Monday, April 21, 2008

English trash in Belgian bins

Godfrey Mason, an Englishman with a very Flemish walrus moustache, runs the English Bookshop at Ajuinlei 15, Gent, Belgium. It’s prima facie as good as any in Bristol or London, but I choose to judge second hand bookshops on an esoteric evaluation of the contents of their bargain bins. Anyone can work out which buzz-authors to feature prominently in a display window; a solid working knowledge of the truly worthless publication is a different matter altogether. Best-selling titles by Danielle Steele and Virginia Andrews may clutter the shelves in multiple copies but these are not bargain binners. These hacks will continue to be read by generations. Pulp horrors by Guy N. Smith and Shaun Hutson will always be picked up by people like me for their camp, violent content and wonderfully lurid covers. And Stephen King is a good writer who deserves to be read. No, the rain-lashed pavement bargain-bin is a unique and oddly complex world. Its contents are by necessity painfully dated and drearily obsolete. It is a damp, depressing, yellowed hinterland of specifically useless old shit.

Here’s some of the results of Mr. Mason’s decisions:

Scandal! – Janet Street Porter

-I couldn’t get past her face on the cover to tell you what this one was about. (One feels obliged to talk in the past tense about something so anachronistic and downright vulgar)

Survivor – A Tribute to Cliff – Tony Jasper

-This is a book about Cliff Richard.

The Secret Life Of Sooty – Geoff Tibballs with foreword by George Harrison

-Sooty was a hand puppet bear operated by Harry Corbett, and later, his son Matthew Corbett, on the British children’s television programme The Sooty Show. The irrelevance of this volume cannot be overstated.

Surrey Walks: An Illustrated Guide – Walter Jerrold

-This book was published in 1907. The illustrations are hand-drawn. I grew up in Surrey, and I’m afraid that Mr. Jerrold would be most disappointed to hear that so many of his favourite haunts are buried deep beneath the M25 Orbital. “A most refreshing diversion into the village of Chessington may be attained via the Pilgrim’s Way…” etc. Nope. Not any more pal.

Advanced Microwave Cooking For All Occasions – Harriet Anderson
-Variations on this delusory theme are available everywhere.

Inside the shop the shelves bulge in elegance and order with sections on the paranormal (“In Search of Lake Monsters” by Peter Costello stands out as a sober and scholarly work among countless manifestly incorrect prophecies of Armageddon for the year 2000); killing people on the sly (“Ninja Secrets Of Invisibility – An Illustrated Manual” by Ashida Shim; contains loads of photos of men not knowing there are ninjas standing behind them); the age of steam, deep sea diving, prison camps, fiction, gambling, geography and economics (“Who Owns London” by Shirley Green – answer: the Queen, the City Corporation, some Aristocracy and a bunch of oligarch ex-Soviet double agents, but she stretched it out a bit). In short, Mr. Mason runs a very well-stocked and charming English book shop in Europe and he knows exactly what to throw away. How did I go about thanking Mr. Mason for this rare pleasure? I have brought seven books on tour with me and read none of them. You can’t digest much of substance when the world is hurtling past you at 80 mph. It’s a well-documented problem, hence the recommendation of ‘page-turners’ and ‘holiday reading’. I sheepishly left the shop with a 3 euro copy of "Nemesis" by Shaun Hutson. I paid with a 50 euro note. Sorry Mr. Mason. I should have bought the book about Sooty as well. I can now think of a number of friends who would have found it briefly amusing.


Beth said...

The Secret Life of Sooty - RRP £4.95, and yet it could set you back up to £126.43 if you're mental enough to buy it -
You should have bought it put it on ebay.

Microprosopus said...

'Van Thal' Syndrome:

An ability to tell intuitively whether a bookshop is going to contain any psychotronic material without actually looking inside.


deemer said...

I've always found that shop incredibly charming to browse through.. I feel very priviliged and happy to have a nice english second hand bookstore here in Gent near me, I truly do. It's a one of a kind shop here, really.

Cameron said...

Hey, I was hoping you could answer a question or two for me.

Is there any live album headed our way in the near future?

What more recent books or authors do you enjoy?

Reading you from Goa, India...

Nick Talbot said...

