Stories: Life in Books

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  • Simon Grigg,

    Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters

    That was quite a book for me too when I found it after a vaguely romanticizing Beat period...I read it several times and remember it as rather sad.

    Mervin Peake....not only the Gormenghast trilogy but Mr Pye and his wonderful children's work. His flights of, sometimes, medieval merged with gothic fantasy enthralled me for years. I remember the three pages he took in Titus Groan to describe two steps taken on a staircase by Steerpike. The TV adaptation could not, and didn't do it justice. That said, I haven't revisited it in recent years as I think I'd be disappointed.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3184 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    Simon Grigg wrote:

    Mervin Peake....not only the Gormenghast trilogy but Mr Pye and his wonderful children's work. His flights of, sometimes, medieval merged with gothic fantasy enthralled me for years. I remember the three pages he took in Titus Groan to describe two steps taken on a staircase by Steerpike. The TV adaptation could not, and didn't do it justice. That said, I haven't revisited it in recent years as I think I'd be disappointed.

    I'm really glad you mentioned Peake, Simon. A lot of readers hate that laborious, drawn-out aspect of his (and other writers') work, and the internet and short attention spans may - temporarily, at least - have killed it. It's what I'm always saying about how great writing makes an impact on me: it's not tight or convoluted plotting or cleverness that makes it memorable. It's atmosphere. Peake understood that, and perhaps it was his past and his work as an illustrator that made creating such vivid imagery so important to him.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    the internet and short attention spans may - temporarily, at least - have killed it.

    and the age of Encarta complete with it's brief, and often to the wrong point, articles, has gone along way towards killing the Encyclopedia sadly. When I was seven my parents bought me a ten volume set of Encyclopedias, with each volume being theme-atic. I read each voraciously over and over again, with special reference to the volumes on history and geography. By the time I was nine I could (and still can) recite the kings & Queens of England from Alfred, and so on. When I was in my early teens I devoured my grandfather's sets of Chamber's Encyclopedias from the 1880s, the full Cyclopedia of New Zealand from the same period. I was lucky enough to inherit both, plus his rather large collection of New Zealand books.

    The net is a wealth of knowledge and the amount we can find with a few clicks continues to astound me, but nothing can, or does, replace the intensity of knowledge and information impact, or indeed pleasure of discovery, obtained from the immersion in a dusty volume or five. It's something that I've tried to instill in my daughter...google it, but if your interest goes beyond the merely curious, pursue it in a book.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3184 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    Simon, I completely agree, its just that Wikipedia and Google are just so darn, well, handy ....

    As a kid I soaked up some the more esoteric sources of information such as The Peoples Almanac, and the Book of Lists. Heck, even the Guinness Book of Records was devoured from cover to cover.

    Unfortunately, while researching with my 7 year old daughter on her recent school project on volcanoes, my mixed bag of surviving 30 year old reference books just didn't cut the mustard, often being hopelessly out of date (30 year old Atlases are a nice way to demonstrate how much the world has changed).

    So its Google or the Library.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Amen to the mention of Peake. Maybe it _is_ best left lingering in the back of the head, but Gormengast is terrific. Dense and macabre- and the final book a bit of a let down in some ways- but dark and powerful. And Peake's other writing includes some very whimsical poetry and a quirky romantic comedy that failed at the box office, but is also worth reading, called "the wit to woo".
    And ditto for the encyclopaedia: I spent a lot of time reading an dusty '49 Brittanica as a kid, and I've kept it, much to my kids amused disgust. It's actually very good for history and geography.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1353 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    In terms of favourite authors right now Banks, Nigel Cox, and Terry Pratchett would be right up near the top. But in terms of those special moments:

    - Footrot Flats. Read these constantly as a little kid. Cue endless Murray Ball-ripoff title pages in primary school exercise books.

    - Goosebumps series. Appalling crap that everyone at primary read and passed around, and hence you had to own at least one. Oddly compelling when you're eight, actually...

    - Sven Hassel. I don't know how this ultraviolent, Nazi-narrated series of action novels made it into our Catholic high school library, but I read them with a kind of appalled fascination until they all got thrown out.

    - Iain Banks (again). First ran into one of these books in Form 5 and it was a revelation. Science fiction with actual wit! And swears! Violence that makes sense! Post-scarcity societies! Well. My appreciation got a bit deeper over time. Like Scott I'd put Player of Games at the top of the list, followed closely by Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward.

    - How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir. Read it at the end of school - an unofficial car manual written by a confirmed hippy, dotted with bad advice and neat illustrations that still grace my walls at home. Didn't buy the car to go with it though.

    - Hells Angels by Hunter S. A nice wild tome for a first year at university. Still my favourite book by him as well.

    - The Penguin Book of American Verse. Talk about a permanent eye-opener - my first encounter with Ginsberg, Edward Dorn, Frank O'Hara, Ai, and so on.

    I really could bang on and on here.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1549 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Oh dear lord! another sven hassel reader! Although I'm impressed your high school had them, that is kind of crazy.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Gormengast is terrific

    As an aside, the first (and easily the best IMO) Split Enz album, Mental Notes, opened with the line "stranger than fiction / larger than life / full of shades and echoes" lifted verbatim from the Penguin back cover of Gormengast. The album also had the track Titus.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3184 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    Simon Grigg wrote:

    As an aside, the first (and easily the best IMO) Split Enz album, Mental Notes, opened with the line "stranger than fiction / larger than life / full of shades and echoes" lifted verbatim from the Penguin back cover of Gormengast. The album also had the track Titus.

    British prog band The Strawbs (more accurately, the Hudson-Ford component thereof) also had a beautiful Gormenghast-inspired song, called Lady Fuschia (misspelt on the iTunes Store), available here.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    As less of an "aside of an aside" to this thread, if I'm not mistaken Scott and Sam and anyone else who has so far commented on Iain Banks has been praising only the "Menzies variant" (i.e. the sci-fi chunk) of the novelist's body of work. It's worth adding, I think, that The Bridge is an extraordinary novel and may eventually come to be considered a modern classic (alongside Martin Amis's London Fields, say; although it's a quite different kind of book).

    Did anyone else who watched the first season of the BBC's Life on Mars notice the similarities? Man has car accident; goes into a coma; cannot escape from it or a strange alternative world not of his choosing... I've commented on this elsewhere and, while it might easily be coincidental, you do have to wonder.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    I am only familar with Bank's scifi (culture) work, although I have been meaning to read his whisky book.

    Oddly enough I was given several of those as a gift via Amazon - they never turned up, or so I thought. So after 2-3 months I got the giver to talk to Amazon, who promptly sent out new copies. Then a few months later we found out the mailbox had a whole other compartment that had a variety of things, including 6 month old muffins and the original book package. (It was sort of hidden below, amongst ivy and the like).

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Common,

    I will freely admit I'm a bit of a sci-fi junkie (in case you couldn't guess from my list). I've read a fair bit of Iain Banks (the straight fiction) and cut my teeth on The Wasp Factory (that was a bit of an eye opener!). In particular though, I am fascinated with The Culture setting which Iain M Banks has put together and thats why his sci-fi appeals to me more than his straight fiction. The Bridge is also very good - though I'd hesitate to descibe it as a classic (but really who am I to say).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I really, really love Iain Banks, but his female characters all strike me as men with breasts.

    I would vote for Consider Phlebas and The Crow Road as my favourite M and non-M Banks books. The whisky book needed a good editing and had far too much "gosh I'm rich! And I have a lot of cars!" in it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2906 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    I really, really love Iain Banks, but his female characters all strike me as men with breasts.

    Especially in The Wasp Factory.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    It is possible his books are merely a propoganda piece for those that believe the nature of humankind is universal

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    I re-watched Blade Runner last night (D cut), the book was Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep, I think (so as to be on thread).
    Ben, could you please clarify your point there, because I think it's a good one.
    WRT Blade Runner, is this universal nature of humankind thing questioned or affirmed? And I guess we need to define Universal Nature of Humankind in this context, no?

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    merc wrote:

    Ben, could you please clarify your point there, because I think it's a good one.
    WRT Blade Runner, is this universal nature of humankind thing questioned or affirmed? And I guess we need to define Universal Nature of Humankind in this context, no?

    I agree. Ben, please clarify; I'm intrigued. Because I don't believe that's what Banks is saying at all. Hoban maybe... but I promised not to mention him again.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    On Iain Banks - I had the privilege of meeting him in a cozy Edinburgh pub once, and while the subsquent hour or two shed no light (at least to me) on his views on the universal nature of humankind, I can attest to the fact that he can put away more than his fair share of pints of 'heavy'.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    In Bank’s Culture a person can change their sex or species on a though, without the need for any external agent, so physiological differences are pretty much non-existent, or just an affectation. The pleasure seeking, individualist society that is the Culture seems also to trump all others that it meets in combat, due to the inherent strengths such decentralised society offers. In addition the Culture seeks to share this view, their notion of the good with others and are feared by others because of this. So while they have the choice to move on (to transcend to a higher state) they refuse, because they see much that happens outside of their comfort framework and wish to intercede. All that oppose it fail, or if they rebel end up reflecting the core values that make the Culture what it is.

    So to me that suggests Banks has put forward the following: 1) the concept of a Good and Virtuous Idea, of which the progression is inevitable, 2) that such an Idea contains a high degree of individualism or personal liberty, 3) that the Idea transcends physiological or cultural differences

    And if you accept the point that science fiction (in addition to being a good story) can be a statement by the author on the nature of contemporary society and how it could or should evolve then Banks believes in a core set of universal values.

    I’m not really sure if that answers your questions, but if not please say so and I’ll try again after I eat my lunch (any odd or stupidly verbose explanations can be blamed on my hunger).

    Oh, and on a related note I read Accelerando the other day, and kind if liked it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerando_(book)

    TL;DR

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Cheers Ben, I get that and I agree, do you think there's some Plato in there?

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2906 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    I feel kind of bad now that I've only read a couple of his books.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • Riddley Walker,

    it's ok Ben, he wouldn't have minded

    AKL • Since Feb 2007 • 890 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Ben, you know, it's OK man, you can read 'em now still.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Common,

    Kurt Vonnegut just died!

    I only just found that out now and came here to post the same thing. Pretty sad, have a fair collection of his books at home - may have to go back and reread some of them...

    Not so after Robert Anton Wilson too :-(

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

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