me: Shut up.

ASA: Ha-ha-ha! Priceless.

Me: I read
Tom RobbinsAnother Roadside Attraction. It was—

ASA: £8.99 at Amazon. 14 used and new from other sellers.

Me: Listen, Lorna. If we’re going to do this, I’m going to need you to shut up. We have many books to get through and your incessant interruption is starting to get on my—

ASA: OK, OK! So touchy, isn’t he? What did you think of Tom R?

Me: Well, I thought the ride was exhilarating. The central thesis of the novel—God is dead and humanism rocks—was well argued, but the characterisations were flawed. Too many wacky hippies discoursing on philosophy at an advanced level. Still very funny though, and so cult it hurts.

ASA: “So cult it hurts!” Ha-ha-ha-ha! Can we put than on our consumer reviews section?

Me: No. Fuck off.

ASA: No need for that.

Me: Yes there is.

ASA: I don’t think I like you anymore, MJ.

Me: Well, you know where the door is.

We apologise for the interruption to this month’s novel round-up. Normal service will resume tomorrow.


1. Tom Robbins: Another Roadside Attraction

Tom Robbins was recommended to me aeons ago by a friend (now an occasional friend). I confess a little disappointment with Another Roadside Attraction, but the depth and range of ideas explored in the book is amazing.

I loved the ludicrous metaphors, the freewheeling insanity of language, the satirical humour and the intelligently argued discourses on the death of religion.

On a craft level, I felt the plot could have used a huge pair of scissors, and many of the characters suffered from having the same voice, or the same habit of launching into erudite philosophical treatises for no reason.

So with a little trimming this could have been a classic. It certainly packs a mean wallop and sits pretty on the bookshelves of atheists and agnostics alike.

2. REYOUNG: Unbabbling

Darkly fascinating debut (and only) novel from an odd Russian linguist styling himself with the solo nomenclature. And why not?

This novel is divided into three parts, each written in a different narrative register. The first part, "Unbabbling", is in the first person and tells of a Vietnam vet's ascension from hell to, uh, another hell. The style is furious, bile-filled and fun.

"Hell Squared" is the shortest section, and the least interesting. A po-faced story of a street criminal writhing in his own filth, it pads out the novel but is sorely lacking in irony.

"Manhole," the longest part, certainly isn't lacking in irony. It tells the surreal tale of Erde, a hard-working construction worker who stumbles upon a corporate plot to build a deadly bridge. He is blamed for the accident and thrown down a manhole as punishment, whereupon he becomes a celebrity and then gradually retreats into an underground world of striking unusualness.

This is the weirdest, fiercest novel you will never read.

3. Roberto Bolaño: Amulet

This was diverting.

4. JG Ballard: High-Rise

These Flamingo Modern Classic reprints of Ballard books are an annoyance: they are stuffed with extraneous extra material of a facile internetty nature. Read this next! If you liked this, read this next! This book is also a film! Wow! Isn't that great! Buy the film now! Read this boring interview!

Of all the new modern classic editions I've read, Ballard's books get the biggest advertising shunt. Probably because Ballard was never anti-capitalist as such: he seemed to delight in the digitisation of culture more than other speculative souls. Still. That's no excuse to turn his books into a market stall.

High-Rise is a vicious classic, though less prescient in its view of stacked accommodation. Gruesomely entertaining.

5. Flann O’Brien: The Poor Mouth

Better than a bag o' potatoes for breakfast, so it is. Its like in literature will never be seen again!

6. Various: The Book of Other People

As other esteemed reviewers have opined, this anthology fails to deliver consistent excellence, despite the all-star cast.

The best contributions are from Hari Kunzru, Daniel Clowes, ZZ Packer, Chris Ware, Nick Hornby, Miranda July & Jonathan Lethem. These stories kept my arse welded to the chair, with zero distracted fidgety impatience.

The others are merely average: fragments, unfinished doodles or tossed-off oddities. Jonathan Safran Foer, hardly a prolific short story writer, seems to have mailed in a high-school piece.

Only two stories, by A.M. Homes & Colm Tóibín, are snoozy tripe.

I don't know what to suggest, really. It is for charity. I bought my copy in a charity shop, thus contributing to two charities simultaneously. Go me.

7. Chuck Palahnuik: Pygmy

This was a clever, ingenious, risky and hilarious piece of work. I struggled at first with the barmy dialect, but it wasn't too hard to slide into the voice of this terrifyingly small terrorist once the novel picked up steam.