Cameron, it's always a pleasure to hear from a listener so far afield. Right now we would love to release a live album but don't have the budget to capture the band at it's full potential. I've started recording the sixth Gravenhurst album and there is a new double 7" EP to be released next week, "Nightwatchmans's Blues". Fix us up with a gig in Goa, yeah? SWEEEEET

A casual scan of the detritus littering the floor beneath my bed reveals the following:

Gordon Burn -'Fullalove'
The finest writer of modern English prose. Little known outside a quaking circle of cap-doffing admireres. Unlike other lit-crit iluminati such as Iaian Sinaclair, Burn is easy to read. His books are short. They blown your mind. As a living literary hero, for me he is up there with Alan Moore. Read his book 'Alama Cogan' first and you'll be hooked.

Other current reads:

'Waiting for the man' Harry Shapiro
-the relationship between drugs and popular music from Jazz to Grunge. Superb.

A User's Guide to The Brain - John Ratey

-Why your barinworks the way it does and how you can sort yourself out if only can be bothered to finish it. Not that it's a boring read; it;s fascinating; i just want the answer NOW

Will Self - Junk Mail/Feeding Frenzy - excellent essays on everything from restaurant reviews to crack dens to JG Ballard. And he's still alive! And he's clean! And he has kids! And he's still a great writer! There is hope for us all.

Garthe Ennis - War Stories Volume 2 (comic book)
Ennis potboiling, but Ennis merely killing time is always a grim, morally ambiguous and satisfying read. Nothing compares to his recent 'Punisher Max volume 'Slavers' though. Woah. Tread carefullly. Mr. Ennis is ANGRY

Hope you find this useful. I can't recommend Burn enough. He has two new books out right now; I haven't read either yet but as far as I can tell the man cannot put a word wrong. They say Amis, we say Burn. He's not well known outside literary circles but writers who read him seriously question their credentials. he has written two of my favourite books, 'Alam Cogan' and 'Happy Like Murderers'. I expect to enjoy 'Fullalove' and the rest of his of his work equally if not moreso.

Julie Reverb said...

Hi Nick,

Question time continues:

What are your current listens, and are their any festival shows in the pipline?


ps - cavalier approach to promotion part deux:


Nick Talbot said...

There are festival shows in the pipeline and full details will be posted at htttp:// once they are confirmed.

The shows will be solo performances. Me, instruments, pedals.

Current listens:
Not much new stuff, i wait for people to recommend or give it to me. New Pivot album on Warp is ace, natch I got it for free.

Bad habit of listening mainly to dead people, so lots of Elliot Smith. Working on a film soundtrack possibility, so lots of the Shining OST (Wendy Carlos, Bartok, Penderecki, Ligeti)
A load of random live Morrissey stuff
New SJ Esau album "Small Vessel" on Anticon (not yet released)
All Brian Eno's ambient works
Burial - Burial/\Untrue
April - Sun Kil Moon
Alan Parsons Project - I Robot

Cameron said...

Reporting in from Goa, India. Just wanted to let ya know that I gave I Robot a couple interesting spins. I find myself enjoying the interludes and ambient spaces intensely. Your book recommendations are a bit more difficult from here.

I was wondering, Nick, do you ever find yourself listening to Nadja? They lay the rock on pretty thick and sludgy. I'm always in search of vocal-free music with a twist to hide in the background while I read. Maybe Nadja is not a good example. It doesn't hide.

What artists would you say are in the same ballpark as you and yours and do you find yourself enjoying their music or do you intentionally avoid it for fear of any potential negative side effects it may cause to your creativity?

And, Nick, what is your thoughts on the Trent Reznor? We were all expecting another horrible album then he "slips" in a few surprises while we aren't looking.

A gig in Goa. Man, are you sure? The hottest action here is a guy named Graam from England. He used to play live with UB40. Now he does Marley covers for free food and drinks at the local beach shacks. If that sounds better than what you have set up already, come on down. To be frank, there is no scene here. Washed up trance that won't go away. We have loads of that.

Earlier I asked you about a live album. I'm starting to question how enjoyable that actually would be. That sounds so negative, no? What I mean is, after rethinking my question, I thought about your sound and how close and personal it already is. What would come of hearing it in a live album format? I guess some variations and twists and turns, but I'm finding it hard to imagine it being superior to the original songs available already. I guess you would know, since you have been to one of your live shows, and I have not, but what is your thought on this?