Saturday, 5 December 2015

What i read in November..

Look out, here comes underwear..

The Wary Transgressor by James Hadley Chase
So when i picked this up in Troutmark i was drawn in by the glamorous 70's cover and the Italian setting, and was a little disappointed to find out it was from the 50's and would probably be less racy than i'd hoped. Luckily, this was a totally gripping pulp-thriller, with sweat-inducing tension and a brilliantly cruel climax that made me go WHAAAAT.

The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak
Great cubisty cover, kinda forgettable novel. I liked the idea of it, a genetically modified 'human' gets sent into space and assimilates the consciousness of the beings it encounters, ends up back on earth with amnesia, with a kind of harmonious schizophrenia, and gets chased by dogs and shit. I wasn't sold though folks.

A Meeting By The River by Christopher Isherwood
I really rate Isherwood, when he's good he's fully-all-the-way good...but this, his last novel, was one of his weaker moments. Still, it was short. Written with a deceptive lightness and authenticity - you do get a real sense of Isherwood's immersion in hinduism, the conflicts and doubts there - also, he nails the fraughtness of brother relationships. It was quite posh though. 

The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald
Another beauty from Macdonald, near perfect.

The Tangier Diaries: 1962-1979 by John Hopkins
The diaries of a novelist i have not heard of, which really capture his experience as a twenty-something in Tangier, surrounded by the expatriate bohemians that lived there (William Buroughs, Jane & Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams etc.) - wonderfully descriptive and cumulatively it had a kind of hypnotic, slow sense of profundity. 

Vanishing Ladies by Ed MacBain
Easily wins best cover of the month. That's Blanche there on the bed in her purple dress, somehow she seems to have leaped 30 years and landed in the 1980's. That doesn't happen in the novel, by the way. She just slutty in the novel. So, i just noticed i went a whole month without reading a book by a woman. Shame on me. That's a catastrophic fail, which can't be defended by the fact i was reading gold like this. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What i've been listening to...

Ahoy November! The days are getting darker and the leaves soggier and my converse browner, 2015 is getting sleeeepy...Things are starting to get all nostalgic and broody, this is the best time of the year. You get to watch old horror movies, eat soup, and lose yourself in really really long songs about wizards and space. Sian and i have been cosying up with sweetmilk, angel cards, and Ghost Hunters. It's lovely right here, right now. Here are a few things i've had on my walkman this week...

Stoneground Words by Melanie
From the album of the same name, which has just been reissued...i've loved Melanie ever since i was a pup, my Dad had the Candles In The Rain record, which i still have and hold dear, but Stoneground Words is a truly beautiful, powerful, great album that captures that whole back-to-the-earth, self-exploration of the early 70's, and i can't get enough of it right now.

It Brings A Tear by Audience
This gorgeous flutey goodness is off the Friend's Friend's Friends album, their second. Audience are definitely an underrated band, and this song is a deep mossy green delight.

La Serie Dei Numeri by Angelo Branduardi
I've just discovered Branduardi, and i gotta say, i am blown away by this dude, and not just because of his massive hair. This song is originally from the 1976 album Alla Fiera Dell'Est, which is absolutely my favourite Italian album of all time right now. So, this song translates as something like The Series of Numbers, unfortch i couldn't tell you what it's all about because gosh it's quite esoteric and mystical, but this live version is a total gem isn't it! Branduardi specialised in an almost Medieval canticle style, and in parts he reminds me of The Incredible String Band. This guy was clearly off the charts genius.   

Pillars Of The Sky by Mondo Drag
I am loving Mondo Drag! This instrumental from their self-titled album is a dreamy psych beaut, which puts you somewhere in the middle of a vast kaleidoscopic desert on some distant planet. The album is a brilliant organ-heavy proggy riff-fest, kinda Deep Purpley, with enough hooks, imagination and ace musicianship to keep ya titillated through your entire acid trip, or *cough* your nice warm tea under a crochet blanket trip.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

What i read in October

Ugh, Autumn's the snugliest.

Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
My bestie LOVED the Cazalet Chronicles by EJH, so Sian borrowed one and about 20 pages in was all like "this is so freakin' boring, fuck this shit.." (except that she would never use swears like that, she's a lady) which piqued my interest enough to try one of EJH's earlier (70's, obvs) novels. It was ace. A quietly devastating cat-scratch to the face of middle-class complacency, lush. 