To make something like this work takes genius. Palahniuk is probably one.

8. Martin Amis: House of Meetings

This is the last Martin Amis novel I will ever read. Utter pants. I blame Christopher Allen for giving this one five stars and making me curious. Thanks mate.

What is it about? Who cares. Whether writing about amnesiac women, porn moguls, talentless writers, or life in a Gulag, the end product is always Martin Amis. The protagonist (a sixty-four-year-old Russian) is Martin Amis. Amis, Amis, fucking Amis.

I give up. Dude cannot write anymore. I give up, I give up, I give up. The Information is the only Amis novel worth reading. Forget the rest, Venus, forget it.

9. James Robertson: Joseph Knight

Entertaining if overlong telling of the story of Joseph Knight. This was a pivotal moment in black history: a slave is given his freedom but must live with the hypocrisies and spectres of his past.

Exemplary Scots dialect, canny plotting and humorous digressions abound. Historical novels aren't my teacup, but I was pleasantly involved despite myself. (Though 100 pages could be sliced, easily).

10. John Barth: Lost in the Funhouse

Disappointing! This "landmark" in experimental fiction was stuffed with endless exercises in indulgence, vague and rambling stories, pretentious non-sequiturs and assorted Greek gibberish.

The title piece, "Title" and "Petition" were the only engaging and amusing stories here. Most of the collection indulges in Barth's obsession with Victorian writing and Greek myth. "Night-Sea Journey," "Meneliad" and "Anonymiad" are insufferable, despite the clever tricks and (rare) flashes of wit. (The middle story plays a brain-busting game with the metafiction format, though the content sags badly).

This territory has been explored with twice the panache by Gilbert Sorrentino. Barth's work skews towards the cold and academic, whereas Sorrentino never loses his steely humanity, in spite of the high-wire games he plays.

11. Kristin Hersh: Rat Girl

This was a surprising treat! Kristin Hersh writes about the most turbulent year in her life, a year of bipolarity and pregnancy and eccentric old women, a year she would revisit in countless songs in her career.

Hersh bears her past sufferings with dignity. She writes in a unique, graceful way that never indulges in sentiment or self-pity. Her prose can be stylised at times, esp. with her bandmates' repartee, but she has a good understanding of how to keep her narrative pumping along with entertaining brio.

Among the most illuminating sections are her insights into Throwing Muses compositions: the "possession" that takes over when she plays her music. Her relationship with the old Hollywood luvvie Betty is also strange and touching.

A few details are vague surrounding her pregnancy. Her parents don't seem to lift a hand to help her, or she doesn't approach them for help, and no mention of the father is made. It is assumed she must go the whole process alone, and this detail does sort of hang there, despite any reasons of privacy.

A treat for fans. To what extent non-fans will relish this is another question, given the emphasis on the music, the specific details and so on. Who can say? It has enough charm, wit and invention to find a wider audience.

12. Gilbert Sorrentino: A Strange Commonplace

A dark, snarky triumph. This novel bristles with a brutal energy, a violent sexual malice. These vignettes are more overtly carnal in content than in Sorrentino's other "fragment" novels, and each entry is stark and bleak.

This was the last work Sorrentino saw published in his lifetime, and it acts as a lighter coda to The Abyss of Human Illusion, which isn't saying much, as these stories are painful, moving and sad in their desperation.

One for the midnight hour.

13. Gilbert Sorrentino: The Abyss of Human Illusion

And so it ends. What a remarkable career, what a remarkable novelist. This dignified, pessimistic, startling book is a fitting dénouement for a writer who has dazzled, shocked, amused, inspired and haunted me for the last year.

Forget the other bitches. Gilbert is immortal.

14. Deb Olin Unferth: Vacation

What do certain authors have against inverted commas?

"I am speaking now. You know I am speaking because this in inverted commas."

Now you do not know I am speaking unless the author uses a dialogue tag. This technique creates a sense of distance or alienation, juxtaposed with the main text blah blah blah, and on top of this, it's grammatically incorrect.

Some writers are speech mark snubbers. Don't get me wrong. I understand. I side with Vonnegut and find the semicolon hideous. This author also uses no semicolons. However. Punctuation isn't frightening. It has so many exciting functions.

So I say: Learn to love the curvy swirl of the speech mark! Aren't they rather cute when printed? Don't our brains also react to them differently, allowing us respite from the prose, keeping our visual responses varied?

