Time for some 1970s clubbing…


… 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…


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


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



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.


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

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


The Beats of Summer: Some Thoughts on Richard Brautigan



To tie in with Roof Beam Reader’s “Beats of Summer” reading event, I though I would share a few thoughts about one of my favourite writers, Richard Brautigan.

Although Brautigan is usually bracketed with the beat writers, he doesn’t to my mind have a lot in common with them. Born in 1935, he was quite a few years younger than Kerouac and co, and it wasn’t till the 1960s that he really came to the fore – therefore, I’ve always bracketed him more with hippie culture than the beats, though some would argue that one led on from the other.


I first stumbled across Brautigan’s work when I was living in Cheltenham in the late 1970s. There was a wonderful bookshop called, if I remember correctly, Paperback Parade. As you might guess, it sold only paperbacks; it was part of a chain, I think, because I came across at least one other branch, and the books were very charmingly presented on sloping shelves by publisher. I was fond of Picador books at the time, and so Brautigan’s works caught my eye when browsing. The first novel of his I read was “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966” and I was drawn to it for a couple of reasons: firstly, I was going through a bit of a hippie phase myself so was attracted by the 1966 in the title; and secondly the picture of Brautigan on the cover reminded me of someone I had a huge crush on at the time! So I picked up the book and instantly fell in love with Brautigan’s unique, almost childlike style, and so promptly invested in as many of his works as Paperback Parade could provide – which was most of his novels (this is how they are listed on Wikipedia):

A Confederate General From Big Sur (1964)
Trout Fishing in America (1967)
In Watermelon Sugar (1968)
The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971)
Revenge of the Lawn – short stories (October 1, 1971,
The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (1974)
Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery (1975)
Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel (1976)
Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977)
The Tokyo-Montana Express (1980)
So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away (1982)
An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey (1982)

Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington and seems to have had a kind of rackety early life – his parents separated before he was born and his mother went through further marriages producing half-siblings for Richard. The family was extremely poor and after moving around for several years finally settled in Eugene, Oregon where Brautigan finished school. However, his behaviour became erratic, he was sent to an institution and received ECT. In 1956 he was released and after staying with his family for a short while he moved to San Francisco where he would spend much of his life.


Brautigan had been writing since he was 12 – mainly poetry but also longer works. He tried to establish himself as a writer once he reached San Francisco, and took part in poetry readings and the like. The city was, of course, a vibrant centre for modern writing and he managed to get some poems published. In the 1960s he became involved in the Californian counterculture and his first novel was published in 1964, though wasn’t much of a success. However, “Trout Fishing In American” made his name and caused him to be bracketed with the hippie movement. He continued to write novels, experimenting with different genres, and also more poems and short stories. However, his work fell out of favour in the 1970s and early 1980s; and as he suffered from depression and alcoholism he ended up alienating many of his friends and loved ones. Tragically in 1984 he shot himself whilst living alone in Bolinas, California, by this time so isolated that it may have been several weeks before his body was discovered.

That’s just a sketch – there are biographies and websites out there if you want to read up on RB. As for his work, when I discovered him in the 1970s I devoured everything that was available at the time – which looking at the list above must have been up to Willard and his Bowling Trophies. I remember being desperately excited waiting for the next Brautigan book to come out – so many of the writers I loved at the time were no longer with us, so there was extra joy when Sombrero Fallout came out in Picador in 1980. It turned out to be one of my favourite Brautigans – a mixture of humour, fantasy and sadness, telling the story of a sombrero that falls out of the sky and causes a war to take place inside it, alongside a lost love and the hair of a Japanese woman. It sounds weird I know, but it had me laughing and crying at the same time. The next new Brautigan was The Tokyo Montana Express, a book made up of short sequences featuring the two places Brautigan seemed to love most at the time. Then came “So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away”, which an American friend got for me in hardback when it came out – a slightly different kind of work, a fictionalised memory of a childhood time which hinted at Brautigan’s past; a past that at that time was not so well known.


Then nothing – Brautigan slipped off my radar until I heard the news of his death, which really shook me. I’d been reading his books intently for 6 or 7 years, carrying them around with me as I moved homes, and the death was unexpected because RB was something of a shadowy figure – in those pre-Internet days it was often hard to find out about obscure writers!

Last summer – or was it the summer before? – I re-read all Brautigan’s works in sequence. I did wonder what I would make of them after all these years, but I was bowled over a second time round. Brautigan’s fantasy-filled, surreal, magical early works still held me in their spell. His later, sadder, stranger works still hypnotised and made me laugh and cry. And there were bonuses to be found online – an unpublished novel “An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey” which had only come out fairly recently; a collection of early lost works; and a beautiful, touching memoir by his daughter, Ianthe Brautigan. I had forgotten just how individual RB’s work was, covering all sorts of genres from early ecology, gothic cowboy horror, hardboiled detectives, a library that accepts manuscripts not books. And he always seemed to feature in the cover photo with the girlfriend of the time, which was pretty kooky!

To my mind, Brautigan is a one-off – they definitely broke the mould when they made him, and I guess he is very much going to be an acquired taste. I think you will either love him or hate him! I love him and would highly recommend his writings to anyone looking for anything quirky, moving, funny and thought-provoking. I loved my re-reads of Richard Brautigan, and my old, slightly battered Picadors will still continue to travel with me wherever I go.


For anyone who wants to explore Brautigan further, I would recommend this wonderful website devoted to his work – it’s a mine of information about his work, legacy, his recordings of poetry etc – do pay a visit!

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