(from early to mid-April twenny twenny one)
A while ago I ordered four books in a sale held by Repeater Books.
I’m not quite certain why, other than the fact the discounts made these books very very cheap.
It was low risk.
The first one – and the only one I’ve read at the time I’m typing this introductory paragraph – is honestly one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my entire fucking life and quite simply if I hadn’t had the massive mental health boost of getting my first vaccine shot while halfway thru reading it, I think I’d have ended up way deep in a massive mental hole.
Like, it’s so boring that I’d drift away from the page and fall into memory, into contemplation, into self, and these are all dangerous fucking places for ol’ scott manley hadley to go.
During this time, I also finished the first draft of a manuscript for the TRUTHER PRESS poo anthology, which also helped keep me upbeat when this truly terrible book tried its best to literally kill me.
On War by Carl Von Clausewitz (original German in 1832, this one translated by J. J. Graham I don’t know when)
I don’t want to go on about this for long, but this book is fucking shit and if I was grown-up enough to stop reading books before their end, I would have stopped reading this one.
Clausewitz was a Prussian general who fought against Napoleon (referred to throughout the text as Buonaparte, what an interesting change of nomenclature – possibly because of Napoleon II and Napoleon III being more prominent at the time?) and I expected the text would have interesting digressions about personal experience and detailed descriptions of lived battle.
But there’s nothing, it’s all broad strokes (there are occasional examples but never in an analytical way, more like references rather than examples), and most of the text is incredibly fucking obvious stuff like “don’t fight in the dark”, “in a war people die on both sides”, “soldiers are demotivated when they’re losing”, etc. It’s like a much shitter version of Machiavelli’s The Prince, but from (just) the “modern era” so utterly lacking in setting-based charm. The writing is dull and clunky, but it doesn’t feel like the translator’s fault tbh.
Oh, and the introduction is a dry, smug essay from a philosopher who seems to be both disgusted by war but also fascinated by it and childishly deferential to soldiers. There’s no analysis of the text, no explanatory notes, nothing. It’s a shit book. Don’t buy, don’t read it. Repeater, you should withdraw it. Anyone who enjoys this would be so fucking lame that I hope you’d be ashamed to have their business. Eww.
I will not provide a purchase link because it’s shit.
Decolonial Daughter: Letters from a Black Woman to her European Son by Lesley-Ann Brown (2017)
Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.
This is exactly my kind of thing. A beautiful, powerful, engaging, emotive, articulate and intelligent work of non-fiction, structured as a series of letters from Brown (an American expat who has lived in Denmark for approaching two decades), directed to her son, a child she had with a Danish (white) former partner.
Brown discusses the differences between Northern European democratic socialism and her native USA (she was born in Brooklyn, NY), and how she has witnessed the rightward slide of European culture over the past few years. There are discussions of blog-favourite James Baldwin, of contemporary Danish artists and activists, of the “prison industry complex” of the USA, the generational differences between her and her parents (who emigrated from Trinidad & Tobago), her experiences living as a teenager both in New York City and then, for a couple of years, with her grandparents in the Caribbean.
There is discussion of institutionalised racism and of domestic abuse and addiction and mental illness, there is exploration of colonialism and its effects on indigenous populations across the world (including the population who lived on the Canary Isles before the Spanish), and discusses the theory that there was transatlantic trade and exploration between Africans and indigenous peoples of the land we now call South America long before Europeans started to make their way across the ocean.
It’s super engaging, very moving, and tho a few asides (multiple references to Monty Python (eww), an out-of-nowhere swerfy aside, a bit of an unsympathetic tone when discussing mental illness) didn’t necessarily make me think Brown and I would be friends, I absolutely loved reading this text, which is a really beautiful book and something I would highly recommend.
Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul by Leila Taylor (2019)
This one was also fucking brilliant.