See, having no inverted commas can impair a piece of work. Reading a book in one font, our eyes need punctuation as a visual stimulus away from the words. Speech marks shift the register of a scene and help us connect with a book in a different way. This stylistic trait isn't, to my eye, particularly useful.


Vacation is a McSweeney's publication, and who doesn't love the middle name Olin? If I had Olin as my middle name, I would certainly chose to publish under it. It is clear some sweat has gone into this decision. Deborah Unferth looks oddly hideous, and Deb Unferth is a little too concise. Olin is a bizarre name and so deserves credit on the cover!

Well done Deb!

I couldn't quite find the voice in this one. The narrator sounded like a stoned psychiatrist who reads poems at the Hip-Hop NY Poetry Slam, describing potential husband/wife case studies to a group of sleepy students. There are a range of narrative voices, and the register is the same in each: gently poetic, mildly comic, gropingly grim.

The structure/form is intriguing here, but the world this book presents bears no resemblance to our own. Given the reliance on lyrical observations, each pulling for an emotional response, this seems to undo the novel.

Never mind. Olin is a fabulous middle name.

15. James Young, Nico: Songs They Never Play on the Radio

A wild, irreverent romp through the darkest moment in Nico's history. OK, so every moment in Nico's career was "the darkest" but this is much darker.

Young writes with a lacerating wit, taking no prisoners as he evokes the chancers, hangers-on, druggies and lunatics touring with Nico on her 1000-date world tour.

His ear for detail, dialect, character is amazing. He evokes the sleazy degeneracy of the scene, taking us away from Nico, the dull junkie, into a wider world of nihilism and madness.

His character-assassination of John Cale is one of the most surprising moments: a lifelong Japanese fan of Cale comes to his dressing room, makes a shy speech and hands him a present. Cale tears it open. Inside is a small bottle of alcohol. A freshly-clean Cale hands it back to the girl, saying: "I don't drink."

Ouch. The legacy of the Velvet Underground, apart from the music, is a trail of drug abuse, asshole behaviour, and laughable egoism. Young rocks it home.

16. Woody Allen: Complete Prose

Without Feathers is the funniest of this trilogy, with Getting Even a close second. The other selection was great too, and I maybe should have read this in shorter bursts rather than all at once. My sides are currently damaged beyond repair.

Allen writes stories with deeper philosophical meaning. He asks searching questions that scratch through the absurdity of life, with way more laughs than Nietzsche or Sartre.

I'm catching up with his movies too. Zelig is currently sitting in my disc drive.

17. Nicola Barker: Heading Inland

Slices of life among London's various outsiders. The Wesley trio in particular is amazing.

18. Flann O’Brien, The Hard Life

Flann's return to novels since The Third Policeman was no-noed. I've often wondered how many publishers turned down the manuscript: I get the impression if he'd had a thicker skin and shopped it around the country or abroad, we'd have a fatter body of work.

Well. Never mind. The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor is dedicated to Graham Greene, responsible for At Swim-Two-Birds being printed (and, to an extent, Third Policeman being passed over). This novella is a humorous piece involving a scheming brother, a cleric, and the Pope.

It is so slight, it's easy to see O'Brien clawing his confidence back. The Dalkey Archive, his last book, was a masterpiece, so once again, we were cheated of greater works from this timeless satirist.


19. Roberto Bolaño: Nazi Literature in the Americas

An alternative literary history. Bolaño holds a mirror up to the fascist blowhards canonised by the establishment with his cast of lovable Nazi sympathisers.

This is basically a book of spurious biographical details about spurious writers. How it manages to be a rip-roaring and bum-loving read is part of its magical sway. Recommended.

20. Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirans of Titan

Wow. I'd forgotten quite how amazing a writer is Mr. Kurt Vonnegut. The Sirens of Titan is his second novel, and already his voice is developed to its peak: the irony, the cynicism, the repetition, the bleakness, the heartbreaking.

This book moved me more than his other works. Something about these sad, lonely and powerless characters fighting their fates in a dark, unfeeling cosmos. It is a bleak, emotionally resonant work, far more moving than Slaughterhouse 5 or Breakfast of Champions.

You can also see how influential this book was on Douglas Adams. The Hitchhikers Guide series, one might argue, is a whimsical offshoot of this novel.

