I am very glad to be able to tell you that I have recently discovered TWO writers who make me excited about reading. I’m such a picky little thing, it’s not easy to please me when it comes to cultural artefacts. I won’t say my standards are high, but they are exacting. Things have to feel right, hit the right spot. In no area of my life do I like to bother with things that don’t feel right or hit the right spot… if you don’t quite want to make love to it, you may as well abstain entirely, innit. (Self-sufficiency, too, is a canny move. You never appreciate how good someone else is - or how bad they are - if you are not truly conversant with your own capacity! True of writing, music, cooking and… all manner of other very necessary indulgences.)
Anyway (yes, please do change the subject, horrid creature), today at the bookshop I bought a book that I had been mulling over ever since I saw it on the shelf. I was alone on the shop floor today, so I started reading it, and once I did that, I knew it would have to come home with me. It is called ‘The Hawkline Monster - A Gothic Western’
and its author is Richard Brautigan
. It’s a short book (I read the whole thing in the shop, between customers), odd, funny, technically brilliant and really a thing of joy. If I had to describe it (and convention suggests that I should), I’d ask you to imagine a fusion of David Lynch and Edward Gorey. It has that same exact glorious combination of the matter-of-fact and literal with the surreal and fantastic. When I saw the tagline ‘A Gothic Western’ I thought of in_thy_bounty
(even more so when I saw the picture of Brautigan posing nonchalantly in a black hat!). And yes, the book’s ease in mingling down-to-earth, turn-of-the-20th-century Americana with hallucinatory weirdness (and that all achieved with a beautifully observational turn of phrase), would appear to be something you might enjoy. I’m also going to recommend it to breakon87
(this fellow Brautigan is tagged as a ‘post beat writer’, and the story has fantastical elements), aerodrome1
(it’s whimsical but elegant, sensual and nonchalant) and decemberthirty
(it’s unusual, clever, sparse and feels deeply rooted in American culture).
My other discovery is David Stacton
. (I would hazard a guess he too might be of interest to decemberthirty
.) I’m reading his ‘Remember Me’
at the moment - one or two glorious chapters at a time, savoured in bed with breakfast. This novel is about Ludwig II of Bavaria, someone who definitely fascinates me. I usually keep well away from historical novels, even literary ones, but this is a quite remarkable entering-into-the-spirit of that legendary moonstruck tragic prince. I like very much that it’s written in the third person, in a slightly detached, certainly analytical, but very sympathetic way. In his introduction Stacton reveals his own devout fellow-feeling with Ludwig, and this emerges tangibly in the writing. I must admit to a certain fellow-feeling with Ludwig myself, and somehow this book (and its writer) seems to be one of those that ‘understands you back’ as you read it. Stacton is renowned for being an ‘epigrammatic’ writer, and his prose certainly is chock full of phrasey phrases. I really like that (I’m all about the phrasey phrase in my own writing, fer damn sure); it occasionally threatens to get a bit much, but in this book it works, almost as if Mr Stacton is having to defend himself from the rawness of his own emotion by imparting distance stylistically. The narrative voice becomes a character in itself then - or rather, the writer is very present in the writing. I like to feel that when I’m reading; I don’t read for the plot, you see, and perhaps not even for the characters. What I most desire from a writer is to feel not-alone, from the writing’s revealing of a kindred mind out there in the world somewhere.
Both Richard Brautigan and David Stacton died young. Brautigan struggled all his life with alcoholism and depression (living out the tendency for adults to perpetuate the trauma they suffered as children - his own youth was blighted by alcoholic, abusive men, failing at (step-)fatherhood); he eventually committed suicide. Stacton, weakened by cancer and its drastic non-cure (as well as a formidable tobacco habit) dropped dead of what looks to have been sheer bodily exhaustion. Each was idiosyncratic, stubborn, inimitable; each is now an immortal, complete with respective cult.
Idols tend to be oblivious to their worshippers, but the worshippers get something important out of it - something priceless. Very Important Lesson: live as much as you can, while you can, and make what you and you alone were born to make. It may not bring you any advantage during your short life (except the granting of your will), and people may say you wasted your time, or that you were eccentric and not much else. But if you can operate at this level of sincerity, somebody somewhere - today, tomorrow, next century - will be fortified and succoured by what you have made. Being you, at risk to your reputation, and pouring that intensely into what you (only you) can make: this will help someone along the line. Being not-you, nourishing convention, and suppressing your creativity: this will make you dead-while-alive, and will not lessen your sadness… nor will it help your spiritual descendants.
In short: reading is great, especially when it cheers up your thought-injured little brain!! ;-)