This reading journal feature on RobAroundBooks has been a thorn in my side since the beginning. How so? Well, I’ve never really been happy with how I present it to you. I’ve um-ed and ah-ed over format and frequency forever now, and I’ve never been totally settled with whatever I’ve come up with. And so more often than not it has been cast by the wayside and forgotten about. And yet, this reading journal feature is an integral part of RobAroundBooks, not least because it fills in the gap between starting point (my forethoughts) and destination (my afterthoughts). In other words this reading journal records my journey through a book itself, and as we all know fine well, the journey *is* the destination.
So given the importance of this feature, why is it that I haven’t been able to make it work to any great satisfaction? Well, I think the problem stems from trying to maintain this online reading journal as I do my personal offline journal. I realised this after a flash of epiphany while on the ‘digital diet’ I took over the festive period (I guess being away from the digital noise makes the awakenings flow, and they do). I concluded that while daily updating may work for my physical desk journal, it doesn’t work for this online version, even if I have always insisted on updating it daily whenever I’ve put in the effort and focus into maintaining it. The solution? Well, not difficult to come up with really. I just need to cut the entries down. And I’m going to, from daily down to twice weekly (on a Monday and a Thursday), and hopefully in doing so I will create a record of my reading journey that’s a lot more interesting and engaging than it was before, without any sense of it being overbearing.
Anyway, from Monday I’ll begin updating my reading journal twice weekly as I’ve said, but while I’ve got your attention, and given that I’ve been quiet for so long on RobAroundBooks, I thought I’d offer the briefest of sweeps of my recent reading highlights.
It goes without saying that I’ve not been on top of my game that much recently. In my private life I’ve been having a hell of a time and although I’ve found much comfort and solace in reading (and writing), I’ve never felt in the mood to openly publicise what I’ve read, at least to any great degree. But at the end of 2013 I made a couple of remarkable discoveries.
Bukowski, you beautiful b*stard!
Firstly, I found a poet I really like, Charles Bukowski. This is monumental because if you know me then you’ll know that I steer away from poetry as though it were infected with the ebola virus. Bukowski is a writer who I’m wholly familiar with but on the numerous occasions I’ve read him I’ve always ignored his mountain of poetry in favour of his prose. The turning point came when I was watching a documentary on Bukowski called Born Into This. In the doc Bukowski recites a lot of his own poetry, and while watching and listening it hit me just how amazing his poems are. Sure, Bukowski’s poems are prose-like in their presentation (deceptively so), and that’s surely a big part of why I like them, but it’s the energy, and the grittiness, and the insightfulness of his poems that make them extraordinary to me (and to his army of fans, no doubt).
There are two Bukowski poems in particular that have struck the strongest of chords with me in this early stage of exploring him. The first is Death Wants More Death which plays out a stunning drama in the confines of window frame in a garage, as fly meets spider meets boy. The other is 8 Count (reproduced below) in which Bukowski nails in just 43 short words, the frustration and anguish that writer’s block can bring.
8 Count by Charles Bukowski
from my bed
on a telephone
one is left,
my typewriter is
and I am
reduced to bird
just thought I’d
Incidentally, as an introduction to absorbing more of his poetry, I’ve been reading Run with the Hunted (Harper), a Bukowski reader, which mixes poetry and prose together in chronological order in order to provide some insight into Bukowski’s life. It’s really rather good in that it gives a great taste of this writer’s extraordinary existence, while not getting the reader too bogged down in extraneous detail. I highly recommended it, and if you haven’t read it already.
Martha, my dear, dear Martha
Recently, I also discovered the wonderful world of Martha Gellhorn, the journalist, travel writer and novelist who was – dare I say it because she used to detest the very mention – briefly married in the 1940s to Ernest Hemingway. I was most fortunate to stumble across her only work of memoir, Travels with Myself, and Another (Eland Books), in which she recounts the episodes from her many travels which were memorable to her for the wrong reasons (I say memorable but having an atrocious ability to recall Martha had to reconstruct events using countless old letters). This work of literature is pure liquid gold, and I highly recommend it to everyone (so much so that I’ve even started buying old copies and handing them to people). Her recounting of her trip to Africa, and the tales coming from her island-hopping jaunts in the Caribbean are hilarious, and absolutely unmissable.
Gellhorn writes sparsely and with directness – *coughs* much like her former husband did, so fans of Hemingway take note – and with a wry and wicked sense of humour. She writes solely from experience, and since discovering her I’ve acquired but have yet to read, Gellhorn’s only short story collection, The Honeyed Peace (Penguin), her collected novellas – The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn (Picador), an edited selection of her letters – a beautiful beast of a book, titled The Letters of Martha Gellhorn; edited by Caroline Moorehead (Chatto & Windus), and Caroline Moorehead’s acclaimed biography, Martha Gellhorn: A Life (Vintage).
I have gathered so much material on Martha Gellhorn already that I really have to plan another in my ‘Totally…’ series, where I resolve to consume every word ever written by a writer. This is no hardship though as I’ve taken Martha so much into my heart in such a short time that it will be nothing but pleasurable to spend the time absorbing her words. The hard bit is just trying to fit it in.
As far as other recent reading has gone, well it’s been a bit eclectic and wide-ranging. I managed to tick off Marc Weingarten’s most excellent The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight (Three Rivers Press) which explores the writers in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies who caused a writing revolution with New Journalism movement. Fantastically engaging, and great for getting an insight into some of the greats such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote, and Hunter S. Thompson. I also spent a lot of time in short fiction – the place where I find the most solace – where I mainly got got up with rereading the short stories of Hemingway, Cheever and Wolff. I also ticked off a handful of pulpy novels, but worth mentioning here, but essential in giving me the warmth and the comfort that only a trashy novel can bring.
Anyway, I’ve think I’ve rambled on for long enough just now. I’ll see you all on Monday with a much better put together entry for this reading journal. Here’s hoping that you, and I, will get along along with the new twice-weekly format.