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To read...

My 2009 reading has already begun, or at least, is in a pile, waiting impatiently. Today I began Dag Solstad's Shyness and Dignity, and the first page impressed with a prose style as clear as an Arctic glacier, although the next twenty or so pages he does go on somewhat with his draining analysis of Ibsen. Anyway, unlike the previous Solstad book, still laying face down at page something, I shall (snow) plough on. I have also been sent a book to review. Someone has caught on that I have a penchant for Scandi. It's The Pets by Bragi Olafsson, translated from the Icelandic by Janice Balfour, and which (the?) Berlingske Tidende (Denmark) has hailed as 'one of the best pieces of Nordic literature I've read in a long time'. I shall see. I also have Paul Bailey's Uncle Rudolf to finish, as well as to begin on Night Crawlers, by Nani Power. Which is leaving little time for continuing with Jenny Diski's Apology for the Woman Writing, but which I know I shall return to and engage with, at some point. I'm going to try and get together a 'selection of forthcoming literature in 2009' thing, as David Sexton has drawn together a few in today's Evening Standard. (There's also a very good two page feature on 'art house cinema'). However, he also says that many publishers will now steer clear of 'formulaic misery memoirs' but then makes no comment on the fact that half of the novels we can expect in 2009 and which will no doubt get the marketing budgets that some of the authors' jaded old names can expect, also seem to be of that very tiresome, 'formulaic' and horribly bourgeois North London domestic clap-trap that has soaked the novel since the year dot. Defoe and Behn would be spinning in their graves. Hey ho and all that. In fact, I'm also going to be setting up a separate blog to capture random scenes. The Guardian's talkboards - the old ones, not the blogs - has run an 'Overheard Conversations' thread for a while and is really amusing. So my little stab at capturing the crumbs of day-to-day life will consist of scenes, some I will use, most probably not, but may serve others. Here's one scene which I developed simply from watching an old man in Starbucks, which sparked an idea. I came across in an old notebook this morning, as I was attempting to avoid writing a difficult scene of a work in progress:

I was quite glad to die in Starbucks, there amongst the skinny lattes, white cafe mochas and raspberry and pomegranite frappucinos. I knew what each of the drinks were, how they were made, what they consisted of; whether they came with the option of whipped cream. And yet I'd never once bought a single cup of anything. A tall latte bought three slices of good boiled ham from the only butcher's left in the area, that's why. But now... now I wish I'd splashed out on a vente white cafe mocha - although I'd have passed on the whipped cream, it looked indulgent enough without. Maybe that was the difference between my age and the youngsters - they wanted dessert with everything. No, for two years and four months, almost daily, Beata gave me a tall iced tap water. She was a nice girl. Polish. Studying something at college. I'd once tried to enlighten her on the joys of E.M. Forster but it seemed to go right over her head. That man, let me tell you, the best writer in English. Well, of the century at least. Last century. A Passage to India, that's usually what I carried around with me - I'd paid twenty pence for it from the local library sale. Sometimes I could see the occasional person come out of their own worlds, glance up at the cover of the book held up in front of me, then at me, just for a flicker, and I could almost hear them thinking, 'he's an old Indian man wearing some sort of old school tie and an old Harris tweed cap and he's reading A Passage to India!'

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Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
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***


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