A classic. Easily in his top three novels.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

i am poet, hear me whimper

hello there. you might have seen me around. i am one of those people on the internet who writes everything in lower case. you might have encountered me on blogs, facebook, in ezines.

let me explain something to you. lower case is an artistic decision. m’kay? microsoft word capitalises automatically after each new sentence. well screw them, telling me when to punctuate! i refuse to indulge in this capital-ist society. together with my poet buddies, i will smash the system with my quietly incompetent grammar, and rein in the new dawn, whatever that means!

you might have heard of ee cummings. there are legions of writers who think this anti-capital-ist poet the most experimental and radical and boundary-breaking poet of his generation. well, he is. we are his children. we have no need for your big butch capitals. here is an example of my poetry:

i am the burn
on the hexagon
the small squirrel
in the cloak of now

burrow blood blue through
like tom

or jane

or you

please buy my chapbook
colors without you at lulu now thank you goodbye.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

My Latest Book

In my latest book, The Casserole Dishes of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, I explore the hidden culinary talents of the 19thC poet and writer, known largely for her simple and sentimental verse.

In 1821, at the age of nineteen, Landon published her first book of poems, The Fate of Adelaide. She also revolutionised the casserole dish by introducing puce, ox blood, and hog rind to the humble stew. It was through her pioneering work in garnish development that her reputation grew, plucking the nostril hairs from goats and chopping them into manageable specks.

Serving her Goat Hair Casserole to the critic Laman Blanchard, he complimented her “magical fusion of the disgusting and the sublime” and went on to give her awful poems a positive review.

With the death of her father in 1824, Landon went into her most prodigious casserole phase, inventing ten new dishes. Among them was The Toffee Nipple which merged the shorn teats of heifers with melted chocolate and elderberries. The dish made her an international sensation, propelling her to stardom in the US. Meanwhile, she wrote and published her first novel, Romance and Reality.

My book examines this turbulent period in the young poet and culinary pioneer’s life, with contributions from Isobel Armstrong, Germaine Greer and Jeremy Clarkson.

Bambam Books, £14.99pp. Order here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Narrative Class [2]

Our homework this week was to write twenty original story ideas and bring them to class. I didn’t spend hours developing my ideas, but I love the prospect of setting aside time to brainstorm. I don’t write on Sundays, so instead, I’m going to write down twenty ideas for potential shorts or longer works. Every Sunday. I’ll choose the best five and paste them on my wall for future reference. Ace beans.

Guest speaker was
Peter F. Hamilton. He writes those thick sci-fi tomes that weigh down bookshelves but he was an interesting speaker, and almost pulled off the waistcoat look. His methods for writing such complex books are as thorough and assiduous and you might expect. Eight months planning and a strict eight-hour writing regime for over a year and a half for each book. Yikes.

One thing he said struck me as odd. Apparently, he only reads 2-3 books a year. I was surprised at this. I expect all professional writers to be professional readers, so this knocked me. He spoke about his love for reading as a child, so it was doubly odd that he’d limit himself to such a tiny reading list as a grownup. Does the urge to read ebb away? Shouldn’t he be reading to fuel his inspiration as a writer? Even if you have the most hectic home life, surely you can squeeze in a little more than that?

Anyway. Of the ideas I wrote down, I think two or three have merit. It's very tricky to bottle a story into one tagline (or logline) sentence without making it sound crap. Such is the challenge this week.

On another topic, my cowboy trousers came out wrinkled in the wash. I would iron them, but I’m too busy modelling waistcoats.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Error 503

I am planning to use this whenever I get into unpleasant dialogues. Like last week at Lou Reed’s art installation in Queens. “Lou,” I said, “those pastels smack of the revisionist school of neoclassical poseur.” Lou fixes me a dead-eyed look. “What?” I should have said: “Error 503.” What I said instead was: “Sorry Lou, you are the craggy king.”


I remember the first time I heard the first Velvet Underground album. I almost thumped a man. I’d never heard such avant-garde noise before, let alone such skin-crawling screech and squeal. John Cale’s viola had me in spasms. The dual jangle that concludes “Venus in Furs” is the closest one’s ears will get to having an epileptic freak-out.

It occurs to me how difficult it is to describe Edinburgh in prose. Gosh. It is stuffed to the peepers with Georgian tenements whose interiors haven’t been refurbished since the 1970s. Universities, flats and chicken restaurants all operate out the same drab-slab weariness. I said this to Sandy McCall Smith the other day. I said: “Golly Sand, Edinburgh does not lend itself to colourful descriptiveness in prose.” He fixed me a sad-eyed look. “What?” I should have said: “Error 503.” What I said was: “Sorry Sand, you are the jowly king.”

