Friday, 25 April 2014

Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

These fellas really like 
the Manchester Ship Canal...
Just what the hell am I doing, firstly listening to the literary opinions of a bus-owning former DJ who lives in Hull, and secondly buying books written by poets not filled with poetry but rather wistful elegies to the abandoned margins of the urban landscape? 

Ten points to the ghost at the back who shouted "drinking!"

It may have been indirectly drink-related: I might have been planning to drink and read and get misty-eyed and soulful. It may have been directly drink-related: it's possible I'd been sneaking Bombay Sapphire from Mrs MightyBuch's supplies, leading to guilty internet purchases of e-books I would then never read. It may have had nothing to do with drink, being rather a part of a larger movement towards appreciating the opinions of friends, sharing interests instead of deriding them, seeing what they see and feeling more engaged and compassionate and becoming a better friend as a result, a desire fuelled by disengagement and disenfranchisement brought about by the slow attrition of dreams and leakage of erstwhile potential via the quotidian pressures of life and of the perfidious self.

Ten more points to the phantom heckler with more shouts of "drinking!"

No, no drink was involved, and the truth, whilst irritatingly verbose to deflect attention from the deeper message therein, lies in the third way. I'm looking to improve myself (!) reading something beautifully written, intellectually stimulating and also piquant with nostalgia, articulating dimly remembered childhood experiences in prose which I am simply not able to use. Of course, this drive, like all drives to self improvement, didn't last very long - reference my most recent reading choices following this; more mental chewing gum and rampant escapism - but it lasted through a particularly enjoyable camping trip where reading this was not only hugely enhanced by liberal application of Guinness and Pembrokeshire artisan beers but which also when read aloud helped put my three year old to sleep when all he wanted to do was run around shouting 'bum' in his undercrackers.

The premise, in case you're still reading, is, clumsily put, this: that on the edges of our cities and towns are spaces where different rules apply, places through which you travel but rarely stop to visit, places inhabited by the ghosts of childhood imagination, curious beauty, random and incongruous landscapes. As denizens of Lancashire, lots of their experiences are centred on the north east of England, but the descriptions are instantly recognisable, indicative of the ubiquitousness of these 'edge lands', and they take the time, as advised by W. H. Davies, Super-tramp, to stop and stare, but also to record. And the record is important because, like poetry, what they capture is elusive, ephemeral, inconstant. It is always shifting, altering subtly and not-so-subtly, and for two poets to observe and reflect on it all is in retrospect a perfectly logical action. Of course, being as I am easily influenced by anything even slightly persuasive, you might wish to make up your own minds. Well, take my advice (and that of the Nottingham Forest supporting mouthpiece), and do make up your own mind. These two chaps could make you love the Manchester Ship Canal as much as they do.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)

Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeezed out. Did that mean A Bright Moon for Fools wasn't worth remembering?

Dipsomaniacal - an apt description of
most Christmas's round mine...
Many books are unduly forgotten, but none are unduly remembered. I think I saw that on a piece of marketing guff in a former life, and it may very well be a famous quotation - answers on a postcard - but it might be the case here. To attempt a plot synopsis, I've had to consult the Kindle. Harry Christmas, the improbably monikered protagonist and a most engaging cad, is a drunk, struggling with the death of his wife / lover (I can't remember which), sick of the... filth?... that is modern society (or his term for it a least), and on the run because in a fit of dipsomaniacal misanthropy he'd legged it with the life savings of some lonely old dear. Now in... Venezuela?... he finds himself pursued by the son of said old dear who, having been frustrated in his attempt to find government sanctioned opportunities for inflicting pain, and haunted by a cat called The General, wants to put pieces of sharp metal into Harry. Justice by fucking great big scary knife. Needless to say, the reason the British Army didn't want him was that he's completely unstable, and he gets into quite a bit of trouble himself. Harry washes up in a... Venezuelan?... town where serendipity smiles upon him for a short time in the form of... some woman he met in a bar somewhere else at some point, and whose disgust mellows into pity by his plight. Now we're all set up for the big ending!

As emotionally stunted as I might be, I can usually remember how I felt at any given point, with a small margin for error, but I'm still struggling to determine what effect if any this novel had on me. I do believe I enjoyed the reading, which can't be bad, and I did really want to like it. Yet this is damning with faint praise and I can only conclude it lacks something substantive. Parallels might be drawn between this and Gibson's online enterprise, The Poke. Whilst it might be very entertaining, full of jokes and humorous set-pieces, it's ultimately forgettable.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Here and Now: UK Hyperlocal Media Today by NESTA

Am I hyperlocal? No, I've taken my meds.
Not a book in the strictest (or loosest) sense, but as I've been terribly, terribly slack with reading and then telling people about it (due in part to the reason I'm telling you that I've read this pdf document and also because The Wake is not a book well suited to several five minutes' snatched over lunch times), I decided to post a completely gratuitous entry to keep the entry numbers ticking along.

This rather interesting report on the current hyperlocal landscape and the opportunities for its exploitation by citizen journalists and corporations with an eye on the hyperlocal is suggested reading on my forthcoming free Community Journalism course. Which is nice. It's also free to download from the Nesta site. 

Fill yer boots.