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#1977Club – a final post!

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Phew! So we reached the end of the #1977club in one piece and having read, discussed and discovered some very interesting titles! In the end, as always, I ran out of time and didn’t read all I wanted to – but these are the ones I *did* read:

Four books in total, only one of which was a fail (the Carter). Rediscovering favourite authors like Brautigan and Plath was a joy, and exploring Margaret Atwood’s early stories just served to reinforce what an excellent writer she really is. Despite my issues with the Carter, I *will* try other titles by her – if for no other reason than to prove I haven’t turned into a soppy old wuss!!

Alas, I didn’t get to the Barthes; but that will remain on the TBR and hopefully be read at some time in the future. If you’re still reading from 1977, please do leave links on the 1977 page – it’s been wonderful seeing what everyone else has been reading and watching the discussions. Here’s to the next club, whichever year that may be…. 😉

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#1977club – Brautigan’s Babylonian Dreams

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Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Brautigan

As our clubs have got slightly more up to date in their decades, I’ve tried to slip in re-reads of favourite authors; so I was very happy to be able to find a Richard Brautigan book from 1977. Brautigan is one of my long-time loves; I first read his work back in my late teens, as part of my exploration of the Beats, and I’ve written about him before on the Ramblings. My early copies of his books were bought from a shop called Paperback Parade, while I was living in flatland in Cheltenham. The shop (which I think was a chain at the time) only sold paperbacks, of course, and they were organised by publisher on bare white shelves. My Brautigans were from the Picador section, and their editions usually featured a photograph of the author with his current girlfriend on the cover. I confess to being initially drawn to the books because Brautigan kind of reminded me of a guy I had a major crush on at the time (and I later found out there was a weird kind of synchronicity to that – which is another story…); but once I began reading him, I was utterly hooked on RB. His writing is like nobody else’s and I love his weird, warped, deceptively simple and completely unique narratives.

If my dreadful memory serves me correctly, “Dreaming of Babylon” would have been one of his books I bought as soon as it came out in paperback – or at least fairly soon after. It’s late Brautigan – only one further novel was published in his lifetime, plus one more very much posthumously – and it’s not usually listed amongst the titles he’s best known for. But I tend to love all Brautigan, so I was happy to revisit it. In fact, I went through a big re-read of his whole canon a few years pre-blog, and I’d probably be happy to do so again. Nevertheless, it’s “Dreaming of Babylon” from 1977 that I’m meant to be talking about here, so I’d better get on with it.

The novel is subtitled “A Private Eye Novel 1942” and is indeed set in the San Francisco of that year. The narrator is one C. Card, the titular private eye; though unfortunately not a very succesful one. Completely broke, owing everyone money, harassed by an overbearing landlady (and also an overbearing, though mostly absent, mother), Card thinks his luck has changed as he’s at last found a client. Over the space of one day, we follow Card’s efforts to find a gun, hustle a little cash from a cop friend, hustle a little more from a friendly morgue attendant, negotiate with a cool blonde who can drink a hell of a lot of beer, escape from some crazy gangsters with razors – oh, and there’s the matter of some missing dead bodies…

….I was on my way over to the refrigerator.

That was a big mistake.

I looked inside and then hurriedly closed the door when the jungle foliage inside tried to escape. I don’t know how people can live the way I do. My apartment is so dirty that recently I replaced all the seventy-five-watt bulbs with twenty-five-watters, so I wouldn’t have to see it. It was a luxury but I had to do it. Fortunately, the apartment didn’t have any windows or I might have really been in trouble.

Card is hampered in all his attempts by Babylon; after being hit on the head by a baseball when young, he spends half of his time dipping out of reality into labyrinthine fantasies of the place. In the complex and detailed stories he makes up in his head, he’s the star: a top baseball player or a successful private eye, in a plot out of a Saturday morning serial, with his beautiful sidekick always in attendance. These fantasies, which seem to take over at will, have interfered in everything he’s tried to do: he could have been a cop like his friend Rink, except he flunked the test by dreaming of Babylon; he can’t even be relied on to get off the bus at the right stop if a fantasy takes over. Quite how he’s going to manage to deal with the strangeness of the next 24 hours is anyone’s guess.

