Remembering what you read…

Reading is almost my favourite thing to do with my spare time. It competes with a few other things pleasurable things, but for the most part it is what I’d rather do than anything else. I mean, great literature is all well and good, but who among us wouldn’t drop their latest book like a hot potato at the suggestion of an ‘early night’ from their significant other?

The act of reading also comes with two of the things I hate most in my life: the shame at my inability to finish certain books (either because they are ‘difficult’ or just plain dull); and the difficulty in remembering exactly what it is that I have read. I can reel off a list of titles in conversation, but when pressed it’s often hard to remember details. A piece on this latter bugbear appeared recently in The New Yorker entitled, The Curse of Reading and Forgetting. This both reminded me of my own perceived shortcomings and served in some measure of reassurance that I’m not in fact alone in this malaise and failure of memory. 

I’ve even read books that I have felt in some ways have profoundly affected – if not my life – then definitely my thinking and my world view. But it is only certain passages that have stuck with me when the narrative has disappeared into the mist. Albert Camus’ The Stranger is a great example of this. Reading it at a time when I was quite depressed, I remember being inspired by his declaration that: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

How could fail to be moved by such a life-affirming statement?

The truth is though, that I’ve forgotten most of what the novel was all about. In my ignorance, I even ended up with two copies of the book after failing to realise that L’Etranger was the original French title for the same book. I picked up a copy after reading the blurb on the back and thinking it sounded interesting. It was only once I got home and started to read that I realised that I had in fact read it before.

As another example, I’ve also evangelised on the fantasy books of Robin Hobb to many people. I spent a summer in thrall to her Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies. I remember being almost distraught at coming to the end of them, but now can only remember vague, fleeting flashes of scenes and characters. 

Of course there are dozens of other examples.

I reckon that I could hold my own in a discussion on literature with most people, particularly when it comes to themes and tropes, but at plot points or just even plain old-fashioned retelling a story, I’d be hopeless. Is this down to the sheer volume of data going into my head – should I read fewer books in the hope that these will have more of a chance of settling in for the duration – or is this a problem for all readers?

Surfing the ouija board…

Ouija mouse mat.I’ve wanted a ouija mouse mat for ages. I think I saw one for sale in an issue of the Fortean Times years ago.

The only problem is that every time I use it, I’m potentially putting myself in danger of attracting the attention of a passing demon, or of inadvertently summoning up one of the slumbering Elder Gods. 

Still, I’ve been writing all morning and don’t seem to have garnered any unwanted supernatural visitors. I may switch back to my plain old blue mouse mat when it’s after dark and I’m alone in the house.

Just to be on the safe side…

A beautiful mystery

W. G. SebaldThere’s a great piece on the legacy of W.G. Sebald in today’s Guardian.

Sebald came to my attention about six years ago, when a friend bought me a copy of The Rings of Saturn for my birthday. I thought that I’d been given a sci-fi novel until reading the blurb on the inside cover. This left me wondering how the hell the story of a ‘journey on foot through coastal East Anglia’ might possibly be of interest to me.

I remember taking it on holiday with me and reading it while sunning myself on the Aegean. As the turquoise sea lapped at my feet, I was transported to the grey mists and flat landscapes of Eastern England. After the initial Kafkaesque homage to his time in hospital, I followed the author’s journey’s through landscape, time and  trauma via such strange stopping points as Herring fishing in the North (German) Sea to an exploration of the spread of sericulture (silk-making) from China.

All was metaphor and psychogeography. He was walking through his own painful history as well as that of his home country and its inability to reconcile itself with its past. But none of these things were apparent on the journey, only revealing themselves in my own troubled pauses in between chapters; I simply didn’t know what I was reading or how to assimilate what was being revealed. I read the book again a few years later on my MA course and coming to it the second time was no easier. I also read Austerlitz and a ‘critical companion’ volume to his works in the hope of aiding my comprehension, but, Sebald was still a beautiful mystery to me.

And I think that is the way that I want him to stay.

I’ve got Vertigo and The Emigrants on my shelf and I’ve not gotten around to reading them yet. Apparently they form a trilogy with The Rings of Saturn, but I’m still a little intimidated by their presence and what opening them might bring.

A trip to the comic shop…

Comic booksMy inner geek was well and truly indulged yesterday when I took my son and his friend to see Star Trek: Into the Darkness in Bromley. This was followed by a visit to Piranha Comics – which just happened to be a couple of doors down from the cinema. I only meant to have a browse (honestly!), but instead I ended up coming out with a handful of titles and a couple of new graphic novels.

It all stemmed from my insistence that I’m a D.C. guy when it comes to my choice of reading. Oh, I’ve got X-Men, Spiderman, Dare Devil and various other limited runs in my collection, but I’m normally I’ll take Justice League over Avengers and Batman over Iron Man if given the choice. A chat with the friendly staff there soon had my head turned around and I came away with some of the new Thor  and Uncanny X-Men stories.

All the while, my son and his friend hovered on the periphery, checking out he action figures while the adults got on with the serious business of discussing the merits of the Arrow TV show versus the Green Arrow comics. I should be used to this by now, but I was still acutely aware of the role reversal where kids just don’t seem to be as into comics as we were when we were young.

It’s a shame as I’m still trying to kindle a real love of reading in my younger son, and I thought that graphic novels and comics might be a way to do this. He’ll read when he’s told to, but will seldom do so of his own volition. I’m still working on it though and am going to keep pushing the virtues and sheer over-the-top fun of the medium.

I’ll have what she’s having…

I have no excuses and I was being purely salacious in my initial interest in this. But by the third video I was just hooked on the sublime beauty and strangeness of it all.

Photographer, Clayton Cubitt, has a new film project, Hysterical Literature, where he invited women to read from their favourite books while being brought to orgasm. It’s not pornographic – all the ‘action’ takes place off-camera and beneath a desk – but it is quite arousing. I’ve told myself several times that it was just the literature that was fascinating me, but who am I trying to kid?

If I could just spin this into some sort of incentive to get my two boys to read more (without being labelled a ‘Dirty Old Man’), I would feel as if I had achieved something.

The YouTube channel with all the videos is here.