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood
An odd little novel about crazed aristocracy and the trauma of the lost generation...both worlds that Caroline Blackwood, heiress to the Guinness dynasty, writer, journalist, it-girl, knew well. I hate it when people are described as 'muses', ugh. I mean, this was excellent in every way and kind of reminded me of Franny & Zooey - it does so much with so few scenes.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
What i liked most about this memoir was how un-rock n' roll it was, but when you think about it, the food allergies, panic-attacks, self-doubt, all that stuff, actually seems pretty rock n' roll - like, the true spirit of rebellion and survival and reinvention are all there. 

Chilly Scenes Of Winter by Ann Beattie
Definitely my favourite book of the month! A whimsical, smart, New Yorky, 70's novel about absence and 20-somethings trying to find meaning and love. Beattie was touted as a bit of a voice of her generation it seems, and her debut feels fresh, beautifully self-conscious, and somehow full of warmth and heart despite all the post-60's dejection. 

The Signalman by Charles Dickens
Read this on Halloween as a lil spooky bathtime read. The BBC version with Denholm Elliot is one of my absolute favourite things so when i spotted this at work i was all like "hallo below theeere!!" and it was great. Turns out Dickens wasn't always shit.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

What I read in September..

A bit late, sorry...*punches self in face*

Wax by Ethel Lina White
This month I discovered Valancourt Books , a brilliant independent small press who publish some truly gush-worthy lost classics, and they do it beautifully with original cover art and everything. This little waxwork horror mystery from the 30's is slight but charming and cute, with some good sassy dialogue and some creepy smalltown Britishness. Riverpool, heh..

Musical Chairs by Kinky Friedman
We went to End Of The Road Festival in Sept, and so much fun we had, and I bought this from the Rough Trade tent. My first Kinky (actually number 5 in the series, nerds). If you're into detective fiction, outlaw country, cats, and 70's counterculture I guarantee you'll enjoy this as much as I did.

Confidentially Yours by Charles Williams
A highly regarded pulpster, I've read one other Charles Williams (can't remember it's name right now but it's on Hard Case Crime) and it was a good'en, and Confidentially Yours is too. Dude finds himself in the usual ungetoutable situation, the police are at his heels, stylish, snappy, short...Barbara (his secretary) was totally the highlight for me, probably deserved her own series if the genre wasn't so MAN.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Brilliant, you should all go read this. Has absolutely not dated at all, and remains a profound, troubling, sad thing about humanity and its limitations in the face of the truly alien.

This Was Ivor Trent by Claude Houghton
I'm still flummoxed by this one, and feel like I want to read more Houghton who was a bestselling author in his day but sadly quite forgotten now. Does the whole rainy late-night London of the 30's so well, but also in some ways felt dated and ungraspable. An odd narrative about a reclusive writer (Ivor) and a series of meetings and connections made by the people in his life after he is confronted by a man from the future and goes into convalescence.  Yep, this was somehow a bestseller in the 30's... Also, a whole lotta Nietzsche goin' on...(oh, and this is from Valancourt Books also).

Monday, 31 August 2015

What i read in August...

Hey Bert! What did you read in August? 
Well friend, thanks for asking...
let me see now.

Syzygy by Michael G. Coney
Got this second-hand from Troutmark, it sounded promising and i was attracted by that alluring sperm-esque front cover. Aside from one inexplicably homophobic passage, it was an enjoyably dour 70's slice of fishy sci-fi.  

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
Silverberg fucking rules, and this is him at his mid-70's best. A jivey, countercultural soup of mythology, mysticism, and cynical post-60's comedown. College kids in search of immortality in the desert. Seriously, Silverberg is truly the Laphroaig of writers.

Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso
Loved this short investigation into the nature of writing as documentation, and Sarah Manguso's own obsessive relationship with her own diary. This was so strong and meticulous, and unafraid, Manguso makes you look at your own concepts of self and time and mortaliy, all the terrifying shit and see them starkly, as impermanent but, y'know, beautiful maybe.

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray
A novel about drinking and wanking that plays around with text and storytelling and then somehow turns into a straight-up novel that'll break your heart. Power and powerlessness, guilt, sexuality, politics, and a whole shit-heap of regret, you want to throw accusations of misogyny at it but you'd be way off. Brilliantly conceived joyful thing.

So Nude, So Dead by Ed McBain
I absolutely loved this slab of prime Fifties pulp.  Junkie wakes up next to a dead filly, who killed her and WHERE'S THE HORSE? 

Red Hot Ice by Frank Kane
A fast-paced little detective caper with an out of control blonde lush. Not bad.

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
In some ways this felt quite slight, but people, there is so much depth here. A melancholy, sparse character-study of a mercurial woman and an elegy for passing time, lost illusions and the Old West. Willa Cather can do no wrong.

