“My daily walking was essential. It was how I got my ideas and my sense of place. Without walking I was the blinking curser on a blank computer screen. A writer without a story. A father with nothing to tell his daughters. A husband who talked of taxes and efficient methods of dishwasher stacking while enduring a constant, silent worry about bacteria gnawing him to death from the genitals upwards.”

Gareth E Rees, The Stone Tide

“The stores became more eccentric as you went in. There was a shop that sold soap shaped like celebrity torsos, a mapmaker peddling joke globes and plots of cities that didn’t exist, one that sold defective merchandise, and another that offered only models or reproductions of other commodities.”

Eric Lundgren, The Facades

“It’s not the end of the world at all,” he said. “It’s only the end of us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan’t be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”

Nevil Shute, talking about nuclear holocaust but channelling climate dystopia in On the Beach

Autumn – Ali Smith

Ali Smith has the most remarkable ability to write in an easy, readable style – a style that is full of joy when dealing with the most difficult issues, like death and prejudice, and even Brexit. 
Autumn covers all of this in Smith’s subtle and often surprising way, her story centring in two people – the nearly 100 year old Daniel and the thirty-something Elisabeth. 
Through long flashbacks that constitute half of the book, we get the story of how they were neighbours when Elisabeth was in her early teens, and the two became good friends, spending long chunks of time together talking about ideas and books and imagination and art. Daniel gives her an education whilst also being her friend. 
Elisabeth loves him, platonically, and the contemporary part of the book sees her visiting him in his old people’s home, often as he sleeps in his chair, something her Mum finds slightly inexplicable and the carers can only think of as a familial relationship.
And it’s their relationship which is most interesting in this book. It breaks the boundaries of what we think a relationship between an old man and a young girl can be in our (often understandably) cynical times, hinting that connection and love across great divides of era and age are possible.
The other bit of the story is Elisabeth’s research into a forgotten female Brit Pop artist, Pauline Boty. She investigated the artist at university, after being put onto her by Daniel, finding a woman that transgressed boundaries and borders like Daniel and Elisabeth do.
Like many of Smith’s books, it’s the characters and the style that pull you along, not the plot, and it’s only at the end, after a little reflection, that it all hangs together, making an impression in a way many novels don’t.

“At first nothing crossed his mind. He was in that mostly empty-headed state of grace which is sometimes fertile soil: it’s the ground from which our brightest dreams and biggest ideas (both the good and the spectacularly bad) suddenly burst forth, often full-blown. Yet there is always a chain of association.”

Stephen King, Under the Dome

“fascist techniques are identical everywhere: the presence of a charismatic leader; the use of populism to mobilise the masses; the designation of a base group as victims (of crises, of elites, or if foreigners); and the direction of all resentment toward an ‘enemy’. Fascism has no need for a democratic party with members who are individually responsible; it needs an inspiring and authoritative leader who is believed to have superior instincts.”

Rob Reimen, To Fight Against this Age

“But perhaps Laura wasn’t very different from other people after all. Perhaps she was the same – the same as some odd, skewed element in them that most people keep hidden but that Laura did not, and this was why she frightened them.”

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

“No, he had not escaped. He had travelled and he had stumbled into what was like a plastic representation of what he had known at home; not the real thing – which was plain, unbeautiful, misshapen, fraught, and compromised – but the unreal thing – clean, bright, gleaming, without taste, savour or nourishment.”

From India to America. Anita Desai in Fasting, Feasting

The Half God of Rainfall – Inua Ellams

This a beautifully written epic poem, riven with joy and despair, that combines classical Gods, basketball and brutality as a way to illuminate how women struggle and succeed against the odds in a deeply unequal world.

It’s a simple story, of Demi, the son of Modupe, a beautiful woman who was raped by Zeus. Demi, the half God of the title, is conceived – part man and part powerful being, who among other things is able to conjure up water and rainfall when in despair.

Growing up in Nigeria, he joins the basketball team and discovers that he has skills and ability beyond compare, a consequence it turns out, of being a half God. He leads the Nigerian team to the world basketball finals, but just as the deciding game begins, the crowd chanting for Demi, he has his Godly powers removed, making him nothing more than a normal player and his team is destroyed. Angry he confronts Zeus and is killed, and his family, his mother Mordupe is distraught.

