Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wise men say/ Only fools rush in.

I read a lot. And I SMS (or text, if you prefer) quite a bit. But I'm far from ready for the crazy notion of compressing books into snappy shorthand text messages.

Call me old-fashioned. (Hell, just call me anyway.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

There will be an answer/ Let it be.

It's the ultimate New Age pastime: worrying. Doesn't require any special equipment and/or expertise. Utterly virtual, so you can plunge into it at any time, in any place. And completely, exquisitely pointless.

I'm quite brilliant at it, and, on a good day, can work myself up to worrying about whether I'm worrying too much in the first place. Which is the mental equivalent of an Escher drawing.

One of my favourite things to worry about is what to read next, and I'm always faintly surprised that it isn't a more widespread source of stress. Let's face it, the world is full of more good books than I will ever be able to read (I use the word 'good' in the loosest possible sense, extending it to encompass posher words of more syllables: interesting, horrifying, intriguing, beautiful, entertaining, different, tragic, etc.) And, once you accept that fact, you proceed to live with the corollary: that everything you actually read is a fairly random selection from that master list.

Leon Trotsky, apparently, felt much the same way, and had this to offer in terms of advice. (To put things into perspective, he spent years in prison, where all he did was read. And, eventually, write.)

Tibor Fischer has a great short story on the subject, buried in an otherwise forgettable collection called Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid. (It opened with the rather nice We Ate the Chef, then proceeded to lose me completely.)

Some people, quite mistakenly, call this reading anxiety.

I could blather on about this for ages, but my new Murakami beckons.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Maybe you should listen to: The Long and Winding Road.

Both versions. The full-on Phil Spector-engineered version from Let It Be (which took eight days, 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, a harp, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitarists and 14 singers), as well as the haunting bare-bones ballad it was written to be, as heard on Let It Be... Naked, and Anthology 3.

Why? 1. It's often described as the song that broke up the Beatles. 2. It's claimed to be about B842, a 50-kilometre Scottish road that winds along the coast of Kintyre to Campbeltown. (Which, they tell me, is home to a distinctively briny single malt called Springbank.) 3. It's written by my favourite Beatle, even though contractual agreements led it to be listed as Lennon/ McCartney. Like Yesterday. 4. He sang it to close Live 8 this year. (Well, not quite, since he worked his way into the la-la-laing from Hey Jude.) 5. The Spector version is the only Beatles track on which Lennon played bass. (With good reason, too.) 6. It was their last No.1. 7. The two versions are separated by 35 years, the death of two Beatles, and much, much lobbying. 8. It might lead you to listen to the rest of Let It Be, which remains a peculiarly fitting epitaph to the Beatles -- the final chapter of a story that began with I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

And, most of all, because: 9. It utterly blows me away each time I hear it.

Random wisdom: Paul McCartney.

"I like writing sad songs, it's a good bag to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It's a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Random wisdom: John Connolly.

A few questions you've heard a hundred times before. And a few damn good answers you haven't.

If you're at an airport book store, do pick up: The Black Angel.

Charlie Parker. Legendary jazz saxophonist. Often mentioned in the same breath as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Once said, “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Also John Connolly’s haunted, first-person hero. Last seen in The Black Angel, an extraordinary novel that describes the familiar darkness of a Stephen King landscape with the lyricism of Salman Rushdie -- lushly evocative, effortless prose that seems almost too sophisticated for a paperback thriller to be read on a boring business trip.

It’s a special book, alright. Released in some parts of the world with an accompanying CD, the soundtrack to which Connolly wrote this, and a few other Parker-starring books. But utterly unforgettable in that it introduces to you a name that you've never heard before, but are very unlikely to forget. Sedlec.

Hannibal was a name that belonged to an Alps-crossing invader, before you attached it forever to Thomas Harris' invention of pure, distilled evil. (And for the odd trivia fiend, his last name was Barca. Like the diminutive of a certain Spanish football club.) Sedlec is different.

First of all, it's a place. Somewhere in the Czech Republic, on the outskirts of a town called Kutna Hora. Clearly not a popular tourist destination. (The Lonely Planet throws up the odd link to a fan site, worth visiting for the pictures.)

It's most often referred to as the Sedlec Ossuary, a word that appeared on page 224 of the book, and forced me to look it up. An ossuary is a receptacle for skeletal remains, and in Sedlec, in the Middle Ages, it gave rise to a whole new art form. The artist is Frantisek Rint. And his masterpiece, this cathedral of bones. (More trivia? The monastery now belongs to Philip Morris.)

In Connolly's Acknowledgments at the end of the book, he describes it as being "far more impressive visually than I could convey in words". He's right.

Can't wait for the movie.
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