Thoughts for the Weekend #13

ITEM: For some reason I’ve been binge eating this last week. Freudians credit excessive eating as a substitute for sex, and if that theory holds water and I carry on at this rate, by the end of the month I’ll have gorged my way back to virginity.

Actually, I think I’m in mourning for summer. All the symptoms are in place – binge eating as a way to store body fat for the winter months ahead combined with an irrational desire to clout up side the head anyone who uses the word ‘autumnal’.

ITEM: A couple of nights back I read a novel by Richard Laymon and, being honest here, I’ve read rather a lot of Richard Laymon books over the years (I never claimed to not be shallow). One of the staples of his fiction is horny teenagers, boys and girls whose raging hormones are forever giving them the hots for insignificant others, and yeah, though it’s been a very long time since I was teenager, from memory that was pretty much situation normal at that age, though I don’t recall ever going quite as far as the character in the book I just read, who gets warm and tingly feelings while staring at the scantily clad mannequin of a murder victim.

Different strokes, I guess.

And, as a side issue, despite all this hormonal raging, I can’t remember a character in a Laymon book ever displaying the slightest interest in pornography, or taking matters in hand (euphemism), which seems unusual. They obviously need a stern talking to from Betty Dodson.

ITEM: I have sent The Imaginary Girlfriend a birthday card with the inscription ‘as sexy at 60 as you were at 16’. Of course this could be taken in one of two ways. I like to live dangerously.

I first met TIG in the early 70s, when I was a teenager with raging hormones, and she often assures me that back then she used to wear hot pants and mini-skirts that were little better than belts, but I have no recollection of any of this. Obviously even then I loved her for her mind.

ITEM: A while back I mooted the possibility that, now David Tennant is playing Peter Vincent in the Fright Night remake, my Inbox would be flooded with google alerts. Apart from a few early messages this hasn’t happened, for which I’m grateful. And yet, thanks to the vagaries of google and the internet, today I am in a position to give you the cinema listings for The Ritz in Burnham-on-Sea. If you need to know, just ask.

ITEM: Much of this week was spent sorting out and listing my vinyl record collection, as I’ve decided I really do need to dispose of them, as I never play any and they’re only taking up space which could be taken up with books I won’t read. In many ways it was a voyage of self-discovery, bringing back memories, fond and otherwise, such as the time I lent a work colleague a couple of Leonard Cohen albums and enclosed the phone number of the local branch of the Samaritans as a precautionary measure, or an afternoon spent playing chess with a mate while listening to the entire discography of Yes, or the time I rushed home to play the new Barclay James Harvest release and was listening to a track called ‘Life is for Living’, idly checking the pages of the local paper as I did so (something I almost never do) only to discover, in one of those horrid moments of synchronicity that should rightfully be the preserve of fiction, that somebody I knew casually had committed suicide (and a few days before I’d heard her telling everyone how she wasn’t upset by the break up with her boyfriend). Record collections are palaces of memory, but we’re living in a republican age and all the palaces have to be knocked down or converted into museums.

I am however mortified to discover that I once bought The Very Best of Leo Sayer (what was I thinking?).

And RB, if by any chance you’re reading this, it’s been over fifteen years. It’s about time you brought my Pink Floyd album back.

ITEM: I’ve seen many arguments in favour of e-readers, and most of them make sense, but even allowing for the idea that it may be slightly tongue in cheek, I find the reasoning behind the Solaris Read Anything campaign to be highly dubious.

Here we are, with Margaret Atwood finally ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, she might have penned the odd SFnal ditty in her time, and a major UK publisher of SF/F/H is pushing e-readers on the basis that it empowers genre readers to stay in the closet.

Bollocks to that.

I’ll read what I want, and anyone who doesn’t like it can just stay out of my face. What we need is not mealy mouthed equivocation about reading choices but a Genre Pride Campaign.

And, now that I think of it, e-readers are going to deprive me of the joys of browsing other people’s books. When out and about, on public transport or walking the streets, I love to peer over people’s shoulders and try to figure out what they’re reading from the few snippets visible on the page, then contorting myself into all sorts of odd poses to see what’s on the cover of the book. I’ve even struck up conversations with people that begin with a tentative, ‘Oh, you like Jackie Collins too…’. though contrarily, and hypocritically, I get rather annoyed when people try to start conversations with me (‘Bugger off! Can’t you see I’m reading?’). 

Of course sometimes it can go badly wrong and motives are there to be misunderstood, as when I was walking along the sea front at Hunstanton a few years back and a rather muscular young man took exception to me ogling his bikini clad girlfriend, when all I wanted to do was find out what John Irving novel she was reading.