Nico’s contributions to that album cannot be overlooked. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” would not be the same sans her expressive Teutonic drone. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” opens a small valve in one’s heart, pouring in liquid love. If you aren’t moved by Nico’s goblin gobblings, there is no soul in you. Error 503, forever.

(P.S. My story
EVERYTHING/nothing is in the flagship edition of 5923 Quarterly).

Christmas ‘Neath the Bridge of Sighs [co-authored with Christopher Allen] won the Strange Circle story contest. Prize was $$$ and top billing in the flagship edition of Strange Circle zine).

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Narrative Class [1]

This week’s narrative masterclass featured a guest lecture from James Robertson. His novel Joseph Knight is the first historical tome I’ve attempted (unless Empire of the Sun counts) and his lecture about the research process was illuminating.

Research is an area of extreme weakness for me. I don’t research because I don’t include facts among the fiction. Sometimes I google place names or historical figures. Real detail invigorates the wildest story, adds authenticity to the weakest. I often don’t research because creating replicas of our own world doesn’t interest me. The artifice of fiction is a pressing concern of mine, so stories can be anywhere, with anyone, names are interchangeable.

I could never research with the immense detail required for a historical. You have to have a genuine passion that will withstand about a year’s worth of work, then keep this up during the novel’s composition. I can’t think of one thing I’d want to spend three years researching or writing. Not one thing. Not even stripy tops or Radiohead.

That could change in time, of course. It helps to have history degree or PhD to do historicals, which James has. That would explain why he writes historical novels. There is a logic to these things. My brain dislikes ‘interesting facts’ or trivia. It couldn’t care less, and so facts do not accumulate in my head. Thank God we have Wiki.

I’m also considering options for a term two module. I was going to do genre fiction, but I’ve been swayed into doing creative non-fiction. Then again, that involves research, so I’m still on the fence. Did you know the first fence was invented in 234AD during the battle of Johannesburg? Neither did I.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Poet Sleeps With Me

Writing under a different identity has always appealed to me. If I sit down to write as myself, I am too conscious of my own personal history. I write from the perspective of a pasty white Scot too young to know anything useful. If I create a fresh identity and author work with the history, experience and wisdom of this person, the game changes.

Say I am Laird Bothie Jamie McCullum. I am descended from James Boswell and work for Historic Scotland as curator, and write the most amazingly dull modern jazz songs on piano. Assuming this lineage, position and so on, will give me a better starting point for historical fiction than writing as a pasty white dude into Radiohead and striped tops.

The most famous example of writing under different names or identities is Fernando Pessoa. The Portuguese poet and academic is known to have created over seventy various ‘heteronyms’ to write his work. Each character comes with its own biography, philosophy and writing style. Bernardo Soares, an accountant in Lisbon, is one of his most famous identities – noted for his dapper dress sense and penchant for idle philosophising.

On a note of digression, Drugstore wrote a
gorgeous song in tribute to the poet. On another note of digression, Drugstore have also re-formed and are touring again. This is magnificent news for fans of Isabel Monteiro’s unique spine-tingling compositions. Anyhoo.

Brian O’Nolan wrote his columns as Myles na gCopaleen and his novels as Flann O’Brien. His works are filled with characters running riot across the pages, multiple voices fighting for control, authors back from the dead and sulking in Dublin pubs. Brilliant.

So I say: try out this approach. Dress up. Become another person, live their life, speak like them, the whole works. Then sit down and write something in the style of this dude or dudette. You might find it a new and interesting approach. Or you might find you hate them. Whatever works.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

First Daze

First days always rile me. Then again, inside-out socks rile me. Dust riles me. Riling riles me.

But. This. Was. The. First. Day. Back. There were new students to meet, and I met about three of them. They were weird. I think some of them might have been (cover your ears) cool.

This year should be lower key, co-student-wise. Last year, we went through a full working shift with the gang whereas this year, we spend a mere three hours in their presence. Not much wiggle room for getting to know people, so I don’t have to fret too much about becoming one big happy family.

On an unrelated note,
this song from The Beards is absolutely awesome.

And on another, my story
Dragon, Interrupted is online at Indigo Rising Magazine.

And my other story
Fred in Duplicate is in the latest issue of Anything Anymore Anywhere. (Print mag. Costs £9).


