Friday, 7 February 2020

Reading matter

As my New Year's Resolution has (again) involved reading more books I thought I'd share my thoughts about those (few) that I've so far completed.

First was a wonderful return visit to a truly wonderful book, Modern Nature, by Derek Jarman. I think what appealed to me most about this book when I first read it was that it was so unexpected. I knew Jarman as a somewhat iconoclastic film director and gay rights campaigner. I remember catching a glimpse of Prospect Cottage, the famous fisherman's hut he lived in, when we visited Dungeness a couple of year's ago. There's now a campaign to save it, preserve it, open it up to the public. British costume designer Sandy Powell even wore a plain white suit to the BAFTAs last weekend in order to collect autographs on her clothing which she hopes to auction in aid of the campaign. The book itself is wonderfully lyrical - part peaen to the beauty of otherwise unloved places and part memoir of a remarkable artistic life cut tragically short.

Prospect Cottage, July 2016

Another untimely death - that of Elizabeth Wurtzel in January this year - led me to my next book, another memoir though about as different from Jarman's as it's possible to imagine. In Prozac Nation Wurtzel describes the long, lonely struggle against depression and the isolation of suffering something so misunderstood in forensic detail. If occasionally bordering on self-pity, the writing usually crackles with electricity. Although the book is relentless in its misery it's not a miserable read, although occasionally a bit of judicious editing would have been useful.

Finally, I thought I'd go the whole drug-addled, self-obsessed hog by reading Self's book on himself, Will, by Will. Self. I like Self's fiction, really loved his Zack Busner trilogy and thought his creative power would make even the most sickening autobiographical anecdotes of addiction interesting. But like Wurtzel's pain, the whole thing is never so interesting to the reader as it is to the sufferer. Philip Larkin once wrote to a correspondent: 'Other people's illnesses aren't interesting. I mention mine only to excuse the probable dullness of what I shall write.' To illnesses, add addiction.

Three books down, 49 to go. My Goodreads challenge is to average one book per week. And I'm already behind. But, in related news, I've now signed up to PigeonHole and currently enjoying the daily 'staves' of A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister. A daily, online serialisation might be just the thing I need. And a good book, of course, which this is!

To be continued...

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