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10 Responses to Thoughts for the Weekend #13

  1. DC5 says:

    I used to read during slow times at work. More often than not I’d be interrupted by my co-workers, who’d proceed to relate banal stories about their family life. They did not seem to understand that reading is an interactive experience that requires a fair amount of concentration—an aspect far removed from the experience of those addicted to the glass teat.

    • petertennant says:

      Reading is a solitary activity, watching TV communal, which is part of the reason why it is often so banal.
      On the other hand, nobody should try to talk to me while I’m watching a film or a play…

  2. Hi, Pete.

    Mary and I have a cardboard box of vinyl albums in the back of one of our closets. Probably about 40 albums inside. We haven’t opened the box in over a quarter of a century, but your column makes me think it might be fun to take a look inside after so many years, to see what memories are evoked. I’m sure there’s Bowie inside, probably some Devo, Gary Numan, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, some Traffic—there might even be a Leo Sayer album, or the vestige of illegal substances.

    Your comments on another disappearing medium – books—and what someone else is reading reminds me of an essay Nicholson Baker published in The New Yorker a couple of decades ago, “Books As Furniture”, reprinted in The Size of Thoughts. He had been looking through some catalogs for furniture, the type of catalog where the furniture is set in a fully furnished, imaginary room, I suppose to show the novice buyer how furniture works, and noticed that in nearly every photograph there were a few books scattered about the room, as he put it, for decoration. Curious, he got out a magnifying glass to discover what specific books had been chosen to decorate the settings. It’s an enjoyable essay, the sort at which Baker was particularly good.

    • petertennant says:

      One box of vinyl albums Rob. You’re an under achiever. My final tally had somewhere between five and six hundred, and I’ve already got rid of quite a few. I have a pack rat mentality.

      That Nicholson Baker essay sounds brilliant. I haven’t read anything by him in ages, though I loved “Vox” and, especially, “The Fermata”. Good to know he’s still writing.

      I’ve moved on a bit from my ‘give me paper, or give me death’ days, but all the same I’m not ready to give up on books just yet. They furnish a life as easily as they do a room, and these new tinker toys will never completely replace them.

  3. Cate Gardner says:

    I’ve just thrown the last of my vinyl records to the back of a cupboard where they will possibly live until they rot. Or I rot.

    • petertennant says:

      Oh Cate, you don’t seem particularly upbeat about that 🙂

      I’d do the same, but my cupboards are already full of books. And so is just about every other available space. My house is a fire hazard waiting to happen. 😦

  4. I kind of get what Solaris are getting at, in that when I worked in an office I found myself choosing books to read that would show me in a good light with the higher-ups. On the other hand, reading a Kindle in public guarantees you’ll be asked about what you’re reading anyway – or, if they haven’t seen one before, you’ll be asked to explain what it does. That happened with a taxi driver the other day, my evangelical zeal somewhat quenched by his attention drifting from the road…

    One thing I found interesting about the Solaris announcement was the quiet mention of ebook exclusives at the bottom – I think we might see publishers chucking a lot more material at the wall to see what sticks over the next few years.

    • petertennant says:

      I was quite the opposite. At work I used to leave whatever book I was reading in a prominent position (face up in an open drawer) in the hope of dragging someone into an unlooked for conversation. For a time I sat next to a very straitlaced guy, and I remember one time he picked up my copy of “The Female Eunuch”, turned it over so the cover wouldn’t show and then put it back. Obviously not ‘new man’ material 😉

      On public transport I’m usually the last stop, so no chance of missing it, but I have got so wrapped up in reading a book that I’ve sat there with the bus parked and totally oblivious until a bemused driver yelled ‘Hoy! Are you getting off?’ And I love that one of my regular drivers always has a volume of vampire fiction showing in his bag. I won’t be able to know that with a Kindle, which makes me sad.

      You’re right though, that e-books will give a lot more scope for experiment and trying new stuff out. And with POD I don’t see any compelling reason to not have book shaped alternatives for those who wish for them. In fact, I would say it’s a necessary safeguard for many reasons, the fall back text.

  5. I remember a director of the company picking up a Doctor Who New Adventure from my desk – one of the many that had really rotten covers… Never again. From then on I kept a Penguin Classic in my drawer to read on days when the weather was too bad to read outside.

    • petertennant says:

      I remember a job interview where the guy told me that he never read Science Fiction, and that if he was reading a book and found out that it was Science Fiction he would stop, even if he was enjoying it.

      I believe he was trying to provoke me, as I’d mentioned that I wrote Science Fiction, and declined to be provoked.

      It was easier than believing that I was trapped in a room with a complete idiot 🙂

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