Dangerous Reading?

Let me start with an attempt to reassure the people of Berkshire.  I have no specific reason to believe that either ravenous wild animals or violently felonious persons have escaped from local incarceration and are now wandering the streets looking for victims.  Nevertheless, it is always as well to be prepared for the unexpected when leaving the relative safety of your home.

As so often, I refer to the imbibing of the written word by way of the optic nerve (and a whole bunch of ancillary equipment: or ‘my brain’ as I like to call it).  I am currently reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker: a very entertaining guide to the art of better writing.  If we are all very lucky, this could lead either to a marked improvement in the quality of blog posts or to the complete cessation of the blog as I am too ashamed of my terrible style to further subject it to public scrutiny.   The most likely outcome is probably ‘business as usual’, but with the author being rather more self-conscious about his soi-disant style for a couple of weeks.  Still, I think we should all take a moment to savour my commitment to an improved experience for you, the viewing few.

Almost the first imperative quoted in the book is ‘Omit needless words’ – a phrase which would mark the death-knell of GofaDM (in which, frankly, all the words are needless) – but fortunately he is quoting from an earlier sage and seems to soften this view once the reader leaves the introductory shallows for the abyssal deep of the book proper.  I currently live in fear of Chapter 6, where our hero will discover how irredeemably he has mis-used the humble comma over the last 690-odd posts.  Still, comma-abuse isn’t (yet) a crime under the Laws of England and Wales (though given the rate at which recent governments have been issuing new statutes, it may only be a matter of time).

As a counterpoint, I am also reading Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (in translation I would stress) which is a collection of his works.  I’m not sure that any style guru (past or present) would wholly approve of his work: though some of that may be down to the translation.  Rarely have I had so much recourse to Mr Collins to look up new vocabulary.  The short stories are commendably brief, but rich with unsettling ideas: I spend much of the day befuddled in one way or another (so no change there, then).

Before this latest wave of book-based befuddlement, I read David Adam’s The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: a fascinating insight into OCD.  From this, and despite my regular forays into somewhat obsessional behaviour, I can be pretty sure that I do not have OCD.  It did, however, suggest that I might be a psychopath.  Sadly, my reading in this field has been limited and nothing further is currently scheduled, so for some time I shall remain in a super-position of psychopathy and relative normality.  In my defence, I would note that, in recent years, my 8.25″ cook’s knife has only been used against targets from the Plant kingdom: so I probably won’t run amok in the near future.  Once again I must stress that I have no reliable foreknowledge of an imminent threat to the people of Reading.

Despite the dangers to both this blog and my mental equilibrium, I can thoroughly recommend a little unsettling reading.  Let’s hope it produces an improvement in quality, or at least style, in time for the celebrations to mark post 700!

† Subject to availability

A very warm welcome to customers joining at Bad, our next station stop will be…

Those of you who know roughly how my mind works – well, I say mind and (for that matter) works, but we both know those two words are operating well outside their respective comfort zones – will realise that this post will be about verse.  Oh yes, he’s brazenly attempted to gussy-up the hackneyed old “going from bad to verse” pun in the hope of creating some barely viable click-bait.  Then again, if you’re reading this, it may have actually worked.  Go me!

The regular reader will be aware of the start of my unfortunate poetry habit and I regret to inform you that matters have not improved.  I currently seem to be consuming collections of poetry at the rate of one per day.  This may not be entirely healthy and is starting to impact other areas of my life.  It has been good news of J Sainsbury’s plc as their store is more convenient for Octopus Books, where I can go for a new fix of any poesy unavailable from the library, than is Waitrose.  In consequence, they have increased their share of my weekly grocery budget – though oddly, this seems to have coincided with a fall in their share price (should they be paying me to take my custom elsewhere?).

At one point, my need for poetry led to me reading Thom Gunn in the checkout queue.  Not entirely wise as supermarket staff are not trained to understand why tears may be streaking a customer’s cheeks after only a fairly minor delay in the process of paying for his goods.  I have now reverted to stewing in my own thoughts as a more socially acceptable form of waiting.

I don’t claim to understand every line, or even every poem: but enough makes it through my semantic barriers that I can recognise some very compelling writing.  Reading some poetry can almost feel intrusive, almost like reading someone else’s diary (and I don’t just mean a list of appointments), so personal does some of it seem.  There are also some lovely turns of phrase available, one of my favourites is “her petal-bright coat” (by Mark Doty): not sure why, it just feels so good in the mouth.  Actually, along with Thom Gunn, Mr Doty is one of my favourite discoveries – he seems to share a little of my style, with his poems full of the sort of asides that litter GofaDM like spots of used chewing gum.  I’m also rather the fan of Michael Donaghy and Philip Gross – but my range is still expanding.

In an attempt to control the poetry, and very much using the same pest-management strategy that proved so successful for the old woman, I am now attempting to ‘swallow’ some short stories.  I presume I will then have to switch to novellas, followed by novels in an escalating chain of reading that will no doubt result in my eventual demise after trying to tackle the literary equivalent of a horse.  Following a sudden memory restoration, I decided to start this counterattack with some work by Jorge Luis Borges (who I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time).  His works proved tricky to find in the library, being filled under neither L nor B.  Reference to the catalogue revealed they did exist, but were held in the Central Library Stacks.

[Cue spooky music: I’m thinking thunderstorm, heavy rain and some solid work on the organ by someone with a pale complexion, dark clothing and maniacal laugh.]

The library staff were a little reluctant to visit the stacks which lie in the crypt (OK, the basement) beneath the library.  There is some thought that they are haunted after the civic centre (including the library) was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the last unpleasantness and a number of children lost their lives sheltering in what is now the stacks.  There has, indeed, been a strange miasma rising up from the lower floor of the library, but I think this has more to do with recent flooding than an imminent assault by the undead.  Still, they did brave the trip and its potential for spectral complications, returning unharmed from Hades antechamber bearing a copy of Labyrinths for my future enjoyment.

This future enjoyment will be somewhat magnified as my reading glasses have arrived – so if you have any small print which needs reading, I’m your man!  The additional clarity (at close range) is taking a little getting used to – everything seems to be shouting at me – but I’m rather enjoying the blurring effect on my distance vision.  It does give everything the feel of those close-up shots of the female lead in a forties movie – as though through muslin or a thin film of vaseline – which lends an aura of romance to even the most mundane of vistas.

The downside of the reading glasses is the ever-present reminder of the temporal transience of existence (and, in particular, mine).  Here, poetry can be a comfort (so I shall probably stick with it, albeit aiming for a lower dosage): in the words of the aforementioned Mark Doty, “that flower wouldn’t blaze if time didn’t burn”.