Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bonsai cat, crisp injury, books

Normal service has resumed. I am nursing a cruel, disfiguring gum and palate injury incurred eating crisps too fast. It is raining. I am wearing the special trousers of psychological unhinged-ness. Most of my mental energy is going on thinking about eclairs.

Intrusive eclair thoughts

I entered a competition to win some Marcolini eclairs this morning. 16 eclairs "for you and your colleagues", courtesy of the Belgian Post Office. Of course, if their delivery were dependent on the good offices of the Belgian Post Office, the likelihood of them being fit for human consumption on arrival would be vanishingly small, but hope springs eternal. Now all I can think about is WHEN ARE MY ECLAIRS COMING. I mean, come on. Surely I can win? Surely? How many people enter this kind of competition? As each hour goes by, my sense of injustice at not having won the eclairs yet grows. Why I think it would be a good idea for me to win 16 eclairs is a whole other story. My excuse is that it is so wintry, my entire psyche has reoriented itself towards winter survival, which mainly translates into thinking obsessive, repetitive thoughts about custard. Who was it said they had a really easy steamed pudding recipe? Please provide it, instantly.

Whilst my mind is filled with suet, I have little else to report.


There is this:

I had to physically restrain myself from buying this in WHSmiths (DO NOT JUDGE ME) in Paris. My bag was already so heavy I ended up with a bruised shoulder, but it took a lot to leave this behind. I will ask for it for my birthday, though it's actually slightly smaller than I would like and the china seemed a bit crap. I used to have two lovely Quentin Blake bird bowls, but I'm not sure what happened to them. Broken, probably.

Bonsai cat

And there is this:

We went to a Bonsai shop at the weekend because Lashes has developed a new, slightly boring obsession with bonsais. I'm not complaining, it's better than Japanese fighting stars, or something paramilitary, I suppose. I really, really, dread being the parent of one of those teenagers who wears fatigues and reads "Guns and Ammo" magazine, I would be mortified.

So. He has decided he wants one for Christmas, which seems - assuming he doesn't mean one of those ones that cost 3 grand - a reasonable request. Anyway, in the bonsai shop we met this brilliant cat. It stalked, precariously, between rows of 700 euro mini trees, and then sat, posing stonily for me.

Domestic animal farce

In other news, Oscar's behaviour towards Satan has hardened into a clear pattern I would describe as "petulant toddler". I have caught him in the last week stealing the following: 5 carrots, 2 heads of chicory, a stick of celery, an apple core. Of course, he does not like any of these foods, but will sit stubbornly in the garden chewing them without enjoyment until they are thoroughly coated in nasty dog saliva. Then he comes inside and sits on the sofa, all pleased with himself and farting. It is entirely obnoxious, but also funny. I almost felt sorry for Satan, then I looked at the garden again. God, that reminds me, I have to plant bulbs now, don't I, so that Satan can gorge himself all spring on my daffodils.

Book club corner

I didn't read at all much when I was doing my first draft of my stupid stupid manuscript, because I tend to soak up and parrot written styles maddeningly. Now I am stuck as stuck can be, I have resorted to reading as much as I possibly can in the hope of inspiration. Things I have read recently (I can't be arsed to hyperlink. Amazon paid me the sum total of about 4p for my sidebar link, so I have deleted it in pique):

More Edward St Aubyn. On the Edge, this time, which is all about new age weirdery. I love his white hot cleverness at anatomising the infinite oddness, little unworthinesses, weaknesses of people.

Sarah Winman - When God Was a Rabbit - I did like this, a lot, it's thoughtful and nicely characterised, but in the back of my mind I was constantly asking myself, in the manner of an irascible high court judge "but what is it ABOUT?" The book group notes by the author at the end say she describes it as "a love story between a brother and sister", but it's also obviously about chance and fate and the arbitrariness of events and catastrophes and how they shape people. Hmm, I dunno. For some reason this need to put a label on it kept interrupting my enjoyment of what is a really accomplished piece of writing. I like the talking rabbit, of which very little is made at all. It's a sort of throwaway gift to the reader.

Louise Welsh - she of The Cutting Room and The Bullet Trick, both of which I really liked - Naming the Bones. This is the slowest burning thriller of all time about an academic researching a promising poet who published a single volume, then drowned. Will anything ever happen? Does it matter? It's profoundly, dreich-ly Scottish, like Rebus without the murder. I think the murder is coming, eventually. I hope. I'm over halfway through.

Chartbusting amnesia thriller Before I Go To Sleep (S J Watson) which was very good and clever but I kept getting anxious about how the author would maintain the INCREDIBLY FIDDLY conceit throughout. The answer is: pretty well, with some necessary and timely 'oh good, the amnesia is getting slightly better' business.

Monogamy by Adam Philips - This is a reread, in the 'research' category. See, this book "121 aphorisms" puzzles and faintly enrages me. Is it profound, or is it basically a series of fortune cookie fortunes? "A couple is a conspiracy in search of a crime". "Fidelity shouldn't always be taken personally". I DO NOT KNOW. I always put it down mildly enraged, but also engaged.

Let me know if you've read anything good recently, ideally something that might motivate me to get my head out of my arse and finish this dumb book.

(Now where are my fucking eclairs, more to the point).


Unknown said...

When I am stuck, I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, possibly the best book ever written for writers (apart from maybe Stephen King's On Writing).

Also, some owls for you:

Helen Brocklebank said...

I'm in the middle of Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head, which is a very good first person narrative about adultery... it's very arch in the early Murdoch manner, but I can recommend it for the way in which it adroitly manipulates the reader. Though of course Murdoch is always slightly depressing because it's so bloody brilliant. A first class mind, as my friend from the book club would say.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Pym No fond return of love or Molly Keane Good Behaviour. Can be read and re-read.

