Sunday, January 25, 2015

What I’m reading #123

More precisely, what I have been reading. I get a week every January when we are en famille in Tutukaka and I can read for pleasure: during the rest of the year I can’t read books while I am editing or assessing manuscripts. Or, occasionally, writing them.

You wait ages for a novel about a South Island vet and then two come along at once. Laurence Fearnley’s Reach and Owen Marshall’s Carnival Sky are by two of my favourite writers. Too many great passages in both to quote unquote: both novels are, if you ask me, their authors’ best yet. Totally recommended. A friend has recently moved to England to be one of the Queen’s vets: I will send him copies of both.

I finished John Eliot Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven about Johann Sebastian Bach and Phil Gifford’s Loose Amongst the Legends about New Zealand sporty types. Gardiner’s book is the weightier tome and stellar, but Phil’s is much better written and much funnier.

Don Felder wrote the music for “Hotel California” and both the guitar solos which are what made the song famous. His memoir Heaven or Hell is about what it is like growing up dirt-poor in Gainseville, Florida and then becoming a member of the Eagles with all the sex, drugs and money that involved – which was a lot. It’s a great yarn and of interest even to non-Eagles fans (most of us) because it shows a) what it’s like to be in a mega-successful rock band which is corrupted by sex, drugs and especially money and b) what colossal shits Don Henley and Glenn Frey are. Even “loveable goofball” Joe Walsh comes out of it badly: he was just as mercenary as the others. Bah.

Over New Year at Onemana in the Coromandel I read Paul Cleave’s Blood Men, a dark crime novel set in pre-quake Christchurch, TS Eliot’s Selected Poems which just happened to be in the guest bedroom along with the collected Agatha Christie short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, which were much more fun, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The skinny: opening scene was brilliant, closing scene was brilliant, dragged a bit in the middle. This was the Norton edition which at the back had some comments from critics, e.g. Leonard Woolf:
The first thing which must be said of Melville is that he writes the most execrable English. Take a sentence like the following: “That certain sultanism of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained unmanifested; through those forms that sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship.” This is a thoroughly bad sentence, and its badness is quite pointless, and there are thousands like it in “Mardi” and “Moby Dick”. (The use of the semi-colon in this sentence is worth noting; it is characteristic of Melville, who bespatters his sentences with semi-colons without regard to meaning or convention.) His second great vice is rant or rhetoric. When he wants to say that a sailor looked angrily at the mate, he describes him as “stabbing him in the eye with the unflinching poinard of this glance.” I cannot see the slightest point in this kind of bombast, and, when it raves on for page after page, I almost pitch the book into the waste-paper basket and swear that I will not read another line, however many people vouch for the author’s genius.  

Ian Rankin speaks for all novelists on Twitter:
I’m at that bit* in my new book where I’ve no idea what’s going on or what I’m doing.
*from around page 30 to page 250

Christopher Caldwell in the Spectator writes:
I was talking the other day to a young woman who knows a lot about the history of rock. We shared an enthusiasm for Bob Dylan’s later work — especially Blood on the Tracks (1975). As we talked, it occurred to me that Dylan recorded this ‘late’ effort 40 years ago, only 13 years into his career. So why do we treat it as belonging more to our time than, say, his folk ballads from the early 1960s? Some baby-boomer journalist must have decided around 1970 that something Dylan did in 1965 or 1966 — maybe his switch to electric instruments or his motorcycle accident — marked a critical break in history.
We stupidly accept this view of things: Dylan is now in his sixth decade as a symbol of American youth. But time does keep moving on. Blood on the Tracks is now closer to the reign of George V (1910–1936) than to our day. For that matter, Dylan’s eponymous first album (1962) is closer to the reign of Edward VII (1901–10) than to us. [. . .]
For some reason music always sounds newer than it is, and this is not true just of baby boom music. You might think Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ (1984) is edgy and subversive if you danced to it back in the day, but it now stands at the some chronological distance from Patti Page’s ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?’ (1953) as from the stuff kids are listening to today. The Sex Pistols’ first concert (1975) is closer in time to Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony (1936) than to us, and Rachmaninoff wrote much of his music in the 19th century.

I remember Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” from my toddler years. Silly song but sexy voice, my toddler self thought: I was an early adopter of heterosexuality. As soon as I heard the first bar of Groove Armada’s 1998 song “At the River” I knew who and what they were sampling: Patti Page’s 1957 hit “Old Cape Cod”. What a voice. All together now:
If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there

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