Tuesday, 28 January 2014

31 by Calum Kerr

For sale, 31 stories,
read once.
I’m a man (Gasp! What?) who likes to think I can try anything and be relatively good at it within a few tries, chess notwithstanding. Take Old English –
On ðam ðriddan dæge gesceop se ælmihtiga God sæ and eorðan and ealle eorðlice spryttinga.
Heh? Heh? Okay, that was just copying and pasting from Abbott Aelfric’s De Temporibus Anni but I do know what it means, both literally and idiomatically, and without the need for a glossary or dictionary. Also, I can play several versions of an E minor chord on the ukulele, without ever having been taught to do it properly.

I know, I know, I’m wasted in administration. At ease.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, I have considered, blithely so it must be said, that trying something like NaNoWriMo or, in a more contemporaneous context, whatever it is that the flash fiction version is called (I forget), would be simple to do, after a few tries. However, I did once do the maths on writing 50,000 words in a month, and was rather off-put by numbers like 1667 (words a day). In my day, the time it would take to write 1667 words just doesn’t exist, unless I start making a habit of getting up at 3am.

So, despite what Scott Pack of The Friday Project says about the quality of submissions to publishers after NaNoWriMo, I must grudgingly concede real awe for those who can and do make this Herculean effort to start actually behaving like a writer.

This certainly goes for Dr Callum Kerr.

Here we have 31 stories, written over the course of a single month, collected together and published, bought for actual money, by people like me, who read things and are often unduly critical out of misplaced bitterness. Some are good, really quite good, and some are less so, but for the effort and dedication to his art that Kerr displays, I am unable to be anything less than 75-80% positive about the collection. There do seem to be a few stories where people are planning to kill or have been killing other people, and worryingly they nearly all seem to be in the first person (neighbours of Dr Kerr should call the police if they start smelling unsavoury things coming from under the patio), but given the contemporary saturation of media with horror and gore, both fictional and actual, they’re not overly shocking. And there’s one where some oranges… well, I’ll let you find out. If you have some spare space on your e-reading device and aren’t flush with time, then this is worth checking out. It’s not Hemingway, but that might come with time.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being A Prawn Cracker by Will Self

Real meals?
I do love Penguin. Or, rather, Penguin Random House. No, actually, it’s more accurate to say I love Penguin.  I love Penguin Classics (even the dubious honour bestowed upon Mr Morrissey’s black cover classic), I love the Great Ideas series, of which I had nearly all before the Purge of 2012 (I kept Hazlitt’s On The Pleasure Of Hating and Russell’s In Praise of Idleness of course), and I love the new Penguin Shorts/Specials to which Self’s parodically titled …Prawn Cracker belongs. Great writing, quickly read, easily stored, lovingly recalled. It doesn’t get much better or easier than that, eh?

BUT… Is it just me, or is it hard to believe that Will Self eats at Pizza Express?

In reaction perhaps to the glut of restaurant reviews, dialling themselves up to 11 with tales of repasts of baby octopus in Pimentón de la Vera paprika smoke chez El Celler de Can Roca, Self took it upon himself to chronicle the eateries of Common Men, disclaiming a lack of olfactory discrimination (due to the excesses of youth) and instead regarding the experiences of eating in such places as KFC among others. The reviews, whilst fantastically well written as is to be expected – sensuous and gluttonous – are often somewhat formulaic, probably a virtue in a regular column (from which these have been collected) but obvious and frown-worthy to someone reading all of them in succession. And, sycophant that I am, I just can’t agree with his claim that Café Nero espresso is the best there is even on the ubiquitous high street. Italian roast is often just… so… acidic and phenolic.


Disagreement aside, and it’s not important that one agrees with an author after all, it’s hard not to enjoy the dry satire, the malevolent wit, the tallying up of square feet of pizzas eaten over a lifetime, even if it shocks to the core that Self might be caught eating somewhere I might eat, that his inner sophisticate wouldn’t naturally shun anything not worthy of his intellect, and that his hard won sobriety still permits the self-abuse (pun unintentional) of junk food. It’s classic Will Self and is a great read. Just perhaps not at lunch time.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan

Reviewed in good faith over there.