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Archive for December 1st, 2008

Books of 2008 – The Scribbler Readers’ Poll

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Is Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk your book of the year?

Is Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk your book of the year?

As the 2008 slowly eases through its final chilly days and colder nights we wanted to ask you the question that has been on our lips since starting this humble blog.

What have been your books of 2008? As you hopefully saw earlier today, The Guardian has asked public figures but now we are asking you, the Great British fiction fan.

This year has been a healthy one for releases of great fiction but which have particularly enchanted you? Have there been any that have prompted moments of deep thought, a revelation, a tear, a smile, a giggle, a spell of nausea or, more interestingly, a great deal of self-reflection?

We’ve listed 2008’s most notable new novels (disclaimer: it’s not necessarily what we’ve enjoyed) to provide you with some inspiration. It’s out hope that this feature will generate lots of debate and discussion not only about the books of the year but also what makes a good piece of fiction. Uses the comments box accordingly.

So, come on then, what will it be?

The year in literature:

Watch Chuck Palahniuk interview the protagonist of his book Snuff, porn priestess Cassie Wright below:

Discussion:
Come on then? What was your favourite book of 2008 and why? Why that book and not another? We want a full blown discussion going on.

Words: Dean Samways

Popular figures on books they just couldn’t put down this year

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The Guardian website yesterday published a very interesting article about the favourite books of some of Britain’s top public figures and literature critics.

To celebrate the final month of the year the piece talks to journalists, politicians, broadcasters, military types and many more who, collectively, make a very diverse and colourful cross-section of society. The chosen novels also throw up some intriguing results.

We’ve selected the best celebrity top books for your reading pleasure. To see the entire list click here.

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis – Film director

“Now that Kurt Vonnegut has smoked his last cigarette, John le Carré is my favourite living author. A Most Wanted Man (Hodder & Stoughton) is full of classic le Carré delights – the plots that sneak up on you, the wonderful, compromised Englishmen, the richness of the writing, strangely allied to the feeling that he is just recording documentary fact. When I first started reading le Carré, his middle-aged British men reminded me of my schoolmasters and my father’s friends – now they’ve turned into me.”

Alistair Darling – Chancellor of the Exchequer

“The book I’ve enjoyed most this year is Ian McEwan‘s On Chesil Beach (Vintage). It’s a thoroughly evocative novel from one of the best writers of his generation. Reading it was a great escape from the Treasury.”

General Sir Mike Jackson – Soldier

“The British armed forces are much in the news and it is important that we understand what is being asked of our military. Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike, one of my oldest comrades-in-arms, knows as much about the human dimension of soldiering as anyone I know, and in From the Front Line (Pen and Sword) he has put together a wonderful description of this human dimension as seen through the letters and diaries of the soldiers of his family over four generations.”

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown (BBC)

Andrew Marr – Political journalist

“No question – the non-fiction book of the year is Richard Holmes‘s Age of Wonder (HarperCollins), not only beautifully written, but also kicking open a new perspective on the Romantic age, as scientific and artistic thinking began to diverge. But please let me also mention The Legend of Colton H Bryant (Simon & Schuster) by Alexandra Fuller, which is brilliant, moving and almost a new form – factually true fiction. And for fiction, a newcomer, Andrew Nicholl’s The Good Mayor (Black &White), a story of love, dreaming and loss, magical realism from Scotland. You will not be disappointed.”

David Miliband – Foreign Secretary

Counselor (HarperCollins) by the late Ted Sorensen, Kennedy‘s long-term adviser and speechwriter, is a reminder of the best instinct of American liberalism. Self-deprecating (which is touching), and in awe of everything JFK (which is less so), it shows how small-town America (in this case Lincoln, Nebraska) can produce people more like Michael Palin than Sarah Palin. Equality, hard graft and the frontier combine to produce something special. Barack Obama inherits its optimism.”

Michael Palin – Actor

“The surprise of the year was a modest gem of a book by Raja Shehadeh, called Palestinian Walks (Profile). Ostensibly a celebration of a lifetime spent walking the hills around Ramallah, Shehadeh’s book is also an elegy for a lost land, and an inventory of a natural environment that has been slowly whittled away by an ever-expanding Israeli state. Shehadeh’s love of his homeland and his naturalist’s eye make for a poetic little book that has big things to say.”

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman – Television presenter

“I’d not expected to like Sebastian Barry‘s The Secret Scripture (Faber), of which I imagine the talkSPORT synopsis might be ‘an old woman inside an Irish loony bin tells her life story’. In fact, I found it mesmerising. It is a simultaneous narrative, in which a doctor attempts to discover why an elderly woman was committed to a Sligo asylum, while she confides her life story to a secret memoir, in which she tells, in intimate and moving detail, how the tides of modern Irish history washed against her life. Climate, countryside and a malignant Catholic priest are all brilliantly rendered. Barry’s prose is brisk and vivid and at times terribly moving.”

John Prescott (blog) – Politician

What Does China Think? (Fourth Estate) by Mark Leonard is an excellent analysis of the current debate under way in China regarding its future development. An especially important read for all of us concerned about finding global solutions to global problems.”

