TagScott Pack

Guest post: Scott Pack’s literary dodos

That fine blogger, short story reader, book-swap organiser, and all-round top bloke, Scott Pack, is on a blog tour for his new book (written under his open-secret pseudonym, Steve Stack), 21st Century Dodos. The book is a compendium of once-everyday things (from VHS to the Green Cross Code Man and half-day closing) which have now either disappeared or are close to doing so; I can recommend it as one of those books that you start browsing and then find hard to put back down.

For this blog post, I thought it would be interesting to apply the concept of 21st Century Dodos to books; I’ll hand over to Scott to say more…

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My new book, 21st Century Dodos, takes a look at over 100 inanimate objects that are on the verge of extinction. Some of them have vanished already. When David invited me over to blogsit today, he asked me to suggest three endangered books that I’d like to see revived.

It will be a pleasure.

Nowadays, of course, in this age of eBay, abebooks.com and Amazon Marketplace, pretty much any book can be tracked down – at a price. Thankfully, each of these literary dodos are available if you are prepared to put in a bit of effort online, but you are highly unlikely to find them in any bookshops.

The House of Nire by Morio Kita has never had an official UK publication, although you can get hold of English language copies from the States. It is actually two books in one – The House of Nire and The Fall of the House of Nire – which were written and published in the mid-1980s. Together they form an epic (750+ pages of small type) comic novel charting the fortunes and misfortunes of the Nire family, owners of an insane asylum in Japan between the wars. Its broad scope and cast of bizarre and unforgettable characters is reminiscent, in some respects, of Gormenghast but I wouldn’t want to labour that comparison.

It also gives a rare insight, to our modern eyes, into a period of Japanese history that is poorly served by Western literature, or by available translations. For example, reading The House of Nire was the first and only time I had heard mention of kaiten – manned kamikaze torpedoes – one of which is piloted by a Nire son during World War Two.

I am surprised that this hasn’t surfaced as a Penguin or Vintage Classic. Perhaps it will now that I’ve mentioned it. I am sure they hang on my every word.

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Phil Ochs was a lesser-known contemporary of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. A friend, for a while, of both, he was never to achieve the same level of fame, partly because he stuck with protest songs for longer than they did, and partly because he was a volatile, divisive character. He eventually succumbed to alcoholism and depression but not before he had recorded some of the finest protest music of the 60s and a number of truly beautiful folk songs.

His life story is remarkably similar to that of comedian Andrew Kaufman – complete with bizarre alter-ego – and that story is captured by his friend Marc Eliot in Phil Ochs: Death of a Rebel. Even if you are not familiar with Ochs’ music, it is a fascinating and disturbing tale. I would recommend it to anyone interested in that period of American music. It also has a number of great Dylan stories.

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If you were a young man during the 1980s, then chances are you will remember that sex scene from the movie Betty Blue. It was one of the most popular French movies of that decade, was nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and a whole host of Cesars, and Beatrice Dalle looked amazing in it.

What most people don’t know is that the movie was based on a book by Phillipe Djian, a book that is even better than the movie. And I say that as a big fan of the film version. It is the only book by Djian to have been translated into English but it is wonderful and well worth seeking out.

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So there you have them, my three literary dodos. It would be amazing if you were prompted to read one of them following this blog post, but do make sure you read it after you have dipped into 21st Century Dodos!

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Thanks for those, Scott! I’m particularly intrigued by the sound of The House of Nire, myself. If you’d like to catch up on Scott’s bloggish travels, yesterday Claire Marriott ran an extract from the book, about milk bottle deliveries; and tomorrow, Scott will be hosted by Catherine Ryan Howard. The full itinerary for the tour is also available on Scott’s blog.

ShortStoryVille and the Bristol Short Story Prize

Last Saturday was the inaugural (and, I’m sure, not the last) ShortStoryVille festival in Bristol, in which Joe Melia of the Bristol Short Story Prize had kindly asked me to participate. When I arrived in Bristol that morning, the weather was grey, miserable and damp—in other words, perfect weather for staying in and reading a book. But it was great to see how many people had instead made the trip to the Arnolfini arts centre to hear short stories being read and discussed.

In the day’s first panel, the writer and critic Bidisha interviewed Sarah Salway, Alison MacLeod, and Janice Galloway about the art of writing short fiction. The three authors also read from their work, which really brought home to me how much their work seemed intended to be spoken; with Galloway’s piece especially, it was a completely different experience hearing the rhythms of her prose read aloud. Following on from the writing panel, we flipped it around to discuss reading short stories, and this was where I joined Scott Pack and Clare Hey in conversation with Tania Hershman; I think (and hope!) that we managed to say something interesting and useful.

The second half of the day began with Joe Spurgeon of the local magazine Venue interviewing Helen Oyeyemi and Stuart Evers about their latest books; if you haven’t read them, do, as both are very good indeed. Then came a series of readings from local writers, compèred by Bristol Prize chair of judges, Bertel Martin; the authors involved were Sarah Hilary, Patricia Ferguson, Gareth Powell, Emma Newman, Tania Hershman, and Amy Mason. Between their readings and recommendations, I have yet more books I want to investigate.

