Five Books I’m fairly sure I’ve read, but can remember not one solitary thing about. Honestly, put a gun to my head. Nothing.

1. Lord Jim To the point where I’m not actually at all sure I’ve read this. Every now again, I have a sudden spurt of confidence and think, ‘yes, I did read it’. But it remains in this weird incorporeal space where I have no memory of any feeling, place or time associated with it. It’s that lack of sensation of reading that puts it ahead of other potential winners in the classic novel subgcategory – Dombey and Son, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Portrait of a Lady. With them, I simply don’t know what happened, and can’t name any characters in them (with the exception of Dombey, Son, The Tenant and A Lady). Take, as another point of contrast, Under Western Eyes: I know I read and enjoyed it, yet I have no recollection of its plot. With Lord Jim, I ask myself again and again ‘Have I read it?’ And again I shudder, because I fear this is the question I will be asking myself on my deathbed.

2. The Child in Time Ian McEwan’s child goes missing. This is probably the plot of this book. I remember I read a lot of it on the 53 going out of town down Humberstone Road. This was probably 16 or 17 years ago now, before the 50/51 took over that route. I think a child’s fare was around 26p then. Lovers of Midland Fox buses may wish to write in and correct that detail. My memories are uncertain.

3. Two or possibly three of those Zuckerman novels, by P Roth. People always told me I’d like these books. ‘Unsure about Roth?’ they’d say, ‘Read Zuckerman Unbound or The Ghost Writer. Your kind of thing.’ Liars. The advice came back to me recently: I had decided to give Roth another chance – HIS LAST – and read approx 100pp of The Ghost Writer before realising I had read it and ZU before. Astronomy, dying dad, actresses, Anne Frank. tbqh I’m slightly angry at the world about this one & think someone has to be the one to stand up and say if you think you don’t like Roth there’s a very good chance that you simply don’t like Roth and there is nothing wrong with you, no matter what the broadsheets & your friends (who are probably only pretending to like books & roth is like the safe Coldplayish choice – you might want to check if they can read, like give them a bit of paper with ‘there is a tiger behind you’ on it and see if they turn around) say. In fact, it is quite hard work & I consider you brave for not liking Roth. Well done.

4. The Third Reich: A New History by Michael Burleigh. I have read a 700-page history of Nazi Germany and yet if you asked me to talk about the rise of fascism in 1930s mitteleuropa I am certain I would just start describing Mr Hilter & the Minehead By-Election. See also that book about the death of Yugoslavia I read (poss The Death of Yugoslavia?). I can’t even remember who the bad guys were (Dalmatians?). Deciding to improve myself by reading books about important topics is clearly a dead loss, & it is clear I should only find out things I already know.

5. Almost every single play by John Dryden. I have definitely read every single play by John Dryden, many of them twice. But again, nothing. Not only could I not name any characters, if you were to give me the names of four plays and a list of characters taken from them, I’m not sure I could sort them properly. I mean obviously you’d have to do it so I couldn’t sort by common sense – Dutch or English names go in Amboyna, Greek into Amphitryon, etc – but if you were to come up with a fair, unobvious selection, then I’d have a lot of trouble. I say ‘almost’ every, because I’m okay on All for Love, Oedipus and Don Sebastian. Maybe Amphitryon too.

Hello Jarkko

What did happen here?

• I lost interest in snappy chatter about books. What fun we could all have had with the Padel/Walcott fuss! But everyone was talking at once, and did I really have much to say? Plus I’ve got pro ties to publishing now, & it’s harder, more depressing to make jolly jokes about the poo of that world when you spend desk days tying little ribbons on aforementioned poo & going along with the idea that a new novel from Mark Haddon matters.

• I lost interest in the present, and wasn’t sure this was the right place to talk about the past.

• Not really convinced this needs bullet points after all. But we’ve started now & there’s no way I know of to delete text on a computer.

• Anyway, I began to feel the web was a lot of noise, y’know. Addictive noise, like My Bloody Valentine, but noise nonetheless. I could spend ages writing a blog post, but it didn’t feel real in the end, like it was a waste. So I wrote a novel. It’s 70,000 words long, because that’s how long a novel is, but no-one’s allowed to read it. It’s too good.

• Scene changed. Things got crowded! And things got professional. And things got commenty. I saw things shifting to the conversational, but didn’t want to switch on comments because I liked the monotonous plains of my tyrannic empire. The pro attitude – Guardian Book Blog, LRB blog (HOLY SHIT the £27m family fortune debt of the LRB almost got me writing again. £13m spike fees I’m guessing. ) – gets you polish, but breeds bores. & dear Lord that world of saying clever things on Twitter, starting something on the Facebooks, etc etc. I’m anti-social. This is why I like it here and inside books.

• I kept meaning to write this post explaining why I stopped updating, but felt it was too self-indulgent (it is – but it’s not yknow becoming the blog theme or anything); also I always believed I might come back and post regularly, & then who’d look the fool for turning his back on the web and shuttering the old place eh?

• Lately though I’ve been getting the urge. I think it’s something to do with Martin Amis, like he’s a vegetation god proxy we killed after Yellow Dog, and now he rises again with The Pregnant Widow & the literary world seems bright and funny and worth mocking again.

He’s bringing sexy books

The Bell was down for a month or two there, I know; and, if anyone needed further evidence of my passion for opinionation and yapping’s having waned, the fact I knew this and couldn’t be arsed to tinker with the engine should provide it. I can’t imagine there are many readers left around here, but I guess I must be in some RSS feeds, so let’s get on with things (and apologies if you’ve been hurt by my absence. Fickle, that’s my problem.)

I should have done this a month or two ago, but I’m here to mention Bookkake, the new venture from James of BookTwo, STML and probably some other places too. Busy. He is both a nice man and committed to The Book. Good.

Bookkake is publishing print-on-demand editions of classic… well, I’m a bit stuck for the word. ‘Erotica’ is too genteel for The Torture Garden, and neither that word nor ‘pornography’ fits with Liber Amoris. Filthylit? Saucybooks? Hottext? Adult interest? You probably get the idea, anyway. They’re beautifully designed, with nicely set text and good covers; and they have engaging introductions – Tom McCarthy did The Torture Garden, for instance, and Fanny Hill‘s is by… well, me.

It was fun to write. I’m mostly pleased with it (And given my general level of self-criticism, that’s me saying it’s a goddamn masterpiece, though tbh I’m screaming about my double genteel in the final par).
Anyway, check out Bookkake. Also their blog.

(Edit/update note to self: plz stop browsing sites that mention Bookkake’s books at work, because you’re going to have hella job explaining your AMAZINGLY LEGITIMATE reason for reading Fleshbot and Supervert on the office computers. Supervert‘s a terrific & unsettling writer, incidentally, and also contributes an introduction.)

The three most exciting words in English: Literary Pub Quiz

Hello everyone.

Last year there was a Literary Pub Quiz. My team, of course, won, because we were the best. You’ll remember, most likely, the victory celebrations – open-top bus, cheering crowds, champagne and speeches in Trafalgar Square, the Queen giving us all a special medal for being cool and smart. I’m just a little embarrassed that I can’t remember where they put up that statue to us.

Anyhow, the quiz returns! This year, however, I won’t be competing, I’ll be setting. This is obvs good news for you because it gives you a chance.

So, come along to the Wheatsheaf on July 14th, and answer some questions of varying degrees of difficulty concerning books. There are prizes. It should be a fun night whatever: I expect a lively crowd, and no-one except me will make fun of you if you get questions wrong.

RIP Oakley Hall

Oakley Hall, the author of Warlock has died. I spent a while with his books a few years ago for this (nb. too long for the web, and starts horribly and incorrectly). I enjoyed his writing, and am sorry to see him gone.