Kirsty Wark – Television presenter

Kate Summerscale‘s non-fiction whodunnit The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Bloomsbury) reads like a thriller. She researched a famous murder in 1860, of a three-year-old boy in a country house whose inhabitants were siblings, parents, a governess and servants. But what gave this book such an edge was the author’s meticulous detailing, down to the weather on the day of the murder. Toni Morrison‘s latest novel A Mercy (Chatto) goes back to the 1680s and the chaotic beginnings of slavery. In her vivid story centring on one young slave, Florens, Morrison reveals the tragedy of slavery and how it also involved Native Americans and even whites.”

Vivienne Westwood – Fashion designer

“In The Road (Picador) by Cormac McCarthy – actually published last year – a man and his son are ‘on the road’ in a world where nothing lives except for a few human beings. The two must keep going to find food and to avoid groups of cannibals. This is a story of love so total that it shines like a beacon on our human resources for good. Though harrowing, it’s great literature.”

Toni Morrison also gets a special mention from President-elect Barack Obama as he and John McCain talk about their favourite books in a CBS interview below:

Discussion:
Later on today we will be posting a topic whereby you will be able to discuss your favourite reads of 2008 so be sure to come back for that, but right now let’s have some fun. What famous people would you like to think read what books? For example, the editor would like to think George W. Bush’s favourite book was Where The Wild Things Are (an easy one we know). Post your suggestions below and let’s all have a giggle.

Words: Dean Samways

Lost beat novel ‘not worth the wait’

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And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tankes by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tankes by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

The US press has been hard at work this weekend dosing the flames of hype that have been rising around one of the literary world’s most anticipated releases ever.

As previously reported on The Scribbler a long delayed novel co-written by beatnik founding-fathers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs is finally available to buy.

The writing of and originally planned release of And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks was surrounded by scandalous mystery. Over 60 years ago, when Kerouac was 23 and Burroughs 30, the scholars were arrested by the New York Police Department for helping a friend cover up a murder.

After they were released and cleared of the charges the pair decided to collaborate on a novel based upon the case. While Kerouac was pleased with the work American publishers unanimously disagreed.

While some sources cite this as being the reason why the book was so delayed, others state a pact was made between the writers and the real killer, one Lucien Carr that the novel would not be published until Carr passed away in an attempt to protect his name.

Thus the manuscripts were locked away and remained unpublished until this month when Grove Press did the right thing and treated it to some long deserved daylight.

Associated Press writer Bruce DeSilva this weekend damningly wrote: “The characters are aimless, intellectual wannabes who spend most of the book engaging in vacuous conversations while wandering from one seedy apartment and bar to another in pursuit of sex, drugs and whiskey.

“It is impossible to work up much concern for what will happen to any of them.”

DeSilva also added: “The crime, with its bohemian characters and hints of paedophilia, was a lot more interesting in the newspapers of the day than it is in the novel.”

The said crime was one of passion. Carr, the son in a well-to-do family, had become the object of obsession for the victim David Kammerer who met Carr years earlier in St. Louis while working as his Boy Scout leader. Kammerer reportedly followed Carr to New York where the older man met his demise at the end of Carr’s scout knife. The murderer then filled his pockets with stones and sent him to the bottom of the Hudson River.

Carr quickly confessed to Burroughs and Kerouac who in turn did not call the authorities, in fact it is claimed Kerouac helped get rid of the murder weapon. Eventually Carr was brought to justice and was found guilty of second-degree murder but was only given a two-year sentence after his lawyer argued that the crime was committed in self-defence from homosexual, paedophilic predator. Carr served his term and later led a successful career as an editor. He died in 2005.

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac relaxing

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac relaxing

DeSilva believes while the crime caused a sensation in 1944 New York and gave the writers a lot to write about ‘they failed to do much with it.’

Describing the book, DeSilva said: “The story is plodding, the characters uninteresting and the writing listless, with few hints at the innovative styles that would later make these writers icons of the beat generation. Perhaps the book will be of interest to literary scholars, but Grove could have posted it on an obscure internet site and spared the rest of us.”

DeSilva goes onto to protest: “Kerouac and Burroughs changed the names of all the characters, including themselves. Inexplicably, they also changed the murder weapon, turning the delicious detail of the scout knife into a hatchet. As ‘Mike Ryko’ and ‘Will Dennison’, the authors take turns narrating the story in a hard-boiled style, trying to write like Mickey Spillane and making a mess of it.”

Kerouac and Burroughs may have made a mess of the book in one reporters eyes but fans of beat writing and contemporary literature should remain enthusiastic about a release by two of the world’s most renowned authors that has been a closely kept secret for some 60 years. Posthumous releases are always something to look forward to.

Keep it The Scribbler Blog for a review of the novel in the coming weeks.

To buy your own copy of And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks click here.

There’s a 71 minute documentary on Jack Kerouac below if you have the time and the patience to watch it, we did:

For a William S. Burroughs video cast your eyes below:

Discussion:
Has anyone read the book? What is your opinion of it? Is it on a par with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, regarded as one of the best pieces of crime writing ever produced?

Words: Dean Samways