How the other half read

It’s that time of year when the Sundays (I can never hear the phrase ‘Sunday Papers’ without thinking of the wonderful old Joe Jackson song), the Staggers and the like fill a few pages with the ‘Summer Reading Special’. I may not be quite the snarky little cynic I once was, but as an editor I know cheaply sourced copy when I see it, and I always think these lack the same things that packets of crisps do nowadays – a pinch of salt for the purchaser to apply to taste. (My mean streak lives on, however: I quietly wonder if anyone has ever drawn these pages out as a spider diagram, connecting those plugging authors from their publisher or agent’s lists, or via the dinner party circuit. How can you tell I live in Buckinghamshire and my dinner party guests are teachers, graphic designers and retired tax inspectors? 😉 (No packet of salt available, but season with a sly wink if you wish.)

Smiling benignly and innocently instead – I blame the Pimms – I figured that if Twitter allows us to humblebrag about one achingly hip bedside read at a time, then a blog must surely be #humblebrag2 – a chance to name-drop (or is it title drop?) several for the price of the same click. So…

Two recent reads I’ve already managed to name drop: Stuart Ever’s Your Father Sends His Love and DW Wilson, whose Once You Break A Knuckle is a tougher world than the one in his story Mountains Under The Sea (see an earlier post) and one where the prevailing masculinity – these are very male stories – is less keen to reveal the chinks in its armour to the reader (although they are there, between the lines).

What else? Ivan Vladislavic’s 101 Detectives was a punt purchase, based on how much I loved The Restless Supermarket. His short stories have the same playfulness of – and with – language as the earlier novel, and the same intelligent satirist’s edge in many cases, albeit with a wider range of targets. (As a copywriter, his story about a ‘corporate storyteller’ – that involuntary cringe you just experienced was the right reaction, btw –  had me wincing with recognition.)

Martina Evans’ Burnfort, Las Vegas (disclosure: Martina was one of my MA tutors, and helped to establish The Birkbeck Poets, with whom we’re delighted she continues to read) is a gem, darker observations and acute insights concealed under initial wit.

Catie Disabato’s The Ghost Network comes a difference place altogether. Recognising a common link of playfulness in the likes of Madonna/Lady Gaga (although her story’s heroine reminded me of one of William Gibson’s creations) and the Situationists, there are layers of meta-fiction piled merrily atop each other here. The complexity of detail is sometimes too much, losing the momentum of the narrative, and I wonder if you may need to be as big a Guy Debord fan as me to enjoy it (or to not wonder if the ‘pop star’ strand is sometimes strong enough to stand the metaphorical weight), but one to persevere with. And I never thought I’d read a novel where Mackenzie Wark cropped up in passing. Makes a lovely change from Alain de Botton. (Can someone sneak Umair Haque into a novel sometime? Arm wrestling with Yanis Varoufakis, perhaps?)

Waiting patiently to be read

David Braziel’s I am not a Poet (hey David, I order a copy but not shown up yet – I hope it’s on its way!)
Unthology 7 – drawn by the writing of Charlie Hill and looking forward to making more great discoveries
Andrew McMillan’s physical – if he’s as promising as this Independent article suggests, I’ll be very happy

More of the work of KM Elkes, whose Bath Short Story placed story The Three Kings (download as a PDF) had some wonderful use of language. I’ll leave you with a taster…

“We worked up at the big hospital by day. Francis in the kitchens, though the Health and Safety should have known he was tempestuous around knives and spices. Me and Robbie were porters on the wards, wheeling out the lame, the vacant and the cold – half of them having died, we reckoned, at the hands of those bandits in the kitchens.

It was sour work mostly and on Fridays we craved hot faces and full lips, nipples under dresses like night-time flowerbuds, slick-thighed girls.”



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