Summer holidays bring on the nostalgia. Endless days of light and warmth, gangs of friends, sunburnt mornings at the beach, afternoon rides through shady streets, nights spent lying in fresh grass, counting the stars. These were the months of freedom and youth and invincibility, long before we understood how precious and rare and fleeting these privileges would be.
Along with the many books I devoured while swinging in hammocks, bookmarked with sand and dripped on by ice cream and mango, movies held a particular magic for me in those days. Narrative was still untainted by the poser’s need to be subversive. Adventures were pure and real and simple. Before the ubiquity of computer animation, never-ending franchises and much-hyped adaptations, movies were singular, fleeting and sublime. These are the stories that shaped my wonder, and still hold magic for me, even now.
At the Byron Writers Festival this weekend a late-afternoon session titled “This Book Changed my Life” incited considerable discussion about the influence of story. Chaired by Adam Suckling with Tracey Spicer, Susan Wyndham and the vivacious Barry Jones, each panelist in turn presented pivotal books from their childhood and adult-hood, followed by a recommendation for the Prime Minister, and then a tome they believe changed the world.
Amongst the socio-political manifestos and megaliths of literature, dystopian novels featured more than any other single genre, both in the panel and in contributions from the audience after. Surprising? Perhaps not. In recent years there’s been a noticeable trend toward dystopian narratives, in fiction, graphic novels, cinema and television. Classic masters such as Phillip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and George Orwell are returning again and again to centre stage with screen adaptations, political goofs, and a growing suspicion that these fairy tales are not so far removed from reality as we think.
My reading pile is lately skewing toward the violent-moss-growing niche of tv-adptations. This may be cause for alarm but I don’t seem to care.
Here’s the top five I intend to read, or re-read, before watching their small-screen counterparts. This is by no means a comprehensive list and you may notice a certain bias emerging. Lucky for you I have great taste.
“But no man’s a hero to himself.”
Nostalgia has never been rendered with such bittersweet whimsy as in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the only full-length novel written by speculative master, Ray Bradbury. The adjective-laden prose, nuanced with strokes of scent and shade and breeze, is beautiful in a uniquely poetic way. Even Stephen King, with his notorious hatred of adverbs, was an ardent fan of Bradbury’s genius, admiring his stories for their “resonance and strange beauty”.
‘Ben, what is this swill?’
‘Mercutio! Well met, my coz.’
‘I’m not your coz, coz. My mother is no relation of yours, thank the gods.’
‘But could we not be coz’s all the same.’
‘By no gods shall we be coz’s.’
‘Not even by the god of wine.’
‘The god of wine? He has left this place, he is not to be found in these darkened hipster rooms. I wish the same could be said of your beard.’
No enigma…no dignity, nothing classical or poetic…only this.
Lately I’m researching expressionism for my work. The turn of the twentieth century saw some of the most incredible advances in the arts, sciences and technologies. At the peak of the industrial revolution, with the convergence of breakthroughs in communication and social evolution, suddenly the world was not such a big place. Instead of the global stage being dominated by Western progress and exploration, trans-oceanic cross-fertilisation inspired a fusion of worldwide knowledge and appreciation.
Lest you yourself be read.
(Read not, lest you yourself be judged.)
Dear Marjorie Perloff, I am sure
You have long moved on
From May 2012
He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”
You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”
He meets your eyes, his conviction exposed, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?
Surely he knew this was the end.
What we can learn from the rise of the caped avenger.
The hero, it seems, will never die. From the ancient empire-creating adventures of Odysseus to the poetic quests of Sir Gawain, masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time have been tantalisingly heroic. Why? People like them.
Fast-forward a millennium or two and the narrative world is overrun with neon spandex and flying shields. Almost forty superhero blockbusters have been released since 2000. One has even made it into the top ten most popular movies of all time (according to the IMDb). Guardians of the Galaxyis already at 8.5 (at time of print) placing it on the same rung as Taxi Driver, American Beauty, even Citizen Kane. And this is a movie that features Bradley Cooper (two-time Oscar nominee) as a talking raccoon.
Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Allhallowtide, Night of the Dead, whatever you call it and however you think it came into being one thing’s for sure, it’s become a majorly lucrative chocolate-selling and movie-renting business. This year why not save your consumerist fervour for Christmas and instead stay home for a quiet evening read, with a flickering candle and a glass of brandy or something. What to read, you ask? We have just the thing.
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen