A Journey through Time and Space

Category: Books

Charles Bukowski- Post Office

The streets were full of insane and dull people. Most of them lived in nice houses and didn’t seem to work, and you wondered how they did it.

There’s a definite skill in making the tedious engaging, and Bukowski does exactly that with his autobiographical Henry Chinaski, a postal worker who likes the horses, women and booze. Oh boy does he like to booze.

All Bukowski does is chart his (Chinaski’s) time in the postal service, with occasional trips to the track, horrendously hungover morning shifts, and a string of doomed relationships but it makes for great reading.

The various people that he comes into contact with, from his bastard boss, to a sexual deviant colleague that talks too loud. His string of characters each beautifully crafted with their own intricacies and flaws make this so compelling.

It is this that I found so beautiful from Bukowski, indeed what I could relate to most.

I’ve worked some bad jobs; working in a supermarket used to bore me to tears; running school holiday activity days I was surrounded by screaming, stinking children for up to ten hours a day; when I worked at a paintball place I was shot at by teenagers and eaten by horseflies.

Now these were not appalling in the grand scheme of things, but I couldn’t spend nearly 20 years doing them, like Charles did.

I stuck these jobs out partly due to necessity, partly because I was too lazy to find a better alternative- but mainly because the people there were fascinating. As a drunkard mook I know the first two apply to Chinaski, and from his writing you can tell just how intriguing he found people, too.

Similarly my favourite jobs have come from the amazing people that you get randomly slung into spending up to 16 hours a day with, or for the weirdos that frequent these establishments.

So if you’ve worked menial, brain-bleedingly dull jobs jobs, or hate how people are always there, making noise and being smelly, or love how weird and complex every individual has the potential to be, give this a read.

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S.E Hinton- The Outsiders

Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while.

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I’ve been told that you should never judge a book by it’s cover, now that is exactly what I did with this book cos geeze’s hair and shirt combo was excellent, the book however- not so much.

The Outsiders follows Ponyboy Curtis and his gang of Greasers, a bunch of kids with long greasy hair. They go running around smoking and sneaking into the drive-thru theatre having fights with the Socs (short for socialites, their rival gang made up of the popular, rich kids from school). That all goes tits up when Ponyboy’s pal Johnny shanks Bob, leader of the Socs, and they have to leg it out of town.

Naturally Bob and Ponyboy redeem themselves and a there’s a moral of sorts and we all learn something about the fragility of the teenagesoul.

S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was 16 and as such this STANK of teenage angst. I can see why it was controversial at the time, and how it had a profound effect on teenagers who were bullied at school, or struggled to just be themselves.

But with a gang made up of Ponyboy, Sodapop, Dally, Darry, Johnnycake, Two-Bit and Stevie to be quite frank it just reads like a GCSE drama piece.

Plus the image I had in my head of Bob was Biff from Back to the Future, which was simply hilarious and really detracted from the suspense in some of the scenes.

Irvine Welsh, Filth

I go back past the central admin unit, but there’s still nae sign of thon blonde piece. At the downstairs bogs I weigh myself on the scales. My Weight is still going down. I hope I’ve not got AIDs or something, from some fucking hoor. I can’t put on weight, never could, not like some of the blobs in this place. If it was up tae me, I’d weigh every cunt on the force annually and whoever didn’t make the weight would be out on their fat arses. Weightest? you fuckin well bet your sweet ass. I get a whiff from the canteen. I investigate and it’s fish pie. -Awright Ina? I ask the auld girl behind the counter

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I’ve got the hump. There are a few contributing factors to this, I am hung over, I spent too much money last night, my laptop is off being fixed after I corrupted the hard drive, so I’ve probably lost a metric fuck-tonne of work including this review that I’m having to write all over again because I know for a fact I didn’t save it, and besides only idiots backup their hard drive, am I right?

So I’m currently using my sister’s ancient laptop that is about as fast as a big fat spastic girl and makes the same amount of bloody noise.

All of this has put me in a mindset that is probably quite conducive to writing about Irvine Welsh’s Filth. Bruce Robertson is a copper with a nasty case of haemorrhoids, a penchant for posh and prostitutes, and as corrupt as an African presidential election.

I was first introduced to Welsh’s writing with Trainspotting about 4 years ago, making a conscious effort to read the novel before watching the film, and after seeing the trailer for Filth starring James McAvoy and coming out October 4th thought I mayaswell do the same.

