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Showing posts from January, 2016

I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary by John Higgs

Now, I can claim no sincere, personal knowledge, no inspiration, or, in fact, any respect, grudging or otherwise, in, of, from or for Timothy Leary. Everyone knows of Tim Leary (even those of us who occasionally get him mixed up with foul-mouthed comic Denis Leary [whose comedy sadly now plays second fiddle to his roles as Diego in the Ice Age movies, an experience any recent parent might feel sympathy for]), and people cluck their tongues and stroke their beards and say, "Acid–what the fuck was that all about?" I haven't taken acid (that I've noticed, and I'm sure I would have done so), and my only flirtation with psilocybin ended in a fit of the giggles which, unsure as I am of the cause, may well have been because my friend thought he was high and was really very rude to our housemates, probably also because he decided his inhibitions were gone rather than because they were, and because he had a ready-made excuse for the morning after*. 

What I was delighted to…

The Locktender's House by Steven Sherrill

Having now read three novels by Steven Sherrill, I'm beginning to suspect that he hit his zenith with The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break and it's all been a gentle wavy curve downwards thereafter. I don't recall much about Visits from the Drowned Girl other than I was disappointed, and sadly, I feel the same way about this one. 

It's basically another ghost story, one wherein the protagonist is haunted by her past in a generally tactile fashion. However, maybe she dreams, maybe she's remembering, or maybe she's remembering dreaming, or vice versa, and so on. Janice Witherspoon wakes up with a migraine to receive a call telling her that her boyfriend, the other half of a relationship of convenience and inertia, has been killed during his tour in the Middle East, and so she goes on the run from her life, winding up in a lock-keeper's house in Pennsylvania, miles, she thinks, from civilisation, a place to which she feels deep down in her bones she has some ki…

So You've Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson

I've a lot of time for Jon Ronson. I've followed him on and off through the years, and have fostered an illusory sense of connection going back to a book signing many years ago which, as I'm sure you're all aware, I mentioned previously.  His questioning mind and latent anxiety mix potently and humorously, and his writing plays off between the self-revelatory and the investigative, given he himself features in it so heavily. Nonetheless, the image I have of him is of a nice guy, doing a difficult job and putting himself in the line of fire. As such, this book starts with him realising there had been created a spam-bot (sorry, an infomorph) on Twitter which was, in the terms of it's creators, "repurposing social media data into an infomorphic aesthetic." When he asked for it to be shut, it led to a conversation about Brand Jon Ronson and key questions of identity and positioning in public fora. It also led to a very entertaining YouTube video, linked to be…

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

In the heart of the Empire stands the Tabir Sarrail, terrifying and enigmatic, a threat, a curse, a blessing, a shadow, its only purpose to analyse the dreams of the millions of people living dispersed across the length and breadth of the land–The Palace of Dreams. Faceless, labyrinthian, shrouded in mystery, its veil is nonetheless pierced momentarily by young Mark-Alem, a member of a pugnacious and powerful old Albanian family by marriage, whose countenance and comportment 'suits' the ministry, and as a result he is offered a job in Selection. Thus begins his initiation into the art of reading the dreams of an Empire.

It's hard to miss the symbolism, given the long prominently placed quote on the front from Richard Eder, book critic for Newsday proudly noting the assertion that this is an allegory of power, and the unsettlingly, threateningly dark reproduction of Arnold Böcklin's Die Toteninsel on the cover. Yes, this is a book that deals with the state's desire t…