Twilight of the Word

I’m reading the Edgeworks edition of The Harlan Ellison Hornbook.

It probably has more front matter (introductions, dedications, author’s notes, copyright declarations, etc.) than any book I’ve ever seen. That’s if we don’t consider Tristram Shandy to be an entire novel of front matter or indeed The Book of Prefaces to be, well, a book of prefaces.

Anyway, after a page of gorgeous five-inch-long, hoary old URLs to Ellison-related websites, there’s this:

Was he right? My gut says “yes” but my head cranks out a ticker tape of hyper-rational excuses and exceptions.

I’m enjoying the book, by the way; it was in the batch I borrowed from Unclef. I’m forming an opinion that Ellison was more “alive” than anyone currently living can claim to be alive, “all this electronic crap” likely being part of the reason for this clear and sudden loss of gross global consciousness.

A Memorable Sandwich

Side by side this evening, Samara reads Samuel Pepys while I read Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso.


To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget. A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter that no one records.

Pepys, meanwhile, has noticed that wigs are in vogue and he instructs a barber to shave his head so that he can then (get this) go around London wearing a wig made from his own hair. Pepys tells his diary how delighted he is that nobody can tell, so authentic is his wig. I’m not sure why covert wig-wearing is his response to fashionable, conspicuous wig-wearing.

When my wife points out that she’s reading a diary at the very same time that I’m reading a book about a diary, we pause so I can write my diary for yesterday to complete the cycle: writing, reading, analysing. When I post, Samara checks to see how it looks on her phone. “It’s real!” she says.

I think the current diary mania in our house began when Peter asked a few months ago why I like diaries so much. I hadn’t noticed (but he had) that I read a lot of diaries. Since I hadn’t noticed, I couldn’t answer but I have been thinking about it since. This evening, Manguso’s book comes close to hitting on an answer I can identify with:

I often prefer writers’ diaries to their work written intentionally for publication. It’s as if I want the information without the obstacles of style or form. But of course all writing possesses style and form, and in good writing they aren’t obstacles.

Another friend said, I want to write sentences that seem as if no one wrote them. The goal being the creation of a pure delivery system, without the distraction of a style. The goal being a form no one notices, the creation of what seems like pure feeling, not of what seems like a vehicle for a feeling. Language as pure experience, pure memory. I too wanted to achieve that impossible effect.

Fanboy Blues

I’m reading the published diaries of a writer whose work I love dearly.

Twelve years in, he’s not once written an entry on my birthday. I mention this to my wife.

“It’s because he hates you,” she says.

Woodland Dirtybag

Man alive, what a book. I’m all shook up.

My Elvis Blackout by Simon Crump, handed to me as if it were a woodland dirtybag, by my good friend unclef, is a novel about the King of Rock and Roll. Well, sort of.

It’s properly hilarious, experimental and odd. The violence that characterises the book is bewildering and sometimes even upsetting (as when Elvis tortures some Vietnam vets with fishing hooks) but is largely Viz-like knockabout joy.

Barbara Cartland staggered out in front of us again and this time we got the bitch exactly square-on. I felt a sickening, thrilling jolt of malevolent teenage delight as her misshapen, shrivelled old body bounced off the windshield straight into the path of a monster truck which had sharpened electrified spikes protruding from every one of its fourteen greasy axles.

The appearance of “real life” personalities is wonderful too. As well as the Barbara Cartland bit here is one of my faveys:

He called up Roy Orbison, who he’d recorded with in the early days when they were both still signed to Sam Phillips’s Sun label.

Roy was down on his luck as well. He’d been showing off in front of his few remaining fans. He’d written his name in lighter fluid on a glass-topped coffee table, set it afire and burned his house down. His second wife, Claudette, had run off with one of the firemen, and his second daughter who was passing by on her motorcycle had been so distracted by the blaze that she’d ridden straight into a tree and broken her back in three places. His dog had just died and ten minutes before Elvis called him up, Roy had found out that he only had six months to live, plus he’d worn dark glasses for so long that the skin on the bridge of his nose had grown around them so he couldn’t take them off now, even if he wanted to. On top of all that, he was flat broke.

Willkommen im Dschungel

Kids! Do yourself a favour and read Chapter Six of Only Americans Burn in Hell by Jarett Kobek. It’s just so much fun that it will improve your day if not your whole week. Go out for a walk and get it from the library. Read the entire novel if you want to, but Chapter Six is the part I’m telling you about. Got that? Wee!


On the back cover of Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice, there’s a blurb from a current popular author:

Surely the strangest, strongest walking book I know … only Herzog could have written this weird, slender classic. — Popular Author

Imagine the cheek you’d need to have to write something like that of Werner Herzog. “These here Dead Sea Scrolls are unputdownable.” — Gary Lineker.

The books of this popular author are very nice. But fucking hell, it’s a question of scale.

And he’ll never stop. A 2017 Canongate reissue of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain has an introduction by this guy that’s almost as long as Shepherd’s actual work.

He should have just let Nan ‘splain.

Oh yeah! dances