52 Books in a Year – Weeks #13-#16

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Last month (April), I read four books, which were for the most part enjoyable: two novels, one autobiography, and one play. Here’s what I thought:

Book #17: ‘Anger is an Energy’ by John Lydon

This was given to me as a wildcard for Christmas, and I found it really entertaining. John Lydon takes the reader from birth right up to the present moment, and gives a no-holds-barred account of his life so far, from having meningitis as a child and coming out of a coma with no recollection of where he was or who is parents were – a guilt that he’s carried ever since and has added weight to the isolation he feels as an individual, influencing his artistic career – through the Sex Pistols years, to PiL, to his life now living in America.

The book is written just as John Lydon speaks: eccentric and unabashed. The editor has made a point of not over-editing, leaving in most of Lydon’s grammatical quirks to stay true to his voice, which offers a unique reading experience.

I found Lydon’s account of the Sex Pistols the most interesting part to read about. His insight in to how the band formed, initially by Malcolm McClaren shoving four people who couldn’t stand each other and couldn’t play or sing into a rehearsal space and telling them to be a band, as a way of promoting his and Vivienne Westwood’s fashion line is funny to read about. Not as funny, but just as poignant, if not more so, is his account of Sid Vicious – knowing that, given the upbringing he had, Sid didn’t have a chance to start with, and the guilt Lydon felt for bringing him into the Sex Pistols.

I really recommend this book, whether you’re a fan of Lydon’s music or not – just as a fan of music it offers countless fascinating moments.

‘Poptones’ by Public Image Ltd

Book #18: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

This is a book it’s taken me far too long to get around to reading. It’s a book, to me, about an adolescent’s descent into a deep depression. Holden Caulfield is fed up with what’s demanded of him from society and his parents, he’s kicked out of his second prep school in Pennsylvania and decides to bum around New York for a while, biding his time before he has to face his parents. The casual and conversational style in which the book is written, and the humbleness of the narrator, Caulfield’s voice is a pleasure to read, and takes you from beginning to end smoothly, with no unnecessary sharp turns or bumps in the flow of the novel. It’s a novel concerned more with a feeling, one of despair, loneliness, being lost in life, and an act of rebellion in 1950s America, than it is with a plot. A must read.

Book #19: ‘Sarpedon’ by Gregory Corso

As a huge fan of Gregory Corso’s work, admittedly I may be a little bias with this one. Corso’s use of language and imagery is so rich, vibrant, and playful, I am instantly sucked in to everything I read by him.

Sarpedon was his first play, a short affair, written when he was living on the grounds of, but not officially attending, Harvard University. The story goes that he lived there, mixing with Harvard’s literary circle, and sneaking into lectures in his neverending quest for knowledge and to better himself as a poet. Found out by an English professor, who lectured in Greek literature, Corso was allowed to stay if he could write a Greek play, which he did overnight.

Sarpedon’s dead body, having died on the fields of Troy, is requested by Hades, and as the son of Zeus, King of the Gods, whom Hades, King of the Underworld, is jealous of, Sarpedon is the ultimate dead body to acquire. In trying and ultimately failing to obtain Sarpedon, Corso mythologises with humour and a unique mix of classical and street language, which puts this Greek play on its own shelf entirely. It’s at once funny and enlightening – a killer combination.

Book #20: ‘The Place of Dead Roads’ by William Burroughs

Having loved ‘Naked Lunch’ when I read it, and finding Burroughs a really intriguing character having read a biography of his, I’ve been eager to read more of Burroughs’ fiction. I picked up this book about six years ago. Although the second book in a trilogy with ‘Cities of the Red Night’ and ‘The Western Lands’, as Burroughs employs a cut-up technique in his writing, I figured I could read the second book out of context from the others, and it does seem that way. I started reading this book those six or so years ago but quickly got lost and gave up. I’ve been meaning to give it a go ever since.

‘The Place of Dead Roads’ is about gun-slinging, in an ongoing shoot-out for freedom. The book follows Kim Carsons, a highly intelligent individual who has acquired magic and other-worldly knowledge. Kim is a member of ‘The Johnsons’. ‘The Johnsons’ are good-natured thieves, in a Robin Hood kinda way, with whom Kim is on a mission to release himself and his fellow Johnsons from the societal and political ties of the West.

As standalone images, each paragraph is beautiful, a crazy dream-like/nightmarish vision, comical and then frightening, gritty and then triumphant. I loved these images, these fragments. As a cohesive whole however, although I don’t doubt it does make sense, it’s very hard to follow and the plot was often lost on me. I could see it was there, but the cut-ups were so frequent I struggled to keep up. Where ‘Naked Lunch’ sucked me in with such frenetic energy and flipping from one thing to the next, ‘The Place of Dead Roads’ spat me out for the same reason. Maybe I will pay this one a visit again sometime, and see if it clicks later on.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Leave your comments below.

Follow my blog to stay updated with my ’52 Books in a Year’ journey.

Looking for something to read? My book ‘Zygote Poems’ about the charms and anxieties of new fatherhood is available here. You can read a sample poem right about here too.

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