It’s a beautifully written, elegant poem, that tells of the despair, the rage, that so many people feel because they lack control over their lives. Demi, of course, who has a gift but not the power to direct it when he needs to. But also, and more than anything, this is a poem about women – about the powerful, resilient Modupe who despite being attacked by Zeus, despite being oppressed, remains a strong woman intent on raising a brilliant child.

The fact that Zeus, a privileged, powerful, untouchable male is able to brutally attack and rape her with impunity is the horror at the heart of this poem, one that both she and Demi try to seek justice for, and one for which they both fail. A reflection, surely, of the realities of our unequal world where Zeus-like men can get away with, quite literally in this case, murder.

The style of the poem is lyrical and upbeat and beautiful, and one that optimistically celebrates the power of the powerless, but nevertheless it is this sad theme that is the main message of the book.

You get this mix of power and despair in the opening lines to the second part of the poem:

“They say when Modupe was born her own mother,

Who worshipped the God of vision and fiction, screamed

When she foresaw the future looks of her daughter:

the iridescent moon she’d resemble, the dream

she’d seem to men and thus the object she’d become.

Her mother had known these men her whole life, had seen

them all … from the weak and pathetic overcome

by lust, to warlords who to crush rebellion

would attack the women to daunt their men and son.

She’d suffered such brands of violence. It had churned

her for years.”

“She couldn’t remember. Her thoughts no longer sat in a line like stepping stones over a stream but instead were scattered far and wide and without formation like buttercups in long grass. Alone and disconnected from their nearest neighbours.”

Benjamin Myers, Beastings

“The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari express the complexity of the individual in the opening sentences of A Thousand Plateaus.

“The Priest’s mouth was a gash in his face as if the flesh of his mouth had been pulled tight across his skull then slit with a knife.”

Macabre and vivid description from Benjamin Myers in Beastings

“He now realised that everyone, each in his own way, would take some stand in this affair, and that each person’s attitude would have everything to do with their station in life, their luck in love and marriage, their looks, the measure of good or ill fortune that had been their lot, the events that had marked the course of their life, and their most secret feelings, those that people sometimes hide even from themselves… though they would believe they were passing judgement on someone else’s tragedy, in reality, they would simply be giving expression to their own.”

Ismail Kadare, The Ghost Rider

“This premonition of violence made little rational sense, and yet it came to me too easily, almost as if placed in my mind by outside forces.”

Jeff Vander Meer, Annihilation

“James Broadbent said this and then began to chuckle quietly to himself. But it was laughter without a smile… it disguised something ugly and damaged; a harlequin’s mask worn askance.”

Ben Myers, The Gallows Pole

“This is the way of the city. London is a palimpsest. Industrial sites overlay agricultural ones. Sites of commerce replace those of industry. Private regency gardens become public parks. Public spaces become privatised. Abandoned factories, power plants and sewerage systems are transformed into museums, galleries and recreation zones. Schools become mezzanine apartment blocks. High street banks become betting shops. Pubs become flats. Churches become pubs. Everything is overwritten, eventually. There is no final draft of London.”

Marshland, Gareth E Rees

“Mayakovsky could never have retired to the country to write poetry about raising cucumbers… he needed literature to be a form of action or work, just like fighting in a war or building a railroad.”

Elif Batuman, The Possessed. Adventures with Russian books and the people whole read them

The Wild Hunt

“The Wild Hunt is a spectral pack of hounds that careers through the air, sometimes with an equally spectral giant huntsman, making a ghastly racket… No matter the country or culture in which you meet the Wild Hunt, it brings with it doom, illness, death or some unwelcome news.”

John Billingsley, West Yorkshire Folk Tales

#FolkloreThursday

“a phenomenologist’s job is to describe. This is the activity that Husserl kept reminding his students to do. It meant stripping away distractions, habits, cliches of thought, presumptions and received ideas, in order to return our attention to what he called the ‘things themselves’. We must fix our beady gaze on them and capture them exactly as they appear, rather than as we think they are supposed to be.”

Sarah Bakewell describing phenomenology in The Existentialist Cafe

“The worst readers are those who proceed like plundering soldiers: they pick up a few things they can use, soil and confuse the rest, and blaspheme the whole.”

Nietzsche in Mixed Opinions and Maxims – characterising me on more than a few occasions.