Archive for March, 2011

A civilising text

One of the problems with listening to audio books is that it’s not so easy to quote them in your blog.

Currently I am listening to The Black Company by Glen Cook. It has some fine sentences in it. The words are very well chosen. The vocabulary is advanced yet unostentatious. Mr Cook eschews ornamentation. He prefers to be visual, visceral and direct.

In this it serves my purpose well. I don’t read for idle entertainment but to stimulate my imagination and keep my literary senses sharp. I have a fear of shrinking into inarticulate taciturnity.

This was a theme in The Virginian, which I finished last week. That was also an audio book, though I must admit I also downloaded it as an ebook on Stanza. It was quite helpful to have the text to refer to. I re-read the first quarter of the book because I was a little confused after the first listen. My mind had wandered at some of the crucial moments and I missed some pivotal interactions.

I also wanted to quote from The Virginian but, even though I had the ebook, I couldn’t find the sentences that struck me as memorable. And now I have forgotten them completely.

But I do remember that Molly helped draw out The Virginian’s true character by encouraging him to read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, much as Cathy helped tame and civilise Hareton in Wuthering Heights.

So now The Black Company is civilising me.


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running shoes by Jess

I don’t want you to think I’m a pervert but ever since I wrote favourably about a self-published teenage blog novel called Eyeleash, the author keeps sending me the prolific outpourings of her fertile female imagination. She publishes these as e-books and gets rave reviews from her readers. I think she doesn’t really need any further endorsements from me. That’s good, because I don’t really want to endorse erotica. However, I’m not sure that what Jess writes really is erotica.

It’s very hard to write about sex. It can be very complicated emotionally and very crude physically. There may be many unknowns. You risk looking ridiculous or even perverse. You lay yourself open in ways that you may not realise.

But it’s always worth persisting. Sexual desire is a primary motivator. Sexual energy permeates all human dynamics. When you are writing about people you are writing about sex.

It’s not necessary to be explicit. But if the complicated emotions about sex are to be convincingly implicit, it is essential that they are understood.

Owen Wister understands sex very well, I think. I don’t know much about him except that he married his cousin and had six children but I didn’t need to know even this to know that he has thought a great deal about sex.

I am reading his novel The Virginian. It is about a cowboy in the Wild West but at its heart is a tender love story. Informing this love story is a deep literary sensibility and a mature understanding of conscience and desire. This is why it is a fascinating story and a literary classic. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.

Jess also understands desire. She writes about it much more explicitly and some of her stories have even been banned. I haven’t read the banned ones. She doesn’t even know why they’ve been banned. She thinks it’s because of the incest, which is, you know, like having sex with your cousin or something like that.

But one thing she does understand is how it feels to want something that everyone tells her she can’t have. She longs for the forbidden fruit. And she has put a great deal of thought and energy into writing about that desire.

Forbidden fruit can be a metaphor for many things, of course. Sex is just the most obvious kind of desire. But Jess clearly has another driving desire – the desire to be published.

In this she is a model for many young and ambitious writers. She doesn’t wring her hands and curse the publishing industry. She just publishes things. She writes and she puts her writing out there. It’s imperfect. It’s raw sometimes and a little rough around the edges, but it’s full of brio. It’s very contemporary. It has personality and energy. It deals with modern issues in a very modern way. And for that I recommend it to anyone who wants to write, even if they don’t want to write about sex.

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House of dreams

This is not my house!

Today I woke up from a dream in a reasonably happy frame of mind. I’d been cleaning out one of my houses where I’d lived with my daughter and Lanying. It was a sprawling old house with lots of rooms on many floors. There were things in there I never knew I had. I’d thrown away some junk and unearthed some sentimental treasures. After all that effort, it was so nice to have this spare house full of uncluttered, spacious rooms.

Then I realised it had been a dream and I felt sad. My daughter has moved away and now I live in a modern flat by the river.

In fact the house in my dream never existed. My last house was horrible. I have no reason to feel sad because where I live now is very comfortable and I love being next to the river.

But the last year has been very difficult for me. I have had a lot of pressures. Just after I managed to sell my old house and move here I got a call from my stepmother. She had been taken to hospital. She was discharged soon after but she was no longer able to look after herself. She had lost the use of her legs, had breathing difficulties, and needed help with everything. She couldn’t wash or dress herself or even get in and out of bed without help. I went as often as I could but it was difficult to get the time off work sometimes. I couldn’t always be there when she needed me. Just to drive her to and from the hospital used up a whole day. Waiting around for her prescriptions would take hours.

A few months ago she died and now I am administering her estate. It is quite complex and it has been weighing on my mind. I will be relieved when the legal matters are finally settled.

The legal deadline for submitting the financial declarations is fast approaching but I don’t yet have everything clear. Financial institutions are inefficient and untrustworthy. If I had a choice I would never put money in a bank.

In April I am going to Paris with my daughter. Then I am going to China with Lanying.

I have not been working as hard at learning Chinese as I should have been. I have been forgetting simple words that I’ve known for years. I have no time to brush up my French. I will make my daughter do all the talking. But in China I will talk for myself. I am very determined about that.

And then, when I am back in England, I will find time to write again. Because who else can describe the house of my dreams?

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