“Dreaming of Babylon” ends up being a riotous tale involving a number of corpses, fortunes that rise and fall, some extremely hilarious and completely un-PC inappropriate humour, an unfortunate murder victim who is the subject of necrophiliac longings, plus plenty of sly debunking of the tropes of hard-boiled detective fiction. Instead of being one step ahead like the gumshoes in those stories, C. Card is constantly one step behind what’s happening; and every time you think he’s going to succeed, something manages to get in the way. Frankly, it’s probably a good thing that his pal Rink became the policeman and not him.

The world sure is a strange place. No wonder I spend so much time dreaming of Babylon. It’s safer.

Underlying the humour I did sense darker subtexts. Card’s relationship with his mother is not a happy one, and when dealing with her he turns into a whining little boy. As for the fate of his father, let’s not go there… Brautigan’s own family background was complex and troubled, so it’s not entirely surprising that his hero would also have an unpleasant home life. Additionally, Brautigan’s attitude to women is always problematic, and this was also reflected in his real personal life. The women in the “Dreaming…” are stereotypes; but then the story is dealing with literary clichés so perhaps that’s not unexpected. And certainly the glamorous blonde who drinks beer like a man but never needs to pee is great fun!

So I loved “Dreaming of Babylon” very much on what must be at least my third re-read. Yes, there are plenty of non-PC elements, but the comedy is very, very black and very, very funny; I always adore Brautigan’s wry, dry narrative voice and his idiosyncratic outlook on the world; and he’s an author I can return to again and again, always with enjoyment. My first book for the #1977 was a joy, and let’s hope the rest of this week’s reading ends up being so good.

Incidentally, I feel the need to confess: the edition in the picture, and which I read, is *not* my original 1970s Picador. I had a crisis while trying to find the latter – which isn’t on the small shelf space dedicated to Brautigan, but SHOULD BE! I guess it’s in the house somewhere and will turn up when I’m not looking for it; so I had to buy a pretty new copy from Canongate which is very nice. But I’d still like to find my original edition…

#1977club – here we go! :)

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Yes, time for another week of reading, discovering and discussing books from a particular year – and this one is 1977. We reach a more modern decade than we’ve been covering up until now, and one which certainly takes us away from Simon’s comfort zone of the 1920s! :)) However, I was initially unsure of what I would read from the year until I began to dig, and I actually came up with a bit of a pile of books that I already own:

Yes, I really *do* own three copies of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”. No, I don’t know why…

I also own two other books from 1977 that piqued my interest, but alas I cannot at the moment lay hands on them – “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French is a feminist classic and I have a battered old Virago copy, but it’s currently lurking on a shelf in Middle Child’s flat as I have loaned it out – so I won’t be reading that one… I also own Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” but several trawls through the shelves have failed to find it (although I *did* find some other books I was looking for). So I may well choose from the above – some are re-reads, some unread, and I’d like to go for a mix if I can.

And then there’s this, lurking electronically:

I really want to read Barthes but frankly, I’m a Bit Scared. I’m *not* an academic and I fear I will fail miserably to understand this and then feel stupid. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained….

So do join Simon at Stuck in a Book and myself in the #1977club – it’s great fun, great reading and always fascinating to see what books people come up with! Here goes…!

Time for some 1970s clubbing…

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… by which I’m not suggesting that we all get dressed up in flares and platforms heels and go out discoing to glam rock…

Instead, I thought I would mention that the results are in! Simon has been feverishly counting the votes for the next reading Club year, and the winner is:

So there you have it! Our next reading week will be the #1977club. Time to start digging in the stacks and online lists to see what titles we can come up with. I know that there is at least a Richard Brautigan I have from that year (somewhere…), and as I failed to squeeze him into 1968 I shall do my very best to make sure I read at least this one!