Brief notes: BJs, Beanworld, Bodgers

Three quick things.
a) I finally got to read ‘The Platonic Blow’ by Auden. I’d heard about it for years, but never seen it. It lives up to the word of mouth (lols not intended) – dirty, not great. Solid, but then you wouldn’t expect anything less than technical and syntactic control from Auden.

ii. I only just heard that Larry Marder is back at work on Beanworld. This is incredibly cheering news; it’s one of my favourite comics ever. On a gushy & blathery blog I had in the day I said this about it:

Final word: there are acts of creation that you can understand. They exist within generic models; talent and craft are both evident; inspiration and skill both visible; though they can be challenging, you can see where they’ve come from, and what they’re doing. Then there’s stuff like this – much of the same applies (there’s no lack of craft here), but there’s something almost impossible to grasp about how these works came into the world. They’re strange, really not like anything else. They’re not necessarily better, but they are rarer – pay attention when you sniff these out.

That’s about right. Though ‘not necessarily better’ is wet, and I would rescind it.

Three: Mark E Smith, Wyndham Lewis, Evelyn Waugh, Jocelyn Brooke… this guy’s okay by me. Actually, I’m slightly jealous that he’s lighted on the Brotherhood of Ruralists as a subject. The shitness of Second Series Arden Shakespeare covers is a topic that requires urgent scholarly attention, yet academics remain all Q-this and F-that. What gives?

The Bell will not give in to anti-DRM pirates

Here’s the latest in our series of Classic poems in Rot-13.

‘Gur Eryvdhr’, by Wbua Qbaar.

Jura zl tenir vf oebxr hc ntnvar
Fbzr frpbaq turfg gb ragregnvar,
(Sbe tenirf unir yrnea’q gung jbzna-urnq
Gb or gb zber gura bar n Orq)
Naq ur gung qvtf vg, fcvrf
N oenpryrg bs oevtug unver nobhg gur obar,
Jvyy ur abg yrg’hf nybar,
Naq guvaxr gung gurer n ybivat pbhcyr yvrf,
Jub gubhtug gung guvf qrivpr zvtug or fbzr jnl
Gb znxr gurve fbhyrf, ng gur ynfg ohfvr qnl,
Zrrg ng guvf tenir, naq znxr n yvggyr fgnl?

Vs guvf snyy va n gvzr, be ynaq,
Jurer zvf-qribgvba qbgu pbzznaq,
Gura, ur gung qvttrf hf hc, jvyy oevat
Hf, gb gur Ovfubc, naq gur Xvat,
Gb znxr hf Eryvdhrf; gura
Gubh funyg or n Znel Zntqnyra, naq V
N fbzrguvat ryfr gurerol;
Nyy jbzra funyy nqber hf, naq fbzr zra;
Naq fvapr gung ng fhpu gvzr, zvenpyrf ner fbhtug,
V jbhyq unir gung ntr ol guvf cncre gnhtug
Jung zvenqrf jrr unezryrffr ybiref jebhtug.

Svefg jr ybi’q jryy naq snvgushyyl,
Lrg xarj abg jung jrr ybi’q, abe jul,
Qvssrerapr bs frk ab zber jrr xarj,
Gura bhe Thneqvna Natryyf qbr;
Pbzzvat naq tbvat, jrr
Crepunapr zvtug xvffr, ohg abg orgjrra gubfr zrnyrf;
Bhe unaqf ar’e gbhpug gur frnyrf,
Juvpu angher, vawhe’q ol yngr ynj, frgf serr:
Gurfr zvenpyrf jrr qvq; ohg abj nynf,
Nyy zrnfher, naq nyy ynathntr, V fubhyq cnffr,
Fubhyq V gryy jung n zvenpyr furr jnf.

I read TS Eliot’s classic analysis early:

gur zbfg cbjreshy rssrpg vf cebqhprq ol gur fhqqra pbagenfg bs nffbpvngvbaf bs ‘oevtug unve’ naq bs ‘ober’. Guvf gryrfpbcvat bs vzntrf naq zhygvcyvrq nffbpvngvbaf vf punenpgrevfgvp bs gur cuenfr bs fbzr bs gur qenzngvfgf bs gur crevbq juvpu Qbaar xarj: abg gb zragvba Funxrfcrner, vg vf serdhrag va Zvqqyrgba, Jrofgre, naq Gbhearhe, naq vf bar bs gur fbheprf bs gur ivgnyvgl bs gurve ynathntr.