The Whole Shot: Collected Interviews with Gregory Corso
Corso will always hold a special place in this tender heart (I did my dissertation on him at uni). What a brilliant cantakerous bastard he was. And though he was possibly drunk and repeated himself quite a bit in some of these interviews, you get the FULL FORCE of his mind and spirit, the last of his gang to hold true to the Beat ideology and the streets he grew up in. 

Day of the Ram by William Campbell Gault
Jock-noir!! OhYeah, really enjoyed this, another one from the Fifties, with an ex-American football player-turned-Private Eye investigating the murder of an L.A. Ram. The Los Angeles setting really notched it up a level and gave it a bunch of period-charm.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What i've been listening to...

Joanna Newsom
Sapokanikan (2015)
Joanna Newsom has a new album coming out this year so therefore this year is a special year and something magical is about to happen. And this lovely song.  It feels like it's been around forever doesn't it, like it's someone we knew once and have forgotten and we can listen to it and just say hello, i've missed you.   

Paul Revere & The Raiders
Revolution! (1967)
Paul Revere & The Raiders made wonderfully upbeat, catchy, discreetly intelligent garagey-pop music, every bit as good as The Monkees.  I've been listening to Revolution! a lot this week, and it keeps giving.  So much pop-smarts, personality, a dash of studio trickery, 1967 was golden, and if wasn't for that hilariously bad cover photo this album might've stood more chance of being taken seriously.  Oh, and 1968's Something Happening also has a rubbish cover, is more overtly psychedelic, and EVEN BETTER (despite what everyone says). 

John Howard
I Got My Lady (1975)
Gaaargh it's tooo catchy!!!  I bin singing this quietly to myself forever.  This is off the album Can You Hear Me OK?  Which is ace, obvs.  John Howard is a total champ.

Reg King
I'm all over Reg King's post-Action solo stuff at the moment.  Whatta dude.  Also, the Rolled Gold demos, from the scrapped last album by The Action, are unbelievably great and totally stand up on their own.  Reg had a very Small Faces-y mod-goes-white-soul voice and wrote brilliant songs that are perfect for that autumny dusky hour when you get your buzz on.  Looking For A Dream and his eponymous 1971 album are both brilliant.

Marie Laforet
Ivan, Boris et Moi (live 1969)

Sunday, 2 August 2015

What i read in July...

Goodbye July! You were bittersweet, and for a while in that first week you seduced me into thinking that I didn't like reading. You'll notice i only read very short books for a while. Short books are best anyway, aren't they you hussies.

The Mahe Circle by Georges Simenon

I do love Simenon, but the last few i'd read by him were just ok. This one was shit-hot though, and reminded me how much Simenon is capable of doing in so few pages. His characters are always somewhere on the cusp of despair and desire, and he writes about heat and claustrophobia better than anyone. Weirdly though, this little novel would just make a great holiday beach read. 

Black Leather Barbarians by Pat Stadley

Troutmark Books here in Cardiff is a mecca of second-hand books, and my good buddy bought me this little biker gang gem recently, so yeah.

Happy Endings Are All Alike by Sandra Scoppettone

I finally got around to reading this! And it was great. A YA novel from 1978 about a teenage lesbian relationship in small town America and how their friends and family react when it goes public. Harrowing in places but still totally relevant with a strong feminist and LGBT standpoint.

The Furnished Room by Laura Del-Rivo

If you love early-60's Soho then this is a great example of what that time and place felt like, that pre-Beatles existentialist bedsit grim Britain. And while it wasn't 100% successful (i was a bit disappointed that she chose to write yet another male anti-hero in this oeuvre) it did make me fascinated enough in Laura Del-Rivo to order another of her books, Daffodil On The Pavement (which looks great and DOES have a female protagonist..)

Jernigan by David Gates

This reissue (originally published in the early 90's) is out any day now, and people will be gushing about it. It pretty much deserves the hype because it is one of those great American novels which pokes at the American Dream and pops it. Jernigan is kinda a dick, and yeah this is another alcoholic dude novel, but his journey over the edge is quite enjoyably bleak and very 90's.

Mr. Weston's Good Wine by T.F. Powys

Enjoyed this! Think bawdy Christian fable meets Ray Bradbury, with a touch of Wicker Man pagany sexual shenanigans. The mysterious Mr. Weston rolls into town with his wine wagon and for one night in November time stands still. Whimsical, funny and quite saucy...a weird tale of old English village life with a totally unique, slightly disturbing, feel to it.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

What i read in June..

