PIECES OF IDIOCY; PIECES OF EIGHT
In sympathy with literates across the country, I heaved a sigh on seeing that the Vintage Future Classics list includes such novels as To Kill a Mockingbird, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, The Master and Margarita, The Leopard and many others which have yet to make their mark on world literature, popular imagination and civilisation in general. Or maybe it's just that civilisation stops where the marketing department of Random House begins. A wholly revolting and cynical exercise, designed to increase sales on the cheap, and without going to the trouble and expense of reading, editing and promoting work by new writers.
The involvement of reading groups, presumably to give the appearance that this is somehow a "people's list", that it enjoys popular support and legitimacy, only makes it worse. Reading groups are - caveat: almost without exception - an activity for encouraging the banal, the mediocre, the second-rate. You never get excellence from committees. They do not raise: they level. You get excellence from individuals striking out on their own. That's the beauty - indeed the whole point - of the written word. One person speaking; one person listening, thinking, arguing. Hopefully, growing. OK, so call me an elitist.
Alan Warner's article in last Saturday's Guardian is worth a look. His comments on Scott are interesting, and I agree with what he says in the last paragraph about the benefits of browsing in second-hand bookshops, away from the horror of 3 for 2.
"The best children's novel for adults since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" (Time Out).
"The evictions have gone off far more peacefully than was feared" (ITN journalist).
Another eviction, involving a window, is overdue.
And my all-time favourite, from a poster last year to promote Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close: "There's a fine line between cop or killer."
Please join me in summoning the ghost of Bill Hicks: "If you work in marketing - kill yourselves."
It's enormously satisfying when the ground you've covered makes a surprise connection. (Note that storytelling, in Australian Aboriginal culture, is myth, history and territory). From Sciascia's The Knight and Death (Granta - though I'm not keen on their synopses):
"The final words of the conversation, however, left him with a yearning for the deserted island, for a spot where, as though huddled over some map, he could give free rein to an ancient dream and an ancient memory: in as much as certain things from childhood and adolescence were now ancient to him. Treasure Island: a book, someone had said, which was the closest resemblance to happiness attainable. He thought: tonight I will re-read it."
Just so. Although I admit that for me, Kidnapped is the thing. I took a look at a page at random recently and marvelled at it. You just can't break down the prose. Every sentence follows the last one and leads on to the next one perfectly, as if the entire thing had sprung fully-formed from Stevenson's mind, like Mozart's music. Obviously that's not the case - he had to work at it like anyone else - but what a gift he had to work with!