Simon has come up with another eye-catching logo (he’s so good at these!) and as you’ll see from the dates, you have five months or so to get preparing, researching and reading – and we’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with! 🙂 I had a preliminary dig in the stacks and found that I have at least three other books from 1977 without even looking very hard:

Some commenters have wondered why we aren’t going on into the 1980s or back before the 1920s with the clubs, and to be honest that’s because of our personal tastes! Simon is particularly happy in the 1920s I know, and I don’t think either of us always feel drawn to modern writing. Personally, I’m inordinately fond of 20th century literature in the decades we feature, and as Simon pointed out to me, the dawn of cheaper printing from the 1920s onwards gives us more books choose from.

OK – maybe some things about 1977 weren’t so good…..

So – here’s to the #1977club, and we hope as many of you as possible will join in with this next year –  happy reading! 🙂

#1968Club – the ones that got away…

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Well, that was fun! What an amazing array of books 1968 turned out to produce – truly a bumper year for publishing it seems. In the end I had terrible trouble deciding which books to choose (compounded by the fact that I was away the week before, and also spent much of October reading “Crime and Punishment” so couldn’t really prepare). Inevitably, there were some that got away, and these are the most significant:

There were many, many more I could have chosen to read, but I was trying to draw mainly from books I already owned, and there were a surprising amount from 1968 which I hadn’t actually got to yet. I think I actually bought two for the week – the Helen MacInnes and the new copy of the Kerouac – and typically they weren’t ones I read…

Which ones do I regret missing out on? These two, really:

The Brautigan is one I really wanted to return to; I love his work dearly, first coming across it in my late teens, and I’ve gone back to his books many times over the years. In fact, I had a complete chronological re-read pre-blog and it was marvellous. I’m sure I’ll read him again, though probably not for one of our reading years unless I’m lucky.

And I bought a nice new copy of “Vanity of Duluoz” to revisit as my ancient Quartet copy from back in the 1970s is getting very brown and crumbly. I probably have a more complex reaction to Kerouac’s work nowadays, but I still wanted to revisit this one. We shall see…

So – how was 1968 for you? Any books you wish you’d got to, any that didn’t turn out as planned?  Don’t forget to leave any links to your reading on the 1968 page. And just because the week is over, doesn’t mean we should stop reading books from what really was a stellar year! 🙂

A Birthday Mention

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As it’s the birthday of one of my favourite ever writers, Richard Brautigan, I thought it would be worth linking to the posts I’ve done on him – and there are a couple, as I never tire of his wonderful prose!

A previous birthday post

Some thoughts on Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan 1084

And here is one of his poems:

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Happy birthday Richard!

Birthdays, birthdays, birthdays – The Wonderful Richard Brautigan

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RICHARD-BRAUTIGAN-3787-161-210x300

I’ve been known to ramble on about the amazing Richard Brautigan – notably here.

Let’s just say he’s one of my favourite writers, for prose like this if nothing else:

I will be very careful the next time I fall in love, she told herself. Also, she had made a promise to herself that she intended on keeping. She was never going to go out with another writer: no matter how charming, sensitive, inventive or fun they could be. They weren’t worth it in the long run. They were emotionally too expensive and the upkeep was complicated. They were like having a vacuum cleaner around the house that broke all the time and only Einstein could fix it. She wanted her next lover to be a broom.”

Brautigan’s most famous novel is probably “Trout Fishing in America”, but my favourite may be “Sombrero Fallout”, from which the above quote is taken from. Richard Brautigan was a one-off and they don’t make them like him any more.

richard-brautigan

“all of us have a place in history. mine is clouds.”

Many happy returns, Richard – wherever you are in the clouds…

 

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