This is the story of how I got around to reading a book. Some time ago, I ordered Richard Price's Lush Life, Richard Morgan's Black Man (Thirteen in the States) and Ian MacDonald's Brasyl. I started on Lush Life but it felt so much like reading an episode of The Wire (for which Price wrote) that I ended up watching a bunch of episodes of The Wire, just to satisfy the urge to listen to that fine dialogue coming out of actors' mouths. Of course, you don't get the grace notes of reading that a lieutenants eyes, confronted with the incompetence of everyone in the room, are "starred with marvel". But you do get that mesmerising scene in which the two detectives, going over a very cold crime scene, speak only in f-bombs (except for one astounded “Motherfucker” when a detective finds a well-hidden bullet) as they reconstruct a murder.
After watching nine episodes of The Wire, I went back to Lush Life, but the novel has a funny rhythm, a series of peaks and troughs, and after the irrestible push of the television show I wanted something that would just pick me up by the collar and boot it down the street. So I started Black Man, which is a charming tale of a genetically engineered nasty man living in a near-future world where his kind are restricted to Mars or hunted down whenever social pressures demand a scapegoat. Morgan is not exactly an acquired taste – his sentences are quick and harsh without getting too self-consciously gritty – but I suppose violent cyberpunk(ish) scifi is not for everyone. It's certainly for me.
Once that brick of book was done, Richard Price was still sitting on the nightstand and looking at me a slightly world-weary glint in his eye. Soon, I promised, and went to the library. Reading Richard Morgan put me in the mood for more of the same, so I grabbed a couple of Neal Asher novels – The Voyage of the Sable Keech and Brass Man. Asher is another British scifi author who writes far-future space operas with a good deal of wit and characters that carry over from novel to novel until you reach a familiarity with them, like they were friends who breezed through town two or three times a year.
I felt a touch guilty about putting off Price for another two novels, so I borrowed another Richard Price novel (Samaritan). I also had a sudden hunger for Beckett, so I plucked Molloy – Malone Dies – The Unnameable off the shelf. I had now insulated my time with Lush Life by five novels. I thought Fuck It and got a graphic novel as well. They go quick.
Either I have grown past Neal Asher or Neal Asher has grown past senescence, but I found Sable Keech and Brass Man both close to unreadable, long uninspired slogs that felt like clever Asher imitations. I doubt I would have enjoyed them at all if I hadn't read his earlier stuff. Nonetheless I bored through both of them, because I am incapable of putting down plot-driven books, even if the payoff is a pile of damp pennies.
Having been contaminated by slack writing, I felt the need to floss my brain with Beckett's Molly. Beckett is the filthiest floss you've ever unwound and Molloy is the most relentlessly funny thing I have ever read How Beckett manages to draw comedy from an old man who can barely remember his own name but can describe in exhausting detail an intricate system of distributing pebbles in his pockets for the purposes of sucking on them (the explanation takes pages), I do not know. But funny it is, as Molloy dredges up memories, contradicts himself, retracts the contradiction and then complains about his feet, all the while wandering a featureless countryside in an attempt to find the town where his mother lives.
I got as far as part one of Molloy when I realized that I had two Richard Price novels to get to, but they were both in hardcover and not suitable for carrying around. Brasyl was also hardcover, but small enough to qualify as portable, so I started in on that. After forty pages of MacDonald, I decided that I needed a break from fiction altogether, so I bought Howard McGee's On Food and Cooking and the unbelievably good Perfumes: A Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. My father's only comment was I hope you bought a remaindered copy. Nope. Amazon is cheap, but not as cheap as that black streak stroked across a book's tail. The book purports to be the first of its kind, a “definitive guide to the world of perfumes,” featuring a brace of essays up front and a long rundown of hundreds or maybe thousands of perfumes, each one described in synaesthetic but precise prose that you can appreciate even if your're new to the jargon. If you ever read it, chypre is pronounced shee-preh.
I also ordered my own copy of Samuel Beckett, because I knew I'd miss the book when I returned it to the library.
I'd like to take a quick break at this point to mention that back in my first year of university, writing one thousand words on a given topic seemed like an immense labour. Now I can write that much without getting up to refill my coffee cup.
Finally, last weekend I dropped by the book store to buy a book for my mother. Because she deserves it, damnit. And while scanning the shelves, I found Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, which all the cool folk are reading these days. So I started in on that one as well.
Two nights ago I picked up Lush Life from my nightstand and opened it up to a spot that looked familiar. I read one hundred pages in one gulp and found myself somewhere deep inside the terrible hours of morning, when you know that you've overstayed your welcome in the waking world, and that you're going to spend the next day in your office, sipping on the gruel of wakefulness. I've made a deal with my books now: Bolaño at lunch, Price in the evening, Beckett at bedtime. It doesn't leave me much time for the most recent episodes of Battlestar Galactica, but I'm clearing out some extra hours.