Book Review

Some Fragments of Incomplete Lockdown Blogs

Richard Wright in Franco's Spain and other fragments

The fragments and half-finished and barely begun blog posts I’ve written over the last few months have stacked and stacked and stacked up and now I’m intimidated by them all and lots of them are about books I literally read like four months ago and i don’t remember them at all and often all i have scrawled are like references to page numbers or excerpts or whatever and –

the body of the beasts by Audrée Wilhelmy (translated Susan Ouriou)

(june?)

This novella, french Canadian, quebecois, i didnt really enjoy. I liked the length – I always enjoy the length of short novels- but i never quite felt comfortable within it, or quite sure of its allegorical or literal nature. By that I mean ugh-

I’m typing this on my phone as I sit in a chemist waiting for my massive collection of psychiatric medication. The medication (which I’ve now been on since February) seems to be working, as though I’m not particularly happy or content, I’m not actively self-harming any more. I have had hardly any panic attacks and though I’m incredibly bored of the stasis of lockdown, I think without the healing power of a low dose of anti-psychotics and a high dose of SSRIs I would be handling this a lot worse. I’m going to download another Mario game for my Nintendo Switch and I’ve bought some more books to read. I am fine, as fine as I can be. I have a little bit of work coming in soon, I have editing and writing projects that feel “valuable” (to me and, of course, non-financially), in terms of possibly finding a readership. I’m typing this less than a week after the collapse of Queen Mob’s and I still have a lot of feelings about this, a real sense of hurt that the trust of writers and readers would be broken in such a crappy, stereotypical way. Eurgh. Crass. 

Ok my meds are ready, gotta go

more info here

Under my thumb: songs that hate women and the women who love them edited by Rhian E Jones & Eli Davies

(from the 12th of July)

Repeater Books is the publisher of the very engaging Alex Niven book I read during the Winter, so when they recently had an incredibly generous sale on their website in the midst of the global lockdown (now eased, unlike the actual spread of the virus lolololol – I’m back in full time work and loving it! No more money for nothing, thank god!) I found myself ordering six books of the kinda hipster leftist propaganda that I find myself increasingly drawn to as I, like many millennials destroying a century’s capitalist tradition, skew more and more left as I age. 

This one, of the six books I ordered, looked to be the most “love it or hate it”. Its simple premise was a collection of essays about misogyny in popular music, and it was understandably an evocative and inspirational topic for lots of women, because lots of women like popular music and lots of popular music is-

more info here

Not Far From The Junction by Will Ashon

this short book – the latest (as of July 28th) from Open Pen (the team behind my very own Bad Boy Poet) – is brilliant. It’s emotive and amusing, it’s engaging and articulate, and it’s my kinda thing: a layered, collage-type piece of reported/edited speech in the manner of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, but rather than being about war and nuclear accidents and senseless death and bureaucracy, Will Ashon writes instead about a day he spent hitch-hiking around the UK in May 2019. The people – the vast majority solo men – who pick him up from the roadside talk openly and honestly with this strange writer with a dictaphone, opening up about personal and family life, about their hopes and dreams for the future, about their worldviews, their politics, their financial situations and their reasons for picking up a hitch-hiker.

more info here

Pagan Spain by Richard Wright

(August 4th)

A few (or maybe loads, who’s counting?) months ago, I read Richard Wright’s breakthrough hit, the flawed, though influential, Native Son. This non-fiction book is one of the last texts he completed in his writing career, which was Flemingesquely cut short (by death) aged 52, in 1960.

Wright became successful and significant in his early thirties, in the early 1940s, and Pagan Spain was published in 1957. He had been living in France for well over a decade, and the material for this essayistic exploration of the country to the southwest was harvested from three trips (only two of which he explicitly describes) between the Summer of 1954 and the late Spring of 1955.

Despite (in dialogue only, never within his descriptive prose) mentioning that he is married with children, he travels alone or – as is often the case with texts of this type from this period (what am I talking about, this trend continues until the present day – famously in that Werner Herzog movie Grizzlyman which I’ve never seen) – he implies he travels alone, but actually doesn’t. Then again, Spain was in the grip of a fascist, ethno-nationalist Catholic supremacist dictatorship, so maybe the less dickheadish thing to do would have been to leave ones family behind in Paris, rather than drag them along? Who knows?

In spite of the background of fascism and the clear racism that Wright experiences but dismisses (which is in itself deeply moving – operating in “white” countries for his entire life, even being a respected and acclaimed novelist whose name has a genuine cultural cache whenever he bounces around “intellectuals” or internationally-minded bureaucrats, Wright recounts (what feels to a modern white reader as) extreme acts of racist aggression with the nonchalance of someone who has (because, bleakly, he had to) normalised these experiences as part of his daily life.

The fact that the racism Wright describes encountering in Spain is unremarked upon emphasises, I suppose, how universal this was as his lived experience in the first half (and a decade) of the twentieth century.

Wright, though, writes in the way that white writers do, whereby everyone is presumed to be white unless they are described as black. This was a successful, globally-lauded and published black intellectual, and his non-fiction written from a first person perspective (i.e. his own) still maintains the subliminal white supremacist idea that white is default, much like the increasingly debunked ideas that male is default, straight is default, educated is default, rich is default, cis is default etc..

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