Sunday, 30 November 2014

I've got my fringe unfurled: Birthday month reading

The intention was to collect together as much Richard Brautigan as possible then read it all after my birthday on 22 November. When I started hoarding the books I had five, there were another seven or so that I had identified as targets before my birthday, though the tendency might be to push it as far as I could. Richard Brautigan had appeared on record in the 1960s.

When I started this I thought the books that I would have most difficulty in purchasing were The Tokyo-Montana Express and Willard and His Bowling Trophies. This was confirmed by a not overly scientific search online and only from one source. Anyway, that was the plan, a list was drawn up in my diary, ticks for the books I already had, small dots for the ones I had to purchase. As I said, the tendency is to push things as far as I could and if this meant buying a collection with a book I already owned then so be it.

That was the plan. I purchased some books, got An Unfortunate Woman from the Headingley Library (Leeds Library should have a full Brautigan stock, no exceptions), everything was running smoothly.

As smoothly as a red Chevy convertible heading full-tilt from LA to Las Vegas.

I figured that as I was building up to Brautigan towards the end of the month I would stop reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I had reached the tricky bit just after the rise of the 'primitive' Christian church and found it harder going than last time. I flicked a few pages of Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, learning about Rupert, before settling on a real plan. This time it would work, this time no one would get nailed to anything.

In November I would read books in my collection that could be loosely clubbed together as 'counter culture'. As genres are ill-definable I best set out my stall. Books with a high degree of substance abuse, marginalisation or that stray from the trend of acceptable social interaction: any book that would read the poster for the Trainspotting film and say, "no".

First up is Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I've read this before (though my recollections of the first time were mangled up with memories of seeing the film adaptation), though what has surprised me in this read is the speed of delivery, observations fire quickly, get distracted by one aspect and miss another one totally. This is the come-down from the end of the 1960s, as Hunter suggests, no one wanted mind-expansion in the early 1970s, they wanted to disconnect from reality.

There isn't a great deal of music in Fear and Loathing, though there's one notable seen including Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow. I don't own this lp yet, though it seems the US version is the one I'd prefer to get as it includes White Rabbit.

The second book of this odyssey through drinks and drugs is Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. I've always been a bit of a Fall fan when I've heard them on the radio; the two CDs I own are compilations. Whenever I think of the Fall I am reminded of the John Peel quote; whenever I think of Mark E. Smith I kind of imagine some kind of drunk genius poet who just happened to have a backbeat.

Unsurprisingly there's a lot of music mentioned in Renegade, so rather than picking out an lp I'll mention that Totally Wired by The Fall is a song that I think about when I want to run a mile pace under 8 minutes. This usually mashes well with Night Vision by Super Furry Animals, though mostly when I run it is one section repeated.

The last book for being an outsider was Steppenwolfe by Herman Hesse. This is a wonderful book on feeling outside of the normal society and having little care for the things that bring other people joy (about as much care as they have, actually). Hesse has done a fantastic job of fitting so many ideas into the book that it simply screams 'reread me', and it would be difficult to try to capture too many of them. Instead I will include one that chimed a lot with me, that wars are started by countries that do not wish to look inwards and resolve their own problems.

I finished my month starting Acceptance, which is not the tale of a man entering his 39th year with a few white hairs in a beard and a desire to run a 7:00 minute mile 10km.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

In the back is the gateway to Narnia

Visiting Horncastle in Lincolnshire on the chance there might be 'one or two bookshops'. I spent most of my teenage years in Lincolnshire (tend to think of it as my hometown and where I grew up) and yet there are a number of places I know very little about: Louth, Market Raisen, Retford...

And Horncastle. It's kind of in the middle of the fens, on the way to the coast and Skegvegas (or "so eggs gas" as predictive and ever-so-helpful text would have it), so you kind of need a car or the patience to use public transport. Once there you need patience to use the public car parks, East Lindsey District Council being helpful in not highlighting there locations, but there's so many rewards for making the effort.

First up was Jabberwock Books on St Lawrence Street, packaged with books. Unfortunately nothing caught my eye aside from a handful of Maigret books I already own. The market was in town while we had lunch, then it was visits to Age UK, Sue Ryder (where I almost bought a record until it fell apart on me) and the Red Cross.

Then we headed out along West Street. On the drive in looking for a car park we'd spotted a likely looking shop, West Street Books. How right we had been, the woman shopkeeper welcomed us with a description of the shop "and through the wardrobe to Narnia you'll find another room of books. Shout if you need anything."

"Or need help back from Narnia," my wife replied.

There is a treasure trove of books in the West Street Books shop, over many subjects. I saw two different versions of the book I am currently reading (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) and spotted some nice literature and poetry titles. In the end I plumped for Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, a book I hadn't really paid much attention to until now. 1960s counterculture literature appeals to me though I had been searching for Richard Brautigan.

With plenty of antique and collectibles shops, as well as three other booksellers we weren't able to visit, I think it won't be long before we're here again.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
West Street Books, 9-11 West Street, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Postscript. There is a large collection of Charlie Brown and Snoopy books in the West Street Books, and everyone will agree with me Charlie Brown is the Charlie Browniest of counterculture antiheroes