Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I first came across Barack Obama while he was a mere Senator and any thoughts of running for office were being kept to himself. I picked up his book Dreams of my Father when I realised it dealt with a theme that I was working on myself – fathers and sons. My first thought was that this man writes like a dream – insightful, honest, poignant and poetic. It was sometime later when I realised who he actually was. You could have pushed me over with a poetry pamphlet: a politician with heart and a lyrical eye for a sentence. Who knew there was such a thing?

Being a writer I admire, I notice when the press talks about books that he is reading. Stand aside Oprah – the book trade is watching Barry these days.

Last summer he reportedly read (among others) Richard Price’s Lush Life – a wonderful crime novel set in New York – and BO rose even higher in my estimation.

This summer, his reading list has caused a wee bit of a stushie in the world of publishing because it was reported that Baz went in to a bookshop and bought Jonathan Franzen’s new book – before the official release date.

A row over nothing because the Pres didn’t buy the book while it was embargoed – he was given a review copy of the book by the publisher. Which is a rather clever marketing wheeze for any publisher with contacts in the Oval Office.

You can now stand back and watch the book fly off the shelves.

Don’t think I’ll go there myself. I read Franzen's last work The Corrections after Oprah blethered on about it. It won awards by the truck load. Which is usually a warning sign in my humble...literary awards often mean style over substance, characters who are dissected until they have no life and a plot that you can describe in two words - going nowhere.

Curiousity won over caution and I bought a copy. AND it was a bit of a letdown to be honest. It was well scribed but –and this is a massive BUT – I detested the characters to a man/ woman. They were whiny and self-obsessed with all the wit and warmth of a loofah.

A loofah that had been sprinkled with itching powder.

The family patriarch, Alfred Lambert is suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia – his wife, Enid can’t cope with the demands he puts on her . Their eldest son, Gary (a banker) suffers from clinical depression (was the author looking into the future?). Chip, the middle child, is a college professor whose disastrous affair with a student sends his life into decline and lands him in the employ of a Lithuanian crime boss. Which always happens to people whose career falls off the chart, doesn’t it? Denise, the youngest of the family, is successful in her career as a chef, but she also fucks up her life by becoming involved with her boss's wife. A little bit of lesbianism to widen the readership, dontcha think?

Sure you need drama in your drama, but you need it to be leavened with some charm and some lighter moments, no? You don’t want to catch yourself shouting at the pages of the book – “ Would you feck off , sack your therapist and watch Frasier for two days?”

Anywho, back to Barack ‘cos I like a politician who admits to reading fiction. Our mob here in Britain give their summer reading lists to their press office and it’s a who’s who of political theory. They’re going on holiday to sit on a lilo, scrunch their toes through the sand and read Divided Government in Comparative Perspective? Yeah right, and I have green goblins hanging out my arse.

They must think that by reporting that their reading material is so cerebral that us lesser munchkins will all be impressed. Wrong. Those of us who are lovers of fiction know how far off-base they are. And now we have the proof. From the boffins at New Scientist magazine no less. They ran some tests. The results concluded that readers of fiction are more insightful, have highly developed empathy and understand the social manners that the world works to, compared to non-readers and readers who read non-fiction only.

So you – yes you reading this – you knew you were nigh on perfect. Now you know why. And you have the excuse to keep on reading – as if you needed it. When your loved ones complain about your nose always being stuck in a book you can say - but darling, sweetheart, dickhead, I am working at maintaining my high degree of insight and empathy making sure that I have an idea how to deal with all you fannies who don’t have enough attention span to read a sentence more than six words long.

Then smile sweetly and go back to reading your novel, cos they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.


  1. oh, darling, please tell me how you really feel.

  2. I know what you mean, Thea - I need to get off that fence dontcha think?

    Have you read The Corrections? Any thoughts?

  3. no, apparently Franzen is a great American writer, that no one reads too much. I suppose before i judge, i should read one of his books. but don't ever get off that fence, Michael. to be honest, i don't get people that don't read or like to read. what kind of existence do they really have? is the inside of their head a shrinking black void?

  4. whatever their heads are full of it won't be empathy, insight and imagination. Poor souls.

  5. Right on, Michael. You could can add movies that win awards into the list as well. Honestly, I haven't picked up an Oprah pick I could get through. Sounds like our prez has better taste for the most part.

  6. Although I do read non-fiction, fiction books take up far more space on my bookshelves.

    Thank you, Michael, for explaing WHY I'm so superior. It's always good to have a solid reason just in case someone asks for, and I want to provide, an explanation!