Bruce is on the cusp of a promotion at work, and if he can solve a case of a racially aggravated murder it’s probably his. Now it’s times like this I wish I didn’t use the word so much because it has lost the necessary emphasis but Bruce Robertson is the very personification of a cunt.

He goes out of his way to make his colleagues lives miserable. He uses his Masonic connections to manipulate his work superiors. He’s a drug addled alcoholic. He treats women in horrendous ways, committing vile, often insanely illegal acts that were at times extremely difficult to read. Whilst his racism would have even the most thorough, EDL-supporting, Stella-drinking, skinhead-scaffolders saying: “that’s a bit much mate.” Everything about Bruce urges you to despise him. And yet in spite of myself the more I read the more I actually cared for him in some perverse way.

I thoroughly enjoy Welsh’s style of prose, using Scottish phonetics throughout means that you’re constantly reading in a Scottish accent. This does mean you can’t really dip in and out of the book as it can take a little while to fall back into the swing of the text, which at times might as well be a whole other language.

The bulk of the book goes into details of Bruce’s sordid life, from a holiday to Amsterdam, to trying to bed his best mate’s wife, and a lonely Christmas day.

Until the final 100 pages or so when the gas gets turned right up and we’re told why he uses the term “spastic” so much, where his abhorrence towards black people came from, why he’s so hate-filled and unpleasant. This all builds up to a roaring crescendo and a beautifully abrupt ending.

George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London

The whole business of swearing, especially English swearing, is mysterious. Of its very nature swearing is as irrational as magic — indeed, it is a species of magic.

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I read this on account of it being one of my housemate’s favourite books. He’s a bit of a cunt but we have very similar tastes in film and literature so I gave it a go.

My two brief brushes with Orwell previously were studying Animal Farm in year 9 at school. It was put upon us by a teacher named Ms Bell- she was my schoolboy crush for years- and she was always banging on about the animals being a metaphor for communists and stuff. I didn’t really get it, although I was about 14 and by A-levels still believed in symbolism in literature to be a complete myth.

I later started on 1984 but found it so bloody depressing that I didn’t want to wreck the rest of my holiday with it.

ANYWAY. Down and Out, follows Orwell as he lives on the poverty line in Paris, desperately trying to find work with his Russian mate Boris. They gain work in a restaurant and he portrays in awesome detail the goings on of this shitty Parisian hotel where he works as a plonguer – that’s a kitchen porter or pot wash to you and I.

After working in the hospitality industry for the entirety of my final year of uni I absolutely adored the first half of this book. Orwell manages to capture the grime, fury and camaraderie of a professional kitchen beautifully (although for legal reasons I wish to point out that my former place of work was 10/10 for cleanliness).

The second half is Orwell living as a tramp in London for a month or so before he has a job scheduled to start. I must say I found this a lot less compelling to read, although the tedium of the second half is probably meant to mirror the boredom and monotony of life as a tramp.

It also has a great chapter on colloquial language, rhyming slang and the use of “fuck” which I thought was great.

Might have to give 1984 another go ya’ know?

A-

 

John le Carré, Call for the Dead

Smiley was dead tired. It was raining again and cold. Smiley hugged his greatcoat round him and despite the tiredness, watched with quiet pleasure the busy London night go by.

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I’ve never been particularly into spy and espionage stuff. Neither Fleming’s James Bond nor the subsequent films have ever really got me going. I think in the back of my mind I perhaps knew going in to get a le Carré book was a bad decision. I went ahead regardless.

I just didn’t get Call for the Dead. I know le Carré is supposed to be tha man when it comes to espionage, but overall I found it tedius. After reading for 20 minutes I’d find myself having missed about 3 pages as my mind had wondered onto other, less grey, subjects.

And let me assure you, it was very grey- grey men in grey suits, in a very grey London where it’s all foggy and rainy and shit and grey.

As far as I could tell some spy geez has shot himself then another spy, Smiley, goes to find out who killed him. Smiley seemed alright, plus I know he was played by Gary Oldman, and he had a tache, so that’s cool. Turns out Smiley was right in thinking something was rotten in Denmark, as they guy was killed by someone, not himself.

There wasn’t a lot else.

I watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy when it came out last year and didn’t really get that either, for more or less the exact same reasons. I found myself coming around from a day dream about 9 minutes into a monologue from Colin Firth, with absolutely no idea whether he was talking about the butcher, baker or candlestick maker.

So it seems le Carré isn’t for me. If you’ve got summat you think I might enjoy a little more then lemme know yo!

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Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.

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I first read Fear and Loathing when a friend in year 10 handed me a copy he’d got out of the library at school, Gaz said: “It’s like A Clockwork Orange, just with drugs instead of violence.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Nearly five years later I went on to write my dissertation on Gonzo journalism, but decided against reading or studying Fear and Loathing mainly due to the sheer amount written on the book and the amount of shit I’d have to sift through to get anything decent on it.

So I decided to tip my toe into the Gonzo water once again, free of the constraints of my Dis.

Raoul Duke is Hunter’s semi-fictitious portrayal of himself which allowed him to be as outrageous as he liked in an assignment supposed to be a few hundred words for Sports Illustrated on the Mint 400, a desert Motorbike race.

It since turned into a cult book, measuring 204 pages, spanning one end of Vegas to the other, with more drugs than you can shake a shitty stick at, two near-totaled cars, and one 300 pound Samoan attorney.

It’s still just as enjoyable as the first time I read it. Hunter’s ability to create horrendous, mesmerising dreamscapes of narcotic induced stupors is phenomenal, and something I believe completely impossible to recreate.

Two thumbs up.

Jon Ronson, Lost at Sea

“The mood was what I imagined it must feel like when somebody turns on all the lights at an orgy.”

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The two books I brought to Cambridge with me were Ronson’s Lost at Sea and HST’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ironically enough these were both authors I studied for the past 12 months whilst writing my dissertation.

Regardless I went head on into Ronson’s Lost at sea. It’s a collection of his works from GQ and the Guardian and brilliantly easy to read.

Broadly speaking Ronson looks into people on the fringe of society; self made superheros, clairvoyants, world eating champions, and examines them in a way that is not condescending nor making fun of them as you might expect. He portrays them in a way that humanizes them and allows us as an audience to appreciate what they do, however strange.

Case in point a chapter on Stanley Kubrick. Ronson observes some of the outrageous steps and measures Kubrick went through in making his films, from taking pictures of near enough every single front door in West London; to buying up over 900 bottles of brown writing ink because the company was discontinuing that particular shade.

Ronson can also do some more serious investigative work. The books namesake Chapter Lost At Sea is about the frightening string of cruise ship workers and passengers who simply go missing in the middle of the ocean. And yet almost nothing seems to be done about it.

The book as a whole is very funny, and can be dipped into and out of with amazing ease, although you may well find yourself sat up at 4am wondering where the last 3 hours and 200 pages have gone.

****

An introduction.

I’m currently working in Cambridge, which had been bloody brilliant so far; the work isn’t overly taxing, the weather has been fantastic, the ales even better. The lack of 3G or WiFi in Ridley Hall where I’m currently residing is, however, a bit of a ball ache. It’s bizarre just how reliant on what we now deem basic amenities: namely the Internet and phone reception.

 

I am staying in a theology college reserved for those great minds who are set on being priests, so naturally it’s all a bit behind the times. But one huge positive of living in what may as well be the 1950s is the amount I’ve been able to read over the past month, and indeed shall continue to read for (hopefully) the future.

 

When I was a kid I was a proper bookworm, up to the age of about 18 I read as a past time, actively picking up books for enjoyment. Then got a laptop and was introduced to the wonders of continually refreshing my Facebook and Twitter feeds, sites like Cracked and Reddit, and of course the ever growing, unrelenting stream of pornography.

 

After that came university and every book I picked up had to be ripped to pieces, continually scrutinising every line to pick out points for essays, at half 4 in the morning before the bastard had to be handed in.

 

But now I don’t have to analyse text, I don’t have to cite academics, nor make bibliographies, it’s fucking fantastic, liberating to a certain extent.

 

So now I’m making my way through a colossal stack of books I’ve had earmarked or sat collecting dust and I’m really rather enjoying it. As such I shall be writing a little bit about each one on here after I read it.

 

I hope you might read this, and perhaps enjoy it, then you might read what I’ve read and enjoy that too. If you think I might enjoy reading something that you’ve read and enjoyed let me know too, yeah? Safe.

@benjth11