Exploring the post-industrial decline of Detroit, the prevalence of guilt in American horror by white creatives, the music of Prince, the subculture of “goths”, historic Gothic architecture, European “Gothic” writing, “Southern Gothic”, ghosts as symbol, ghosts as belief, the history of lynching, artistic responses to lynching, Motown, Americans building over the top of cemeteries, monuments, monumentalising, memorialising, grief, the promises and failings of notions of freedom, the difference between the city and suburbs, cinema, literature, music, visual art, too… In 200 pages, Taylor packs in a lot, as well as engaging anecdotes about being one of the few Black goths she ever encountered growing up in the American Mid West.
Darkly is informative and offers great analysis of mythologies and narratives that recur, of the similarities and differences between the different ideas associated with goths/Goth/gothic/the Gothic. Darkly also explores the history of race and racism in the United States, with a particular focus on the transatlantic slave trade. Taylor explores as metaphor the idea that the interiors of the slave ships of the “Middle Passage” were a liminal non-space, a hell of such horrors it would have felt endless, and for many people who didn’t live through it, it did never end, and for those who did survive the journey, the “life” on the other side was equally as hellish. Taylor explores the dehumanisation that is inherent in racism, how this dehumanisation was needed to normalise slavery and how it was maintained with aggressive propaganda and aggressive violence. Her writing is really striking, harrowing, unforgettable.
It’s a really powerful book, charged with a wide knowledge base of arts, culture and entertainment and, as with Decolonial Daughter, a book I highly, highly recommend.
We’ll Never Have Paris edited by Andrew Gallix (2019)
This book was huge, like 600 pages, which is too long for a book that is this unsatisfying.
A collection of around 80 short pieces (between a few pages and the longest is just under 20), all of which feature writing about (or set in) Paris by anglophone writers.
A lot of these writers have absolutely nothing to say about Paris yet still try, and although Gallix’s introduction promises that the anthology will be an interrogation of the mythology of “anglophone literary Paris”, it doesn’t deliver on this consistently.
I’m not saying the whole thing falls flat, but far too many pieces do, and had Gallix been a less-forgiving editor/compiler a much more satisfying 300 (or even 200) page anthology is right there within this text for the taking.
Disappointingly (I’m disappointed because I hate to offer praise to such a confident, “alpha male”, “the man who has it all” type figure) a real highlight is Fernando Sdrigotti’s hilarious piece which is structured as notes for an unwritten Parisian novel, skewering the ignorance and insensitivities of expat travel; this contrasts sharply with lots of We’ll Never Have Paris, as many pieces fawn over Père Lachaise and Shakespeare and Company with barely any more class than Woody Allen. There’s also a surprising amount of casual sexism (not loads, but not zero), which feels a bit off in a publication from a progressive press.
The pieces I enjoyed most were the ones that didn’t try to be *about* Paris; there’s a surprisingly interesting piece about Malcolm McClaren (surprising because I’m not a Gen Xer so don’t think punk is good), there are a few great poems, there was an interesting essay on Christine Brooke-Rose, and there was, of course, lots of writing about the same few filmmakers, the same few writers (not James Baldwin), the same few buildings, the same one French musician (can you guess who?) and tho visual arts get a fairer spread of interest, I read the whole thing and still had no idea who this book was for.
Anyone who knows Paris well will find the vacuous pieces annoying, anyone who has those authentic expat Paris fantasies will find Sdrigotti’s work (and the two or three similar pieces) a personal affront.
I don’t believe anyone would read this and enjoy every piece, but because they’re all so short, I found the idea of skipping any to be almost pointless: I’ll give anything 1,000 words to convince me, but by that point most of these pieces are over or have a page or two left.
Having spent the last couple of months editing the TRUTHER PRESS poo anthology, I know what I’m talking about here. In that book, there’s a lot of poo: in this book there isn’t a lot of Paris.
If Andrew Gallix is reading this (who knows who reads this any more? Still averages over 100 views a day, so someone does) and feels tempted to argue that this absence of a “real Paris” was the book’s point then, fine, sure, it succeeded at that… but I still think the book should have been and could have been half the length. There are hundreds of pages of icy bland prose in between the good bits; there are several pieces that feel like not even the writers would have enjoyed rereading.
I won’t link to this one either lol. It’s better than On War, but it’s not good.
Send free money to Scott Manley Hadley.