Date Archives December 2010

My non-review of the best books of 2010

So all the newspapers have been publishing their end-of-year roundups. Some even started back in November. Here’s why I won’t be doing my own little roundup of the best books of 2010. Basically, it’s because I haven’t read very many of them. Don’t get me wrong, I do read quite a lot. But the thing I’ve realised on looking back is that not many of the books were published in 2010. That was surprising for me, because I do read mostly contemporary fiction. The only really ‘old’ books on my… Read More

Pigeon-feeding inflation

The cost of feeding the birds has gone up a lot. It only cost Mary Poppins tuppence a bag, but in Trafalgar Square today it’ll cost you £500, according to an aggressively-worded sign that confronted me as I left the National Gallery the other day. Now I’m sure there are sensible, practical reasons for this rule. I’m sure that the pigeons spread all kinds of terrible diseases, and that the government had to spend millions of pounds cleaning all the shit off Nelson’s hat. But the thing is, I’m not… Read More

Cezanne at the Courtauld Gallery

Went to see an interesting exhibit recently at the Courtauld Gallery on the Strand. What I liked about it was that instead of just showing the paintings themselves, they built a whole exhibition around the artist’s process for these particular paintings, showing his preliminary sketches, talking about his ideas and motivations, etc. The permanent collection, too, was worth a visit. For a small museum it has some famous paintings, like Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere and Van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear. With the latter I was surprised when… Read More

“Best European Fiction 2010” edited by Aleksandar Hemon

This was a very interesting collection of short stories from around Europe. There’s one piece from each country, so it really felt like a broad and varied collection rather than being weighted toward particular countries. One thing I didn’t like is that some of them were extracts from longer pieces, which I don’t think works very well. A short story is crafted specifically to fit that length; an extract from a novel, no matter how well-written, often feels dissatisfying to me because I feel as if I’m missing things by… Read More

Roelof Bakker, ‘Still’, Hornsey Town Hall

Just wanted to give a belated mention to a really good photography exhibition in Crouch End recently. It was a series of photographs of Hornsey Town Hall, an Art Deco listed building that has been minimally used for a long time now. After Hornsey was absorbed into the larger borough of Haringey in the 1960s, the town hall was no longer needed for its original purpose, and there has been a debate for ages about what to do with it. In the meantime, Roelof Bakker went in and photographed the… Read More

“Crow” by Ted Hughes

I rarely read poetry, but I enjoyed this strange little book by Ted Hughes. It’s full of dark imagery, violence and unexpected humour. The poems read like myths of the origins of the world, except that at the middle of them all is Crow, this anarchic, chaotic, ugly, violent figure, playing tricks on God and turning creation upside-down. I was reminded of the Anansi figure in West Indian Folk Tales, himself of course of West African origin. I suspect Hughes drew on a lot of mythological sources in these poems,… Read More

Editing

There are different types of writers. Some like to write and rewrite and rewrite endlessly, refining gradually, each draft a little more perfect than the last. I am not that type of writer. I am the type of writer who likes to get it right first time and then move on to the next thing. It’s what I did with my first novel, On the Holloway Road. I wrote the first draft in a single caffeine- and adrenalin-fueled month, and the final published book was not different from that first… Read More

“Ruminations from the Garden” by Don Henry Ford, Jr.

Almost all writers carry a notebook around with them to record thoughts and ideas as they arise. They usually end up being quite random, a mix of the brilliant and the mundane, day-to-day worries mixed in with the germs of big ideas. To get an idea of what the inside of a writer’s notebook looks like, you could take a look at Ruminations from the Garden. Strangely, it doesn’t end up being a bad thing. The narrative meanders around in unexpected directions, taking in corn prices, bestiality, religion, politics, weather,… Read More