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Return of the Mark

Tomorrow I start Year Two of my MA Course at Edinburgh Napier. I have compiled a list of things I want to achieve:

1. Get into a violent, bloody brawl with a co-student over a minor difference of opinion on Bakhtin.

2. Sit on each of the chairs in both classrooms, 218 & 219. I suspect some are spongier than others.

3. Read one graphic novel. Like, the whole way through.

4. Use the word ‘encephalitic’ in casual conversation without anyone noticing.

5. Punch someone in the toilets and steal their lunch money.

6. Bring a tramp into class and hide him under the table.

7. Tell someone my favourite living novelist is Mark Morrison (criminal rap artiste), and see if they flinch.

8. Invent books. Last year I told someone "Winter Wooksie" was one of my favourite novels, when it is in fact no such thing. (B-side by Belle & Sebastian, in fact).

9. Leave a cabbage lying around somewhere.

10. Lick a wall.

I am looking forward to my return. The course I’ll be doing will involve a stricter writing discipline, and I have to confess the phrase ‘strict discipline’ turns me on a little, so this could be (sadomasochistically, at least) a terrific year.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

My Month in Novels (Aug)

This month I read sixteen books aloud to Alec DeBerg. He has no face and provides my broadband services and also likes to dance with me to the aural sensations of Ottawan in the harsh Canadian winters.

1. Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls – I meant to read this during my Summer of the Russians in 2007. The first book did not disappoint, though the second book is laced with tragedy, as Gogol was a perfectionist and probably insane at the time of composition. Followers of the BBC drama department might recall a Radio 4 adaptation starring Mark Heap.

2. Dave Eggers: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – This wasn’t as much of a pomothon as I had expected. Eggers is simply a writer that floors you. In fact, I was literally underground by page 313. Even Alec was floored and he has no knowledge of such matters.

3. Flann O’Brien: At Swim-Two-Birds + The Dalkey Archive – Catching up with some classic Irish dreaminess. Both books were a delight but the latter captured my imagination more than the former. In which other novel is James Joyce resurrected and then conscripted into the Jesuit Order?

4. Gilbert Sorrentino: Little Casino, The Moon in Its Flight, Lunar Follies – A trio of brilliance from Gilb. The first was the greatest: Gilb officially breaks the fourth wall and brings himself into the narrative. For self-reference geeks like me, this is unbearably exciting. His short story collection was also like rubbing asses milk into my eyes, though which ass I’m unsure. Not Alec. He’s no ass.

5. McSweeney’s Issue 23 – Back on the McSweeney’s trail. There are about ten or so issues in the writers’ room and I’m finding it impossible to keep my hands off them. Same goes for Alec, the beast.

6. Percival Everett: Erasure – I loved this strange and angry look at the flipside of being a black academic novelist. The protag writes an awful parody of a ‘ghetto-lit’ novel and becomes a runaway success (while caring for his dying mother). A scathing but tender sensation.

7. Chris Bachelder: Bear v. Shark + U.S.! – Bachelder is a rollicking satirist and these two novels were a delight. Since I am running out of stamina writing this, I will hand it over to Alec. He says: “Laurence? Are you there? Could someone call Laurence please?”

8. Tom McCarthy: C – I thought this was retrograde pants. I have no time for modern novelists who write long books in an early 20thC vein. Especially people who are ‘steering the novel in new directions.’ What direction is that, precisely, backwards? Alec agrees, and adds: “Crumpets.”

9. B.S. Johnson: Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry – Book of the month. Read this one please. Masterpiece.

10. Ali Smith: Other Stories & Other Stories – Didn’t take kindly to this, but then again I’m the only person alive that thinks Kafka a tedious paranoiac muffin. As Alec says: “He be dump.”

11. Donald Barthleme: Sixty Stories – I loved these mad, witty, clever but not clever-clever, surreal and speculative stories. Barthelme has a style and range utterly unique to him and uses a fragmented, avant-garde approach to tell his cryptic and weirdly moving stories.

12. Marcel Bénabou: Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books – This witty essay was a treat. This “nonbook” is an erudite, solipsistic essay on the torturous process of trying to complete a sentence. Bénabou is the “definitively” provisional secretary of the Oulipo, so it’s no wonder he finds himself so intimidated when it comes to his own work.

Alec says: “Good heavens that was dull. Please draw some more punk penises. That’s what they want.”