Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

... and the shepherd's name was 'Book'

There's a blog meme thingie doing the rounds at the moment. I've noticed it ripple through the ether like a malevolent sliver of raspberry sauce. And finally someone has gotten round to spiking my dessert with it. I never asked to be nominated. In fact, as a protest, I considered asking a Native American to write this response on my behalf. But in the end I relented, and have decided to respond to The Great Spring (in the northern hemisphere anyways) Book Meme.

Update: John B over at Shot by Both Sides appears to have nominated me as well (just now!) John seems like an interesting and very groovy chap, but dear god in heaven man! Why Martin Amis?!*

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Fahrenheit 451 was one of the first science fiction novels I read that wasn't about space aliens or landing on the moon. The basic premise, for those who haven't read it (or seen Truffaut's highly stylised, though excellent, film version) is that the written word has been outlawed as seditious. And the government employs groups of 'firemen' to root out and burn all remaining books. Those found guilty of trying to preserve them are severely punished. As a response, resistance groups engage in the revolutionary act of "becoming" books. Individuals dedicate their lives to memorising a particular book, and then to perpetuating it... teaching it to anyone willing to undergo the same metamorphosis.

It's a fantastic novel. Worthy itself of saving from the firemen. Not, sadly, by me though. Likewise, George Orwell's 1984 (as chosen by Chicken Yoghurt) would come very high on my list. But the fact is, I'm not entirely sure I could live life as either of those books. I have nothing but respect for those willing to preserve the cautionary dystopia; but I'm already too damn neurotic to cope with that extra weight.

For me, ultimately, it comes down to a choice between the 20th century's two finest authors (in this humble writer's opinion); James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. And I really can't separate the two in my mind. So ultimately; based on the fact that Joyce already has worldwide societies dedicated to the accurate preservation of his works; I figured I'd give the finest American writer some support. And although every novel he's written is worthy of preservation, it is Vineland that I would become.

The novel opens with one of the protagonists, middle-aged hippie Zoyd, carrying "an elegant little chainsaw", wearing make-up and a woman's dress, and jumping through the window of his local bar in his annual demonstration of the fact that yes, he is crazy and can continue drawing medical benefit. Each year the local news show up and film whatever proof of his madness he's come up with this time 'round. It's a bit of an event in the area... almost made Good Morning America in fact.

But Zoyd's past is about to catch up with him, drawing a whole heap of feds and other shady types to Vineland County... which won't go down well with Zoyd and the other marijuana farmers... nor with the Thanatoids (an isolated community of living dead folk just trying to mind their own business). And Godzilla's about to attack Tokyo, ninja death nuns are going to get involved and a whole host of scary information about a shadowy totalitarian government maintaining "re-education camps" and a private transport network kept off the maps starts to leak out. And about those who resist it... such as the People's Republic of Rock'n'Roll (formerly College of the Surf) and the Death To The Pigs Nihilist Film Kollective.

Jeez... I could write all day about Vineland and still not scratch the surface. Every character is human and fully rounded... yet every character is a perfect symbol and cypher... the hilarious, gripping and thrilling plot involving these glorious people acting out their absurdly fantastical lives is also the most incisive critique of modern American culture that has ever been written. And like with everything Pynchon does, the writing is simply glorious.
Described in Aggro World as "a sort of Esalen Institute for lady asskickers," the mountainside retreat of the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives stood on a promontory dappled in light and dark California greens above a small valley, only a couple of ridgelines from the SP tracks, final ascent being over dirt roads vexing enough to those who arrived in times of mud, and so deeply rutted when the season was dry that many an unwary seeker was brought to a high-centered pause out in this oil painting of a landscape, wheels spinning in empty air, creatures of the hillside only just interrupting grazing or predation to notice. Originally, in the days of the missions, built to house Las Hermanas de Nuestra SeƱora de los Pepinares - one of those ladies' auxiliaries that kept springing up around the Jesuits in seventeenth-century Spain, never recognised by Rome nor even by the Society, but persisting with grace and stamina there in California for hundreds of years - the place had acquired extensions and outbuildings, got wired and rewired, plumbed and replumbed, until a series of bad investments had forced what was left of the sodality to put it up for rent and disperse to cheaper housing, though they continued to market the world-famous cucumber brandy bearing their name.
- from Vineland
Aaaaanyways... I promise not to spend too long on the other questions. That one got somewhat out of hand. Sorry.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Yes actually. Most of my youthful crushes focussed on female musicians (Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, and many more) but the sadly-named 'Fenchurch' from the fourth Hitch-hikers book, always came across as the sort of woman I'd fall for in real life... which isn't quite the same as 'having a crush', I suppose, but there you have it.

