John Gray's Straw Dogs and his new effort Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia are the type of books where you have an argument in your own head with what you're reading as you're reading it. I was reading the two simultaneously over the weekend with growing irritation over the gaping intellectual holes at the centre of both of them. Due to this irritation and just plain 'couldn't be arsed'-ness to articulate to myself my grievances I ditched both of them without finishing but annoyed for not finding the time to properly deal with what I thought were Gray's woeful shortcomings.
Luckily that's where people like A C Grayling come in to take up the slack and expose shoddy, ill-thought out work. If only I had a) the self-discipline and b) the talent, to do likewise. Cheers A C. (And I'm not just saying that because he came to speak at C&P last year)
The Gray books came off the back of a terrible month reading wise. I was looking forward to so many new books and was so disappointed over and over again. (I won't name any names). I should have taken my own advice sooner. After bigging up the Miranda July website as a work of perfectly formed webbiness I thought I may as well give the stories a crack - NoOne Belongs Here More Than You - and they are among the finest contemporary fiction I've come across in such a long time. The first story I read - Making Love in 2003 - had the hairs on my neck standing up and those that know me know that is indeed a truly rare event. They are disturbing, funny, sexy, surreal (in a good way) and told in a wonderful dead pan style that occasionally explodes in a small firework of imagery. July is also a director and was responsible for the 'quirky' indie film Me and You and Everyone We Know from 2005. I can well see how these stories could wind up as the darlings of Sundance but that is not a recommendation. On the page they meander and spin with a marvelous internal logic. Give up the day job, I say.
And speaking of directors turned writers or vice versa, Carcanet has a new edition of Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Ragazzi about life in 40's Rome. It would be an understatement to say I'm looking forward to that. Please don't let me down.
I finished the weekend with a Chekhov story I hadn't read - In The Gully. I'd tried it in a terribly translated Norton edition and given up after a few clumsy pages. After sourcing the out of print Penguin edition off abe I read it all. I'm not easily shocked or upset but this story had me near to tears. One devastating scene is almost unreadable. It was one of, if not the last of his stories. A great and terrible way to finish off another weekends trawl through the shelves of C&P.