And after ShortStoryVille came the presentation of this year’s Bristol Short Story Prize. Congratulations to Emily Bullock, who won for her story ‘My Girl’; I read it on the train home, and it is a worthy winner. My thanks to Joe Melia and everyone else involved in ShortStoryVille for superb day; I am pleased to have been a part of it, and hope that it will turn out to have been the first of many. At a time when the BBC has announced plans to reduce the volume of short fiction programming on Radio 4, it’s good to have an event like ShortStoryVille to reassert that the short story is a vital art form.

Elsewhere

Some more write-ups of ShortStoryVille…
Vanessa Gebbie
Clare Hey
Tania Hershman

Firestation Book Swap, 20th January 2011

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Firestation Book Swap on Tour at the London Review Bookshop last August, I thought it was about time I checked out the Book Swap on its home turf; so off I went to Windsor last night. The Firestation Arts Centre is a lovely little theatre space in what used to be, yes, Windsor’s fire station (it still has the bright red doors), police station and magistrates’ court. The stage was decked out with chairs for the hosts, sofa for the guests – and, of course, a table full of cake.

Tonight, Scott Pack was joined by a guest co-host, Robbie Hudson, and the two guest authors were Elizabeth Buchan and Emma Townshend. I hadn’t read books by either of the latter, but certainly became interested in doing so after hearing them talk about their work. Of the two, I was instinctively more interested in Townshend’s book, Darwin’s Dogs (which examines the significance that Darwin’s pet dogs had in shaping his work), and it is now definitely on my to-read pile; but Buchan’s Separate Beds (about a couple whose relationship is already under strain who then have to deal with their family moving back in because the financial situation demands it) also sounds worth a read.

The conversation was as varied and entertaining as I remember last time; this is the sort of event where an author may be asked, ‘What’s the difference between Darwin’s genius and Shakespeare’s genius?’ just as she’s about to tuck into a macaroon, or the host may give impromptu tips on how to get five minutes’ silence at a children’s party. You just never know.

Speaking of which: the swapping. I took along my copy of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, and ended up swapping it for Harry Hill’s Whopping Great Joke Book, which is about as random a swap as I can imagine. Sitting next to me was my fellow-blogger Jackie from Farm Lane Books, who tried unsuccessfully to exchange her copy of David Nicholls’ One Day (the most-swapped book in the history of the event, said Scott), and very kindly gave it to me afterwards – thanks, Jackie!

And so, I returned home with new books to read, and further books to go on the ‘must read that some time’ list. Oh, and the cake was delicious, too.

Changes are being rung…

There are some changes underway at a couple of the blogs I visit regularly, which I’m going to mention here.

Niall Harrison recently stepped down as editor of the BSFA’s journal, Vector, and became editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons — so now he’s changing blogs. Niall is handing the reins of Torque Control over to his successor, Shana Worthen (and Vector‘s reviews editor, Martin Lewis), and beginning to post at the Strange Horizons blog. Good luck to all, and I look forward to seeing how both blogs develop.

Elsewhere on the internet, Scott Pack has started a project to read and blog about a different short story on every day of 2011. That should yield some good recommendations. Check out Me and My Short Stories to see what Scott has read so far.

Firestation Book Swap on Tour @ London Review Bookshop, 5th August 2010

Yesterday, I caught the train down to London, to go to an event that I’ve wanted to attend for ages: the Firestation Book Swap. Hosted by publisher Scott Pack and author Marie Phillips, with a couple of guest authors, this is held every month at the Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor; but they’ve also had a few tour dates, and last night the Book Swap came to the London Review Bookshop.

The format of the event is a literary evening with a twist: no readings, but plenty of questions – some posed by the hosts, others written by the audience and drawn at random from a basket; the only catch is, the questions can’t have anything to do with books. There’s also cake, and plenty of it; you can actually get in for free if you bring a homemade cake. And, of course, there’s the swapping – everyone brings a book to swap, with opportunities to pitch yours (or have it pitched by the hosts) throughout the evening). So, with my copy of Tim Davys’ Amberville in hand, I went along.

My evening got off to an unplanned start when I managed to trip up in the road outside and cut my knee; my thanks to the shop’s first-aider who supplied the rather dramatic-looking bandage which I spent the rest of the night holding against the wound (to think I nearly took this book to swap, which would have been mildly amusing).

Anyway, the guest authors for this session were Patrick Neate (whom I’ve been meaning to read since I saw him at Cheltenham last year, and still haven’t) and James Miller (of whom I hadn’t heard before, but whose near-future thrillers sound interesting). Both were highly entertaining (as were the hosts), and the discussion ranged widely, from the question of whether reading was a dying art (Neate was fairly optimistic about this, Miller less so; certainly I found it dispiriting to hear about undergraduate literature students who haven’t read anything) and whether it’s more accepted in publishing for authors identified as literary to draw on elements of genre than it is for genre writers to break away from the ‘genre’ tag (unfortunately, I suspect this is the case, though it shouldn’t be), to the subject of the guests’ favourite cake.

Ah yes, the cake. This gets passed around the audience, and includes the traditional Firestation Book Swap cupcakes (decorated with the letters of ‘Firestation Book Swap’), of which I got the last one. It was delicious, as was all the other cake I tried.

And the swapping? I ended up swapping with Scott afterwards, and now have a copy of Geisha by Liza Dalby; a very different book from the one I took with me, and probably not one I’d have chosen to read otherwise – but, to me, that’s the whole point of going to an event like this. All in all, I had a great time, and would heartily recommend the Book Swap to anyone. If you can get to one, do.

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