The last book you bought is:

So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan. I haven't read it yet, so can't really say much, except that Brautigan is one of the great writers. If you've not read any of his stuff then I would heartily recommend you check out Revenge of The Lawn, one of the finest collections of short-stories you'll ever encounter. In fact; if you follow that link, you should be able to download some of them!

The last book you read:

I tend to have at least three books on the go simultaneously. The last one I actually completed was David Quantick's Revolution: The Making of the Beatles' White Album which I would recommend to any serious fan of the Beatles. It's about as in-depth about one album as you want a book to be, with plenty of little nuggets of trivia that'll be new to pretty much every reader (I've read a lot of Beatles books and there was stuff new to me in it). Waaaay too deep in the "hardcore fans only" barrel to warrant a recommendation to the casual fan or reader, though.

What are you currently reading?

I never seem to get round to updating those wee lists in the right-hand column. Amongst the books I'm currently reading is still Resource Wars by Michael T. Klare. I'm at the taking-notes and cross-referencing stage with that book though... so hardly still "reading". Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap (of which I have just read the intro) is also on the go. Described by my friend Merrick as "the most important book" he has ever read, it's been variously subtitled: "What's gone wrong with the world's food and how to fix it". And: "How Everyone Who Is Liable to Be Born in the Next Ten Thousand Years Could Eat Very Well Indeed; and Why, in Practice, Our Immediate Descendants Are Likely to Be in Serious Trouble". It promises to be a fascinating read.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

Well that was a bit bloody predictable wasn't it? Your five desert island books? Never saw that question coming.

Incidentally, I'm conveniently omitting Vineland from my list, as I'm assuming that the likelihood of my choosing to memorise Vineland due to the actions of a totalitarian government is at least as great as that of my being marrooned on a desert island with a small list of my favourite books. So there's every chance that by the time I end up on the island, I'll have committed my favourite Pynchon novel to memory.
  1. Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions. The complete short-stories of Borges. These are brilliant, sometimes funny, sometimes dark but always re-readable.
  2. Love by Mahalia. This is the third book by a dear friend of mine, and it's his best and most important to date. Combining poetry and short prose, Love talks about human relationships in a way that is beautiful, compassionate and at the same time unflinchingly honest. Reminds me more of Bukowski's best work than anything I've ever read.
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce. The finest book ever written. To dispute that fact is to reveal a basic misunderstanding of literature as an artform. It pleases me immensely - for reasons with no basis in rationality - that the world's greatest piece of literature was written about my home city, by a native of the same small island that I myself come from. (That the finest album ever recorded; Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; is also the product of that small island pleases me also).
  4. The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary. Just because it's such a rip-roaringly good read. The incredible optimism of mid-60's Leary is infectious, and he says far more about far more than people give him credit for. He played the jester, he played the outlaw and he played the celebrity but his writing is filled with such an exuberance and joyful love for life that it's impossible not to be positively inspired by this book. If America was honestly interested in a 'Culture of Life', it could do a lot worse than revisit some of Leary's ideas.
  5. It's absurd trying to narrow it down to five! Almost as bad as Top 10 album lists (any list of favourite albums less than 50 long has been compiled by someone who doesn't like music very much). Are you saying that I have to choose between Bukowski's Tales of Ordinary Madness and Burroughs' Nova Express... between Orwell's Essays and Hesse's Steppenwolf... between Ballard's Vermillion Sands and Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan? Forget it mate! Because any such choice would require leaving Einstein's Relativity behind, and Jim Dodge's Stone Junction, as well as Grant Morrison's Invisibles and Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth. I won't make those choices. And nobody can force me to.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Do I really want to inflict this meme upon others? It seems cruel. Yet at the same time strangely satisfying. And ultimately an obligation of sorts. Very reminiscent, then, of training your dog to shit in the gardens of tory voters.
  • Merrick over at Bristling Badger should really do this. Friend and fellow traveller, I'm interested both in his answers, and in how subtly he manages to slip in a mention of his own book (which is well worthy of mention, let me stress, both for being a bloody great book, and for featuring a couple of cameo appearances by me).
  • The mysterious L, one of those American bloggers who reminds you that Born-Again Bush and The Bastid Squad are actually holding quite a few hostages over there. She also does a blog dedicated to book reviews, so is likely to be interested in this meme.
  • It'd be very interesting to read Joel Biroco's responses, though I suspect he's above such things as perpetuating silly cyber memes. And his online journal isn't really the sort of place such things would feel very at home. Still, I nominate him anyways. Because I'm contrary like that.

* I jest of course. Plenty of folks seem to rate Martin Amis very highly. I just can't connect with his writing at all for some reason.


Blogger sojourning crow said...

for the record, Gallup Polls clearly show that raspberry is only malevolent when you are either allergic or it lands on something white.

if i could be 1 book in FH451 - i would be the one that gets memorized and passed along the generations...it matters not my title but that i am remembered

12/4/05 19:33  

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