June was an excellent reading month! Sian and i both had birthdays and bought each other a bunch of books, and we also had some time off work, so not even The Man could interfere with our book-guzzling. Oh, and the sun came out and that was nice too, and everything's peachy. Here's what i read.

It Always Rains On Sunday by Arthur La Bern (1945)
This was a decent early kitchen-sink type of affair. I'm a fool for a novel that all takes place in one day, so if you're into that and like a bit cockney-speak, you might want to snap up this lovely new reissue on the London Books Classics range.

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (2005)
Hoffman doing what Hoffman does best, small-town americana, a bit of myth and magic, and a whole heap of grim realness. Lightning-strike victims, sex in the bath.

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink (2014)
She's kinda a big deal right now, and her writing will definitely divide people, but i found this totally compulsive, fucking nuts, intensely smart and hurty. It reminded me a little of Miranda July in that way that she dissects something to the point of seeming both ridiculous and profound in a new way.

The End Of Vandalism by Tom Drury (1994)
I really loved this. More small-town shenanigans. This is one of those novels that takes its time, rambles all over the place, doesn't seem to be doing much and then somewhere in there you start to realise just how much you are enjoying yourself. Full of warmth, dry humour, sadness and sweetness, if you like a bit of Richard Russo or Gilmore Girls you should check it out.

The Fever by Megan Abbott (2014)
Let's just stop for a second and appreciate how utterly fantastic Megan Abbott is. An author i feel genuinely lucky to be living at the same time as, and who can seemingly do no wrong. Her latest is very much in the same territory (teenage girls) as Dare Me, except it's about a strange inexplicable epidemic, girls having seizures, highschool, sex, a weird flourescent lake...pulp meets YA.

In The Enemy Camp: Selected Poems 1964-74 by William Wantling (2015)
I've been waiting for some Wantling to be reissued for YEARS people. Admired by Bukowski, an ex-con, heroin addict who fought in the Korean war, Wantling was of the new wave of post-beat 70's poets - raw, taboo-busting, but also sensitive and courageous. Thurston Moore's disappointing intro tries to depict him as some of rock'n'roll poet, whatever that means, lame. 

Sylvia by Leonard Michaels (1992)
Set in early-60's Manhattan, this seems to be a mostly autobiographical novel about a young writer that falls in love with the Tom Cruise-level mental Sylvia. Yeah, i know all you need right, another book about a seductively damaged fantasy-girl and the POOR DUDE who gets burned. But, it good. Real good. 

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year In Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (2015)
Ahh...i love the Sixties. Can't really go wrong with a book about the Sixties.

Monday, 15 June 2015

SPURNED CLASSIC! Songs by Paul Parrish

Paul Parrish
Paul Parrish is one of those singers who maybe did too few albums, didn't have enough mystique and maybe just got unlucky and has been scattered in the wind ever since. Until recently, cos they've finally put some of his early stuff out on cd, and it is GREAT.  His first album The Forest Of My Mind (1968) is a gorgeous slab of soft-psych folk-rock reminiscent of Sunshine Superman-era Donovan, full of flutes, harpsichords, flower-power anthems, and period charm (you might find it a little saccharine, personally i love saccharine keep it coming) - so go buy, it's really good. 

Songs came out in 1971 and is, again, a total product of its time. A mostly piano-led singer-songwriter album, everything kept simple (title included) and sparse and heartfelt, with the odd McCartneyesque bit of piano pop but mostly a bunch of introspective and lovely little ditties you can hum along to. Again, i have to stipulate that this is an album with song titles like A Poem I Wrote For Your Hair and I Once Had A Dog, all sung completely earnestly, so you might wanna use your safe word before subjecting yourself to this if you have trouble with that kinda thing. It might be a personal failing, but I can take a harsh pounding of this kind of post-60's hippie melancholy like a champ.

Nice huh. Apart from that bit where that guy chips in ('Ed Venezuela?'). I'm sure at some point at school i wrote a poem about someone's hair. It sounds like something i would do. So I just went for a walk and listened to Songs on my ultra millenium-denial discman, and (apart from all the skipping due to aforementioned shitty discman) it sounded pretty as heck in the sunshine walking around Pontcanna. I guess there's not much more to say about it than that. It's a shame so much great music gets lost over time, or falls in and out of fashion, it all seems kinda arbitrary. Here's one that deserves to be salvaged, and hopefully with its recent reissue, might well find its place in some of our hearts.  

Friday, 5 June 2015

What i read in May..

Hmm, I didn't read much in May. And now that i look back at what i read i'm like huh, weird.

Tucker by Louis L'amour

If you like westerns, you've probably read some L'amour. This is a particularly good L'amour.

