There was a piece in The Telegraph the other day about books that people lie about having read...
Apparently, people lie because the book has recently appeared as a film or a tv serial and they don’t want their friends to think that they are ignorant. Ha! It reminds me of all those “How to Bluff Your Way in Nuclear Physics” books...
Here’s my take on the list. I have read all but four of them. Here’s why I think they should NEVER be filmed, even the ones I have never read:
I hadn’t read the book in years, but it came to hand one night as I was going to bed.
I was still reading five hours later...
The author claimed that every word was true, which is both more and less than the truth, but that was characteristic of a style of writing that was making its mark in the 1960s and ’70s, the so-called ‘New Journalism.’
The basic idea was that instead of just reporting the news, the reporter would be making the news and giving the reader an insider’s take on what was happening behind the news.
An anthology entitled “The New Journalism” (recently re-published) and edited by Tom Wolfe for Picador made a powerful impression on me when I read it in the 1970s. At the time I was especially impressed by Michael’s Herr’s account of Vietnam as seen by the men on the ground, and by Tom Wolfe’s riotously drunken day at the Kentucky Derby (if I remember correctly). There was also a piece by Truman Capote, though I don’t recall what it was, or what it was about.
Having read “In Cold Blood” (more than once), I can guarantee that you will never forget it.
It was, so far as I know, the first time that a true-crime murder had been told from the intermingled points-of-view of the victims, their friends and neighbours, the killers, and the officers who were hunting them down. It was, indeed, the perfect exercise in New Journalism. Almost fact, sometimes fiction, but always very closely tied to events, confessions, recorded statements, and all that goes with a shocking crime that was front-page news in the USA.
From the stark opening line – 'The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’ – to the wistfully onomatopoeic and alliterative final phrase describing what it's like 'out there' – ‘the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.' – there is not one wasted word.
If you haven’t read it, you really should.
And if, like me, you haven’t read it in a long time, it’s time to read it again.
We hope the world has a peaceful and happy Christmas!
Best wishes from us,
Daniela & Mike.
Daniela and I went to a literary ‘event’ this weekend.
We go to every literary event, more or less. It’s interesting to hear other writers talk about their work, and how they do it. Well, we listened and listened to this lady talk and talk, and the more we listened, the more perplexed we became. The writer in question is very well-known in Italy. She has been a ‘big name’ on the Italian literary circuit for many years, and has published many novels, most of which have been translated into other languages (though not into English).
“How does she do it?” we asked ourselves.
The answer was a long time coming.
We sat and squirmed in our seats for an hour or more. It was a bit like listening to your grannie dispense banal bits of hearsay from another, simpler epoch: women are more intelligent than men, though men think they’re smarter; men are aggressive and provoke wars, while women never do; wouldn’t the world be a better place if it were populated only by beautiful women and handsome men?
And so on.
The interviewer gave up after a while and let her ramble on, spouting cliché after cliché.
When the time for questions came, the few men present stood up and voiced the nasty questions that were expected of them, notably: what about Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and all the other ‘nasty’ female politicians who went to war?
Answer: “They may look like women, but they are not women.”
And so it went on.
We walked out at the end and asked ourselves: “Does she do it?” Not “How does she do it?” But “Does she have a ghost-writer?”
Listening to the lady, it seemed improbable that she could write a novel, peopled by credible characters, and with a convincing plot. We were so perplexed, we actually bought an e-book of the novel (buying an e-book is not a public act, thank God!), and started reading.
Whoever writes those books certainly knows what they are doing. The characters have the depth and psychological complexity of a Yogi Bear cartoon. Everyone is either positive, or negative. The plot rolls on from set-piece to set-piece with all the inevitability of the 7.45 from Birmingham to London Euston. You know exactly what is going to happen next – boy meets girl, boy is yummy – yum, yum, yum. Why fight wars when you can get married?
Oddly enough, the novel breaks every rule that I have ever learnt, including the most important one: “Show, don’t tell.” That’s what all the experts say, from the Bible all the way down to Mr Albert Zuckerman and Stephen King. If someone is a bad apple, make him behave badly, they say, let the reader make up his/her own mind, but please don’t tell the reader that he is bad.
Well, this ‘rule’ can now be thrown out of the window. Please, please, tell me whom I should like, and whom I should hate. I mean to say, it’s so much easier, isn’t it? It takes all the work out of reading...
There, in a nutshell, is the answer to our perplexity.
We were, I think, the only people in the audience who had never read one of the writer’s novels. I was one of only twenty men in a milling crowd of three hundred well-heeled women. Many ladies bought the book, grandma signed it, and the happy purchaser came away smiling.
If you want to sell a stack of books, you have to tell people what they want to hear. Roll out the credits! Women are more intelligent than men, men are so aggressive, and wouldn’t the world be a better place if it were populated only by women.
And so on, and so on...
This wee blog is not intended as a provocation.
It is intended as the partial analysis by a non-believer of what religious belief can lead to.
It isn’t a justification of Christianity, or of any other religion – I do not believe in God (though I honour the concept, and I respect those who do believe in Him, calling Him ‘God,’ and not god, using capital letters to show my respect for Him and His followers).
I was baptised in a Catholic church, raised as a Catholic child, and educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen years old. I’ve read the Bible and the New Testament. I found them interesting and instructive, but I don’t take their teachings literally, or hold them in fanatical regard. I can think of a hundred books that I consider to be more important and more instructive, yet I know that all of these books are inspired by Christian morals and stereotypes which derive from the Bible.
In short, all the things that I hold dear are products of Christian ideas.
Through all these books I have learnt the meaning of right and wrong, love and hate, bravery and terror, honour and dishonour, vice and virtue, and so on. My personal culture is certainly distilled and defined by the Christian religion, but I do not feel bound by religion to hold anything as good or bad, honourable and dishonourable.
For me there is no Word which is absolute.
Indeed, if there is one true virtue in Christian society, it is the freedom to think and decide freely what I hold to be worthy and unworthy of myself. Anything which I consider worthy, I embrace. Whatever I find to be unwholesome, I reject. I am bound by no laws which are not both rational and humane.
“Thou shalt not kill,” says the fifth commandment in the Catholic version of the Bible.
I abhor violence, but I would not hesitate to kill an aggressor to defend myself, my wife or any other person who is unjustly threatened. I hope I am never required to make such a decision, but I am ready, culturally prepared, and I will not hesitate to act if necessary. In this respect, I think of myself as a fundamentalist, a radical. I have only one life, and I will preserve it – or destroy it – as I think fit.
So, what’s wrong with Islam?
That is, what do I not like about it:
1) it is based on a book which people cannot question.
2) that book imposes behaviour and beliefs on young children which they cannot reject.
3) that book denies women the right to speak as the equals of men, or show their faces or flesh to any man who is not their legal husband.
4) Islam educates boys, but denies the same educational right to girls.
Dear Islamists, if that’s what you want to believe, go right ahead...
But don’t expect me to agree with you, because I am a free-thinking, liberal-minded agnostic, and I will not allow you a) to impose your favourite book on me, b) impose misguided ideas on the minds of my children, c) impose your male superiority on my wife and daughter, and d) educate my son to think as you do.
And just remember: if you try to kill me, I am not bound by the fifth commandment!