Monday, 12 January 2009

Up From Sloth!

I am dreadfully sorry for having been away from the computer for so long. I have been an atrocious host and I may never forgive myself. Well, I probably will but I faithfully promise to never forgive my parents for having made me this way. I will not bore you by listing all the different ways in which my attempts to make blog have been thwarted. Instead, I'll just bore you with one.

I've been reading a lot of Robert E. Howard lately. It's pretty terrific stuff, full of nameless horrors, flashing blades, grim countenances and (sometimes, but not always) sandalled feet. It's all out of copyright now so I was kind of hoping for a Conan movie which would be a big hit and trigger an avalanche of barbarian pictures. Well, I was sort of hoping anyway - half of me hoped they'd hold off a decade or two until I was ready to helm the bloodstravaganza. But it's bad luck for all of us  because some stupid, impatient industry person hired Brett Ratner to do it instead. Now it will definitely suck and nobody will want to make barbarian movies any more and the oceans will become as boiling blood and the lamb will lie down on broadway and teen pregnancy rates will go up and it will all be ruined for ever because, like a one-legged cyclist with a poor grasp of grammar, Brett Ratner can only peddle crap.

I have also been reading John Kennedy Toole. I haven't been reading a lot because there isn't a lot to read but what I have been reading, I have been reading very carefully. I read A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES - I avoided THE NEON BIBLE because, although it was released (like all his work) posthumously, it is still juvenilia and I can't stand the work of precocious children, no matter how widely praised it is. Stick it on the fridge door, don't fucking publish it. 

Getting back to A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES though, it has taken me a long, long time to acquire a copy and the reason for this is rather embarrassing. First off, there are some books that I would order from the internet and there are other books I wouldn't. Basically, if I truly believe that I am going to love a book, I want to buy it in an actual, physical shop. I won't go into all the sordid, fetishistic details of why things have to be this way, of how I want to form a relationship with this book, of how I want to notice it from across the room, eventually sidling over to pick it up as if it were a girl in a bar - I''ll stop short of telling you how I'd take it to bed and open it up, hauling its inky scent deep into my lungs and so on and so forth. And that's not even the most embarrassing part of it. The embarrassing part is that, although I have heard and read the words "John Kennedy Toole" many times, my brain always read it as John Kennedy O'Toole. So for ages I was hunting amongst the O'somethings for a book that wasn't there. Then I would wonder if his surname mightn't be double barreled, propelling me to investigate the Kennedys with a Hooverish fanaticism. I can't ask for help in shops so when this search proved fruitless I would slink home, check the book was still in print, and resolve to try again another time. This has been going on, on and off, for years. I never once thought to check the T's. Stupid boy.

So how does this tie in with my abominable and neglectful behaviour? Well, the long and short of it is that Howard killed himself at 30, Toole at 31. I couldn't stop thinking about it. My heart filled up with cold sick and I sank into a leaden stupor. Sorry.


D Cairns said...

I'm amazed Howard has gone out of copyright -- how is this possible? I think I only ever read a single Conan volume and it was posthumously written-up stuff by other hands. It did seem rather racist and sadistic though. But then, I read about ten Fu Manchu books so I don't know why that should be a problem for me.

alex said...

Well I think different countries have different rules but in the UK, Howard's work became public domain in 2006. Having said that, I suddenly can't find any evidence to back it up - I swear it was there a couple of days ago.
I haven't read any non-Howard Conan and I don't know if I will - I can see myself just marvelling at the words "by L. Sprague de Camp" over and over without ever opening the book.
The idea that one race must vanquish another in order to flourish is pretty prominent in Howard's work but I suppose he was a product of the time and place he was writing in and, in his defence, he did create noble and sympathetic black characters, albeit villainous ones. Then again, for every black sorcerer there is an idiotic and perfumed paleface prince so maybe it's not quite as bad as it seems?

D Cairns said...

You are now a prizewinning blogger.

The "product of his time" argument doesn't cut too much ice with me, since plenty other people of that time managed to liberate themselves from nasty prevalent ideas. But it's true that it must have been a bit harder to do so then.

I'm not certain but I think the Conan I read may have had to do with Lin Carter, who also wrote a Conan knock-off called "Thongor". I kid you not. My suspicion is that Lin's dad named him Lin so he would have to grow up tough.

alex said...

I didn't mean to use the old "but it was before racism was bad" argument to excuse Howard. I just read a couple of articles which suggest he was racially prejudiced so I guess it probably is as bad as it seems after all. They're still ripping yarns though. I hope this doesn't make me a hate criminal.

Thank you for the prize - I promise to mark the occasion with some kind of revolting binge.

D Cairns said...

Good idea! I had a Chinese meal, a Czech film, some UFOs, a chocolate eclair and a vodka and tonic. I think that qualifies as revolting.

Now I'm reading Agent X-29, a comic written by Hammett and illustrated by Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon.

Matthew Coniam said...

Assuming you loved Confederacy - can I put a brief word in for The neon Bible?
I had it sat on my shelves unread for years while I read and reread Confederacy over and over...
Finally picked it up. It's pretty good. Definitely worth it. Not as funny as t'other, but it DEFINITELY doesn't read like some kid wrote it.
I'm enjoying this blog!