|Eric Arthur Blair - tallest figure - poses with the POUM militia. His wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy Blair crouches beside him.|
Sunday 20 January 2013
Sunday 6 January 2013
It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just that one day I discovered that I didn’t have the time to do all the things I wanted to do in that day, and so it was reading that was cut from the schedule.
When I was 18 and getting ready to go to University, I found a book in Eastwood Library, Nottinghamshire that brought reading well and truly back into my consciousness. That book was "M/F" by Anthony Burgess.
Those who are unaware of "M/F" will surely be aware of Anthony Burgess’ more famous work “A Clockwork Orange”. “M/F” is an altogether weirder proposition and, while it lacks the full-blooded violence and darkness of Burgess’ earlier work, its bizarrely Oedipal, carnivalesque characters and situations come together to form a truly nightmarish atmosphere wholly unto itself.
The protagonist, Miles Faber – himself a sort of Caulfield-esque college dropout – finds himself on a nightmarish pilgrimage across the Caribbean in pursuit of the poet Sib Leguru, his intellectual idol and muse. On his travels he meets a bizarre lion-headed man, a bird woman, and his freaklike estranged twin Llew – events which are played out in front of the backdrop of a noisy, frightening and chaotic West Indian carnival.
Freudian in almost every sense, the book draws upon evocations of the ego and the id, as well as the power of childish nightmares and even the more incestuous aspects of Dr Sigmund’s philosophies. But while freakish and labyrinthine are two words often used to describe this book, it remains the book that caused me to fall back into love with literature, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Of course it “lead me onto harder stuff”, but had this not have occurred, god knows what I would have been doing right now instead.
What were the “gate way books” that got you back into reading after a long period of literal-inactivity? Let me know…
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation hosts We4Poets Live this November. Click here for more info.
Never ones to shy away from a ‘morally outraged’ headline, the Daily Mail recently ran a story about the ‘evils’ of young adult books that have the audacity to tackle weighty themes, or worse, themes which are important to their target audience.
Tanith Carey, writing for the Mail, described the plotlines of books like “The Fault In Our Stars” – a bestselling children’s novel centring on a 13 year old cancer sufferer – and “Thirteen Reasons Why” – a book dealing with the suicide of a young teenage girl – as “mawkish” and “distasteful”, evidently decreeing them to be unsuitable reading material for members of our fragile younger generation.
I wonder what it is in particular about these subjects that Tanith Carey finds so obscene. Scanning her article in the Mail, I can only conclude that it is their realism that she finds so shocking; the fact that – at some point in most of our lives – we are going to have to confront these things head on.
What the author seems not to recognise – or to wilfully ignore, depending on your viewpoint – is that these issues are real issues for youngsters as well as for adults. Rather than allowing children to use literature to negotiate and work through these themes in a Bakhtinian sense, Tanith Carey would sooner see them not explored at all.
Carey also calls upon two of the traditional tenets of the Daily Mail’s canon of immorality: “sex” and “foul language”. Anyone who thinks that sex and swearing are somehow beyond the radar or vocabulary of an average teenager has been reading too much “Just William”.
So what exactly is Carey’s point? That children’s fiction should deal only with football and adventuring for boys and ponies and light romance (no sex) for girls? Surely Carey realises that modern teenagers have bank accounts and internet access; any child with the inclination could easily pick up “American Psycho” from Amazon, or find something far darker on the internet itself.
Or is Carey trying to make the point that the regulatory codes governing the publishing industry are not stringent enough to protect our youngsters? Maybe, then, children should not read at all until certification falls into line with that of films and video games.
The fact is, under close scrutiny, it becomes abundantly clear that Tanith Carey does not have a coherent point at all. Instead this is just another story of faux moral outrage that the Mail concocts every now and again to give their strait-laced, Audi-owning readers heart palpitations over breakfast.
Don’t let the Daily Mail’s insincere moral crusading guilt-trip you into thinking you’re in some way a bad parent because you let your 13 year old read a book about cancer, and don’t let the Mail’s kneejerk censorial attitude dictate what you or your children read.