Lola said...

I'm reading/listening to (audio book) The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was given away free by the Observer a month or two ago, and seems very much downloaded, so you've probably read it already. It's pretty damn good so far (three quarters of the way through). About the deep South of America in 1962, institutional racism, redemption story, very uplifting. At least I hope it will be when I find out What Happens In The End.

Alison Cross said...

I hope that your eclaires turn up soon.

For a bit of fluff - Jojo Moyes 'Last Letter from Your Lover'. I loved it. But I did go around for days talking like I was an upper-crust gel with a twinset and pearls.

I want a bonsai cat too. Next thing for Lashes is Warhammer 40k. Be afraid for your wallet. VERY afraid.

Ali x

Sarah said...

For a little book that you can read in pieces, that will offer up small delights even when your brain is tired: I Know You're Out There by Michael Beaumier. I believe it's categorized as Collections/Essays.

To wit: "In my family, we were taught that the secret to a successful marriage, or a successful anything, is stamina. If you and your beloved can make it to the point where you're too tired to chase anyone else and too weak to kill each other, you will bask in your triumph and serve as a model to others."

Sarah said...

I also have to suggest both novels by Leif Enger -- So Brave, Young, and Handsome + Peace Like a River. Not only are both wonderful stories, but there are passages you'll mark so you can re-read them again. They're beautifully written.

You may also want to consider memoirs A Girl Named Zippy and its sequel She Got Up Off the Couch, by Havel Kimmel.

Also: My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki. That's a book tailor-made for a book club -- it's odd and amazing.

Juci said...

Whatever you do, do not read Nabokov. (That's the advice a young writer is given in David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, anyway.)
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B said...

"And the Land Lay Still". Heartbreakingly good, to the point where I can't start the next section because there will be that much less to read. Sparse and humane and echt-Scottish (Saltire award winner - shut up, I'm acclimating) with some of the geigh for good measure.

Interestingly, re Nabokov (comment above), my thesis adviser was a Nabokovian doctoral chap, and he couldn't teach it for 25 years after getting his PhD. (But he is, in the meantime, a beautifully dense writer.)

WV: oungsad. WHERE IS MY Y? blogger just called me old, i think.

B said...

oh also, Dr D once bought a bonsai for his mother, and she killed it by keeping it on top of the washing machine. it vibrated to death. it's one of my favourite stories.

frau antje said...

Huxley in Hollywood, which every reviewer disdainfully wrote off as some sort of lesbo tell-all, okay. His wife orchestrates and ends casual affairs for him, one of which is almost with the wife of the Hubble telescope´s namesake (but I'm making it sound cheap), and that´s not even one of the good parts.

Patience_Crabstick said...

Your other commenters have left good recommendations. I particularly like Iris Murdoch and Barbara Pym. Have you ever read Matthew Kneale? The English Passengers is a hilarious, but also very serious novel about a religious crazy who thinks the garden of eden is found on tasmania, and charters a Manx smugglers' ship to take him there. His other novel, When we were Romans is also excellent, about a boy whose mother flees to Rome with her kids to get away from her ex husband. Includes hilarious quotes from a history of horrible popes.

Waffle said...

Ha, you are all brilliant.

1. I LOVE My summer of Meat. Love love love. Read it years ago and completely fell for it, it's a one-off.

2. Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans is one of my absolute favourites of recent years. I love the spellings.

3. Last Letter from Your Lover - I know Jojo and she, and it, are brilliant.

The others I am rushing to get NOW. I have never read Barbara Pym and I know it's a huge hole in my reading.

B. I fear any bonsai in my house will come to a far worse fate than vibrating to death, but god, it did make me laugh.

Anonymous said...

These are great book recommendations.

The last book I read was Anathem by Neal Stephenson (have been indulging in a lot of speculative fiction recently, I realise it's not for everyone!).

Here is a quick steam pudding recipe which I have tried. I used crushed cardamom instead of vanilla and maple syrup instead of lemon curd.


Margaret said...

Edith Wharton? She's my favorite. Best: House of Mirth and Age of Innocence, naturally. But for amazing Real Housewives satire? Custom of the Country. Oh my lord, I do love that book, and yet it took me so long to get to it.

I love Bonsai Cat. That face says more than you want to hear.

Fat Controller said...

Never mind your eclairs. I'm still waiting for my banjo (First prize in pub raffle in deepest Gloucestershire, circa 1978)

Chantal said...

Delurking to say:

Annie Proulx - I love them all but they do veer wildly between uplifting and bone-crushingly tragic. That Old Ace in the Hole and The Shipping Forecast are free from any real trauma though, and brilliant reads.

Louise Erdrich - The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse - this is one of the bext things I've ever read, wry, unnerving, and with incredibly engaging characters. It is quite magic realist though, can't remember whether you like that or not?

The Crimson Petal and the White - clever, fascinating and thoroughly believable Victorian drama recently (well) serialised by the Beeb. A pageturning doorstopper.

Last but not least, I am assuming you've read this already, but The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is an incredible book. Very dark but with moments of fragile beauty. her last book, Lacuna, is meant to be brilliant too though I can't vouch for it as I haven't read it innit.

Incidentally, I have just embarked on an MA hence total internet radio silence as am still working full time. You're still the first (sometimes the only) thing I read on t'interwebs though...

Anonymous said...

Are you not reading Caitlin Moran's "How to be a Woman"?
What's wrong with you? Have bought copy for every female I am remotely related to. Marvellous.

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