Captive Audience

Hmm, kicking off a new year with an entry about being ill really wasn’t the best plan. All my subsequent ideas for posts have revolved around illness: severity of, duration of, memories of, patheticness during. But when you’ve finally recovered from six days during which you didn’t even leave the flat once, and a further six spent getting back to normal, the last thing you want to do is relive it all in writing. It’s not even like you have a backlog of stuff written during the break, because all you’ve been capable of is reading. And listening to music. And watching DVDs.

So, reading: I churned through Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Free, a sequel to his last book that I admired so much. This one was less of a surprise, although I suppose his brand of mediaeval anarchism would surprise some; but maybe not someone who loved Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, wasn’t raised in a city, and doesn’t own a car or TV. I deduced from reading this book that my own life is a constant struggle between what he calls puritanism and mediaevalism, but I already knew that.

Clive James’s North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV is the first volume to cover a period when the world (or Britain, at least) knew who he was, so it inevitably creeps a little closer to the standard celebrity autobiography format his earlier volumes so effectively challenged. But his anecdotes still glitter—who could have guessed that James shared a green room with the Sex Pistols the day they called Bill Grundy a fucking rotter?—and he does a good line in self-deprecating advice to those who would follow in his footsteps. Plus the man still turns a beautiful phrase, elaborating and polishing them like a craftsman carving candlesticks on a lathe. It’s a good read for anyone interested in television, the UK literary scene, and expat Aussies, and left me eager for volume five.

I followed that with David Nobbs’s autobiography I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today, which is even more standard-celeb in tone, at least in the latter sections. It was interesting to read about his time on The Frost Report, The Two Ronnies and of course Reginald Perrin, but if I hadn’t been laid up in bed I doubt I’d have made it all the way through.

And then I turned back to a very thick book that had been sitting unread for a year, stalled as I was on page 150-something... and now I’m this close to finishing The Confusion, and might even be able to maintain enough momentum to knock over The System of the World before 2008.

Besides reading, I’ve also been listening obsessively to two new albums. Jarvis Cocker’s solo debut is full of good stuff that any Pulp fan will enjoy, and reminds me that I should give Relaxed Muscle a try. But more surprising has been Badly Drawn Boy’s Born in the U.K. I’d almost given up on Damon Gough: loved the debut, loved the About a Boy soundtrack, didn’t love Have You Fed the Fish? nearly as much, and was thoroughly alienated by the kiddie choirs on One Plus One is One (although I listened to it again a while ago, and once you get past those it isn’t bad). This one was produced by Nick Franglen, half of Lemon Jelly, and although I adore them I wasn’t sure whether BDB would be improved by a standard Jelly backing of the kind they gave William Shatner on one of the songs of his last album. Turns out Franglen can have a light touch when he wants to, and his production isn’t retro-electronic at all: this is a warm, stripped-back, 1970s-sounding album. The individual songs aren’t always immediate, but the album as a whole grabbed me straight away; to my ears, it’s Gough’s best since 2002. The Pitchfork review annoys me intensely.

Also consumed: Seinfeld season seven on DVD, which really picked up from season six—lots of great moments from all the main characters, and there were even a few episodes I’d never seen before; Match Point, a superior Woody Allen drama, which at first had me thinking the main character was a creepy guy on the make, and then came together surprisingly well; and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which was silly. (Yes, that’s the limit of my critical assessment of the third-highest-grossing film of all time. Although adjusted for inflation it’s only 44th.)

17 January 2007 · Books

I'm about 100 pages from the end of volume three of that particular set of very thick books. I've been working away at them since May. They're fabulous, but never before have books made me feel quite this pathetic in terms of how slowly I make my way through them...

Added by KF on 20 January 2007.

Knowing my luck, he’s going to come out with a 3000-page sequel just before I finish volume three.

Their length has had one positive effect, though: after getting through this lot, I know I can make a decent stab at Proust... in a year or two.

Added by Rory on 20 January 2007.

As of fifteen minutes ago, it’s two down, one to go. Good yarn; now I don’t know why I set it aside for a whole year. Apart from the daunting prospect of reading 1500 pages, that is. 889 to go...

Added by Rory on 21 January 2007.

I have a tendency to put off books over 600 pages, too. Which is silly, given that I usually read about 150 pages a day (long bus commute). The last seriously big new book I read was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, since when I have raved about it constantly.

I haven't read How to be Idle, but I really like the sound of How to be Free (I too love "The Dispossessed", and can't really make myself believe in money, a tendency which causes problems in adult life.)

Added by K on 22 January 2007.

Oh, and by the way: since you mention Seinfeld, do you like Curb your Enthisiasm?

Added by K on 22 January 2007.

Sure do. Number one in my Best of TV list a few weeks ago...

860 pages to go. A twelve-year gap between the end of volume two and the start of the third! The scoundrel.

Added by Rory on 22 January 2007.

Oh, so it was! I definitely read that at the time. Sad to see my memory going at such a young age.

We do have a TV but Curb and University Challenge are all we watch at the moment...

Added by K on 22 January 2007.

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