Wow, I don’t think I have ever timed a walk and swim quite so well as I have just managed today. I had perfect conditions, and the surf was like a bath, but now that I’m all toasty, dry and warm after a nice hot shower, there’s suddenly a gale force wind and a really insistent downpour crashing about outside, both of which have appeared out of nowhere. It feels like I’m getting away with something! You should see this torrential rain… and this apocalyptic wind…I tell you, it was really quite nicely dodged. Good job, Baby J!
(Had you there for a second, didn’t I? Never fear, I solemnly swear not to morph into one of those women who think their unborn child is destined for weather-influencing greatness… that Mary really had some tickets on herself.)
As it happens, I left for my ultimately very timely walk because I realised I was missing the Book Show on Radio National (now that I am a radio walker, don’t you know…), so I scooted outside for my daily constitutional around the beachfront. More fortuitousness: I scored the very droll Rick Gekowski, whose book Tolkien’s Gown you may remember I loved.
(An aside: in one of those frequent blogosphere coincidences, I’ve just been talking elsewhere to Grad and Fugitive Pieces about John Banville, and about how much I enjoyed his Man Booker-winning novel The Sea, and how it reminded me of Don DeLillo’s oeuvre in that it too was clearly the work of a bona fide wordsmith. It turns out my man Gekoski was on the judging panel that named The Sea the winning work that year, and that Gekoski was instrumental in awarding the prize to Banville. Book trivia. I love it.)
I just love this guy’ s style. Gekoski’s so casually sharp, dry as the centre of Australia, and – a little bit like me – he is someone who fled academia nursing serious doubts about the fun factor of an institutionalised life of letters. An incurable love of literature frankly breeds madness enough without a career spent in the raging lunatic asylum that is your average university English Department.
I was lucky, in that I recognised midway through my PhD that I was in the wrong place, so didn’t tarry once the coast was clear (‘Exit, stage left!’), but Gekoski was a working academic for long enough that he still bears the scars. He said for a long time he was very angry, and that’s not something I can relate to at all – I retain an enormous affection for the entire experience and most of the characters that peopled it. But we share an unfortunate suspicion that the academic life can actually deaden one’s love of the written word. For me, this discomfort was something to do with how proscriptive academic discourse could be about what was worthy and lofty enough to be considered Important Real Literature, and how very little the notion of pleasure seemed to be encouraged as an active ingredient in both writing and reading.
Personally I take enormous pleasure in daily indulging both compulsions, but I would still say there’s a general culture in which the detection of a surfeit of pleasure continues to negatively impact one’s literary credibility. Displays of obvious pleasure – just look at Stephen King’s writing, he’s someone who clearly loves his work, and he’s a true bibliophile to boot – are regarded as somehow low brow, whereas some authors are feted for little more than the unrelenting misery of their message. Well, why shouldn’t we dance if we’re able, readers and writers both? I’m all for a little verbal foxtrot, and I absolutely think irreverence deserves to be taken seriously. It’s one of the things I most love about John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously recognised masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s so funny, and it’s also seriously smart.
Gekoski put me onto A Confederacy of Dunces, as a matter of fact – it’s one of the novels featured in Tolkien’s Gown. And now it’s one of my all-time favourite novels, so I’ll take Gekoski’s recommendation today no questions asked: Double Whammy, by Carl Hiaasen. I’m comin’ for you, Carl. Sit tight.
Hmmm… look at that. Gekoski’s gone and completely hijacked today’s intended post about grappling with the concept of a muse… so guess what’s on the menu for tomorrow?