Lust Queen by Don Elliott

Don Elliott is actually Robert Silverberg, the science fiction author. He wrote a bunch of trashy pulp erotica back when he was a struggling writer. Hollywood, cocktails by the pool, and wildcat sex. 

Agostino by Alberto Moravia

Uber-Fruedian 1940's Italian coming-of-age. Serious. Not bad.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Lots of novels dissecting marriages these days. This was really great, sad, precise and meditative and full of lines you'd want to tattoo on you. I love being married.

Death Claims by Joseph Hansen

The second Brandstetter novel, just as good as the first. Well crafted and stylish, these novels are great on setting and really capture the era (70's California),  this was also full of mourning and grief.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

What I've been listening to..

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens (2015)

I've got total faith in Sufjan. Illinoise is one of the great albums of the last few decades and despite not loving his last couple of albums the guy's a wizard, we should just let him do his hocus. Carrie & Lowell is stripped down, meticulous and full of revelation. Pretty extraordinary. I keep going back to it.  

Blood Rushing by Josephine Foster (2012)

This is from the album Blood Rushing, which i just bought. Josephine Foster is just so fascinating. She reminds me of Eva Green a little, because she scares me. She has that same oddly alluring, shamanic intensity. The album is supposedly inspired by ancient Pueblo tribes, and here she seems to be inhabiting some kind of spirit alter-ego, Blushing. Gosh, so great.

Shallow Water by Electric Citizen (2014)

Witchy, mellotron-heavy Sabbath-y ROCK. This gem is from the album Sateen, which if you're into Fifty Foot Hose, Jefferson Airplane, Julian's Treatment, or contemporary stuff like Blood Ceremony and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, you should pick up, stat.

Nikkie Lane

Loving Nikki Lane this month! Both her albums (Walk of Shame and All or Nothin') have been on a continuous rotation on my cd walkman, with all their sassy, trailer-trashy, phil-spector-y charm. Yee-haw. 

Already There by Verve (1993)

Remember when Verve were great!? On occasion I go back to the Storm In Heaven-era stuff in all its methadone-shoegaze glory and reminisce. It's just so wide-eyed and oceanic. At school I had 'Already There' scrawled on the inside of my Humanities notebook, and I was. (You've been walking round like you're some kind of angel/hello, high, are you? yes. well, that explains it.)

Monday, 4 May 2015

What i read in April..

Hey bambinos, did April treat you like a lady? It's been good here. We drank us up some hot lemon and ginger water, watched a bunch of Castle, listened hard to Sufjan's latest, Sian did some tarot and yoga, I got some new stripey 1966-style trousers, we did a readathon, and I ended up having a really good reading month. It started off not so great and got better, and by the end i'd pretty much got my groove back reading-wise. Reading ruts suck so bad, sometimes it feels like you're deliberately choosing letdowns just to hurt yourself, like eating Yum Yum Instant Noodles when you're craving soul food. We just watched the movie Soul Food..

(here's what Sian read...)

Grosse Pointe Girl by Sarah Grace McCandless

This was cute and i especially liked the scooby-doo-esque illustrations.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

I obviously bought this one because it's got a great cover and some Joanna Newsom lyrics at the beginning, and who can blame me? Me. I can. It was kinda shit. 

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson

I don't remember much about this. Though it did leave a sour unsatisfying taste in my mouth. See Yum Yum Noodles above.

Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman

Seriously, you can't beat 90's Hoffman - hypnotic, vivid writing full of downbeat real life, magic and revelation.

The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty

Delightful short comic novel of the American South, told with sass and a whole heap of enthusiasm. 

The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns

A great and peculiar novel which showcases Comyns' unique mix of grim Dickensian reality (female oppression) and very British magical stuff (levitation). Reminded me of Edward Gorey and those 60's toytown pop songs about grocers and flowershop ladies. 

Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

What a find! Wonderful ultra-70's West Coast noir. The Brandstetter mysteries were apparently one of the first to highlight strong openly gay characters in what was (and still is) a heavily hetty genre. This first one was so great. 

The Red Box by Rex Stout

This was what i read for the 24-hour readathon (which sian and i interpreted to include naps and full-on sleeps). My first Nero Wolfe (i got this out of the library) and despite being maybe a little too long i really found it charming and funny. Who doesn't love a bit of cyanide poisoning? 

Jerusalem The Golden by Margaret Drabble

A very decent novel from 1967, about a girl who goes to London to escape an unloved Northern childhood. A real character-study, packed with moral complexities, depth and ambiguity, and some Bohemian types with great clothes and hair. 
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