And I wonder if his authority didn’t make this one of the cornerstones of my taste. Lovely sonics in that line of course: the alliterative run is most obvious: ‘oe’, ‘oe’, ‘no’, ‘ob’, but the run of distinct long vowels(oenpr, oevtug, unver, obhg, obar) is just a beautiful piece of work. Spectacular. Qbaar is such a show-off; but who else has had so much to show?

Old-school annotations used to suggest that ‘N fbzrguvat ryfr gurerol’ was a saint, I think? Surely he’s referring to the big man’s son? I’m not really up to speed on Qbaar studies.

God, I’m so

Bored.

I just finished reading Wikipedia. Who knew there were so many Pokemon?

But that’s it. I’ve reached the end of the Internet. You wouldn’t believe how long Gutenberg took me. And Korean Starcraft fan sites weren’t a short stroll along a tarmacked road neither.

So, bored.

Only cheap laughs at stupid mistakes can cheer me up now.

No no no.

Come on.

There are worthwhile things…

Like….

Swift’s Journal to Stella!

This went around the book blogs a little while ago, but I haven’t mentioned it till now because I’m unbelievably lazy. It’s a day-by-day post of Jonathan Swift’s letters back to his friend-partner-confidante-complicated-something in Dublin, written as he’s politicking and meeting people and watching the world in London.

In paper form, the Journal is a bit of a block on the page; it’s kind of dense and unfriendly, full of in-jokes and private language games and names you need to flip to the footnotes to recognise. Once you’re through that, though, it’s tremendous: Swift being funny, sharp, silly, playful, touching – it’s just a really great private book. Swift tends to mean one thing (‘coruscating satire’ & don’t get me started on ‘coruscating”s sliding meaning) to a lot of readers. That obscures a little how much range he has: what a keen observer he is, how well he’s listening to speech and watching the town; how he can be casually and harmlessly funny, just pointlessly entertaining; how he’s firing from an over-inventive imagination that’s racing ahead of itself all the time; and just what a neat stylist he is, whether writing plainly or working up the rhetoric.

There’s never been another like him; the old saeva indignatio doesn’t begin to cover it.

I think it’s a fine service to the world this being up: Paddy (see below for full disclosure!!) was spot on in realising that the Web would serve this well; that the barriers to enjoying it would be greatly reduced with links and daily posting. It’s inspired, of course, by Phil Gyford’s Pepys’ Diary; and I think it would be great to see more things like this. A Wood! Evelyn!

That full disclosure!!: I did the back-end & design work on the site, and the mastermind is a good friend of mine. The hard & impressive work is his; I’m responsible for the things that don’t quite work. Send complaints this way.

Speaking of the Guardian…

Saturday Guardian From The Blogs section? Here’s a time-saver for you:

Sean at The Midnight Bell took a more generous view of Allen’s place on the panel: “There’s been a healthy crossover between literature and showbiz over the last few years. Look at David Mitchell – how does he fit it all in? And the Alain de Botton/Martina Cole Celebrity Wife Swap was must-see TV. ” But he has one reservation: “Some of us will cry ‘foul’ if there’s another all-woman shortlist.”

Mostly about a torchecul

SERIOUSLY

LACOSTE ADVERT PRETTY GIRL.

GIVE IT UP.

YOU’RE NOT GOING TO CATCH THE FUCKING KITE.

It’s been like three years now.

To important business. Conrad at Vunex needs information about… well, he’d better explain. It has to do with wiping your arse on a goose’s neck, Rabelais and Liam Gallagher.

(I initially wrote wiping your arse on a Gosse’s neck. Obviously remembering that famous scene in Father and Son.)

Hey – you should read Image of a Drawn Sword by Jocelyn Brooke. It’s hard to get hold of, but unbelievably fabulous. I’m telling you now that over the next two years we’ll be seeing the following:

a) Article by some guy on Guardian Book Blog about how Brooke’s a great neglected writer.
b) Article by minor novelist in Saturday Guardian about how Brooke’s a great neglected writer.
c) Republication by C&R or NYRB classics or someone.
d) Everyone pretending they were into it before me, which they weren’t (except you Tom; thanks again for the tip).