Geschichte Shift

The-SearchersI spend a lot of money on books. I enjoyed George Orwell’s essay Books V Cigarettes and I know why it’s displayed on the counter near the till at my local book store and why I saw it on the list of top ten books sold in said book shop that month. People love the image the title projects. Books VS Cigarettes, Books and Cigarettes. Sitting outside a café in Paris, drinking black coffee, smoking a Gauloises, unread Camus in breast pocket. Wow cool, books and cigarettes.

But I actually read Books V Cigarettes. Orwell argues that if books are read recreationally, the cost per hour is less than the cost of a cinema seat. Therefore, reading is one of the cheapest recreations. Although it’s a delicious pleasure to have Orwell justify my recreational expenditure, I’ve never concerned myself with money and time spent on books. I surround myself in books. I wrap myself in words and drift away to distant worlds. Post apocalyptic worlds, high fantasy worlds. Worlds built with words.

But lately I’ve begun to wonder, how much escapism is too much. I’ve found myself saying things like ‘I wish I could escape to Skyrim’. I fall asleep planning zombie apocalypse survival strategies. I wonder how I’d fare spending a winter as caretaker at The Overlook Hotel. Clearly I’m seeking an escape from my own reality. I haven’t got anything terrible to escape from, except boredom, and in fact I am very happy, as they say. But I am not comfortable being left alone with myself. I wonder, at what point do you stop, turn to face that reality, look it square in the eye and attempt to make friends or shake hands. Maybe it won’t go down that way and a fantastic showdown will occur, like pistols at dawn. Blood will spill across pages and into dreams. Tears will be shed, ancient treaties slain and scattered to the wind.

Or if we do shake hands and bury the hatchet, will my desire to be the wasteland wonderer simply evaporate like the joy of jumping in puddles we shared as children. Well I think that’s the point. The joy of jumping in puddles never really leaves a person, well, any self respecting person. And there is your answer. Escapism is a unique pleasure we have in this life. It’s available to all. For some it’s a simple daydream, for some the escape teaches us about life and for others, it’s a coping mechanism. So never feel guilty for spending time in imaginary worlds, it may help you become more present in this one.


The Killer Inside You and Me

Jim Thompson - the killer inside me bisWhether they’re an anti-hero like Tyler Durden or Alex Delarge, or an unlike-able socio-path like Patrick Bateman or Lou Ford, we love to love violent literary psychopaths, but what is it that attracts us to these dark and depraved characters.
I think some people feel ostracized in their lives, like they’re not heard, like they see things differently than most, like they’re special. We relate to the darkness in these characters because we share their feelings of isolation, their inability to fit in with the world around them, with their detachment from life.
In the words of Bret Easton Ellis from American Psycho; “though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”
I simply am not there. This sentence encapsulates the feelings of nihilism I’ve had since birth. I think we associate our struggle to understand the beautiful and terrifying world around us, with the naked ferocity of these individuals and their brutal acts of violence.
Separated from ourselves in the real world, cloaked in the uncensored realm of fiction, these characters can act on their feelings of exclusion and resentment in a way we would never consider or enjoy. They attack life in their own sordid way, exorcising their aggression and desperation and by reading about that, we do the same. Thankfully, in a scaled down and much less violent way. Our pain is acknowledged and understood on the dog eared pages before us.
And soon the book becomes a scale, a measurement of our own darkness within. Oh yes, ha ha, I do that all the time. Er, but no, I did not kill my father, sister and nine classmates with a bow and arrow and no I do not fantasize about stabbing someone to death and playing around with their blood.
And you start to feel a little better about yourself and your perception of the world around you because hopefully, you’re not really a psychopath. You’re just having a bad day because your socks are wet or because a man on the bus looked at you funny or because you woke up as a cockroach and you keep shorting out your imagination trying to understand what infinity really means.
So sit down, have a cup of tea and don’t feel guilty about secretly championing these deranged lunatics, for as long as it’s not real blood that you lust, if you were a real psychopath, you wouldn’t feel guilty at all.

Literary breakfast

hereI had coffee and a croissant for breakfast, in the company of a book. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote to be specific. I came across this line:

“Like Mr Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a cafe called the Little Jewel never drank coffee. He preferred root beer. Three aspirin, cold root beer and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes – that was his notion of a proper ‘chow – down’.

That’ll put hairs on your chest. Another great literary breakfast.

Passage of the day: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

legend“That was what the situation had been. Something black and of the night had come crawling out of the Middle Ages. Something with no framework or credulity, something that had been consigned, fact and figure, to the pages of imaginative literature. Vampires were passé, Summers’ idylls or Stoker’s melodramatics or a brief inclusion in the Britannica or grist for the pulp writer’s mill or raw material for the B-film factories. A tenuous legend passed from century to century. Well it was true.”

I love this passage. Even though you’re reading it yourself, from the pages of imaginative literature by an icon just like Stoker, you believe every word he says. And this as Matheson warns, is serious business. We’re not talking pretty vampires in black velvet cloaks, we’re talking real monsters. The fear I felt reading this, was the same fear I felt watching the ‘The War of The Worlds’ (1953 version) for the first time. As a ten year old child, I wasn’t entirely convinced of the fictionality of what was on my screen. As an adult reading this passage, I felt that same terror and excitement . It absolutely scared the pants off me and I immediately became immersed in Robert Neville’s world. As Stephen King similarly noted in an introduction written for ‘I am Legend’, Matheson is unrelenting and gives no ground. No story line is too harrowing or desolate, because this my smiling companions is life (monsters included) and that’s why I love this book.

Passage of the day: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

blood”Now come days of begging, days of theft. Days of riding where there rode no soul save he. He’s left behind the pinewood country and the evening sun declines before him beyond an endless swale and dark falls here like a thunderclap and a cold wind sets the weeds to gnashing. The night sky lies so sprent with stars that there is scarcely space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it is so that there numbers are no less”.

I first read this book as a twenty something commuting through a long and dark London winter. Blood Meridian is based on the historical events which took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850’s. McCarthy’s writing is visceral and bleak. Surreal at times, his words disregard conventional structure. McCarthy weaves a murky tale of violence and godless bedfellows, it’s landscapes desolate and dry. I loved this book, McCarthy’s use of language set my heart on fire. All writers should read this book, just to see how liberating prose can be.

Favourite passage: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

200px-AmericanPsychoBook“Some nights I would find myself roaming the beaches, digging up baby crabs and eating handfuls of sand – this was in the night when the sky was so clear I could see the entire solar system and the sand, lit by it, seemed almost lunar in scale. I even dragged a beached jellyfish back to the house and microwaved it early one morning, predawn, while Evelyn slept, and what I didn’t eat of it I fed to the chow.”

Say what you will about Bret Easton Ellis, his writing is exceptional. This is my favorite passage from American Psycho.