Given that I (reputedly) have about four books on the go at once, I really ought to love exercises of turning books into blogs. There’s a new one out of Stoker’s Dracula. The gimmick is simple: post novels in diary form as diaries, with the posts synchronised to appear on the date they’re supposed to in the novel. You can try your own too.
It’s a charming game, and I applaud it for pushing some classic works (such as Pepys’ Diary out in a fresh format. However, the novel-as-diary format just doesn’t work well for me. It may be that Pepys’ Diary, which is appearing with helpful annotations, is better suited to daily installments. A novel surely is not; Alexander McCall Smith’s recent attempt at a daily novel for The Scotsman is typically elegant, but rather unsatisfactory in novel form, and I suspect was unsatisfactory for parallel reasons in its original newspaper version.
Dracula is surely not meant to be read in daily paragraphs. The momentum of the story will not take it. The intensity of the thing, let alone the reader’s retention of storylines, will be stretched beyond reason.
Perhaps I am being unfair. I can only comprehend reading the thing in batches in the monthly archive: I haven’t reset my world to accommodate reading daily dispatches from these sites, although perhaps I should give it a sincere effort.
Surely, though, Dracula, with its mix of journal items and letters from different hands, would be better served by being emailed: subscribe to the email-novel and you will receive a chronologically arranged stream of emails from the various narrators over the course of the novel. I’d far prefer to spot a little envelope in the corner of my screen alerting me to an urgent missive from Mr Harker. If you’re going to do it, do it properly.
I say that, and I know that Andy in particular will now be thinking of the logical extension. Reset the novel as a series of letters, postcards, phone calls, emails, parcels containing journals, anything and everything necessary.
Imagine a copy of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that arrived as a keepsake box full of letters.
It would be the devilish offspring of Dennis Wheatley, Nabokov, Nick Bantock and BS Johnson. It would be tremendously expensive, tremulously arcane and terribly good fun.
Only one question remains: which novel to do first?
For the past week or more I have been vaguely searching (or searching vaguely; or, now I think of it, both), for a lost Thing around the house.
This happens to me all the time. I think it happens to most of us. I’m sure, o best of readers, o noblest of the members of the shadow republic, that it has even happened to you.
I’ve even got a queasy feeling that, books aside, most of my world consists of Things that are actually lost around the house. Of course, most Things being sufficiently large, and the house sufficiently small, they can quickly be found if and when really needed.
However, this Thing (a Bert Jansch CD, as it happens), is small, and so its lostness has managed to persist for a near record-breaking number of days.
Things get lost. This is not my point. My point is how low I have sunk, how far my arms (metaphorically) have shrivelled. I caught myself a few minutes ago thinking brightly to myself, “I know! I’ll search for it on Google.”
Results of your search for “Bert Jansch”
1. Main bookcase in the front bedroom, third shelf down, underneath an atlas
Now that would be a search engine.
The tail of the peacock is a redoubtable example of the importance of sexual selection in forming the physiology of animals. The theory goes that the elaborate plumage of the male peacock developed first because the choice of partner rests mainly with the female. The male’s ability to produce and support a strong, colourful display implies health, or plentiful strengthm, or perhaps, indirectly, dominance of other males in the area.
Sexual selection in evolution is a curiosity, though. It develops over long periods of time into a form of evolutionary arms race, where increasing amounts of energy are expended by males in sustaining these elaborate and potentially debilitating sexual displays. However ridiculous the display, however, because it is an agreed sign, it continues to function effectively in promoting the male, and so, by permitting the showy male to father more offspring, the situation is perpetuated.
These thoughts were running through my mind, as they were no doubt yours, this morning in the papershop, when I noted the back page headline of The Sun:
Big Hits of the Seven Tease
Jaw dropped. Tumbleweed bounced past. Across the land, the sound of nobody laughing.
The story, it transpired, was that there had been a football match, in which the Woolwich Arsenal had beaten Everton FC by seven goals to nil. These things happen, and I’m sure everyone thought this was as notable an achievement as I did.
So what the hell was going on with the headline? Why the pun on ‘Big Hits of the Seventies’ (which does exist as a compilation album, but is hardly well-known)? I see where the ’seven’ comes from, but ‘tease’? Would a trouncing ever be considered a ‘tease’ if it didn’t help the pun home?
It’s not even a good pun, which, like a good crossword clue, should work on both the superficial and the cryptic levels. An example would be The Sun’s modern classic when Inverness Caledonian Thistle upset the mighty Celtic:
So why, when they are capable of touching the heights of punnery, would The Sun’s subs allow such a stinker to be published?
The answer is because they have no choice. The laws of sexual selection in the Great British Tabloid mean that you must pun, because punning is what the readers expect. No matter that nobody in the country could possibly have even raised an internal smirk at this morning’s effort. Puns are the battleground; rather, they are the secondary sexual characteristics of the tabloid, and they must be as big and bold as possible.
No matter that they’re as debilitating, irrelevant and ridiculous as the largest peacock’s tail that you ever did see. It’s in the genes; and breeding will out in The Sun.
Sometimes things seem to flutter around you like butterflies. No, better, like those shiny bits of paper at the end of The Crystal Maze. Here, then, rather than thinking of it as sticking insects with long pins, I’m catching bits of gold leaf:
Hundreds of movie title screens
Why Tintin never grew up: a scientific study of the repeated head traumas suffered by the Belgian cub detective who tucks his trousers into his socks.
Before take-off the cabin crew perform a strange folkloric rite that involves synchronised arm movements and warnings of fire and our possible immersion in water, all presumably part of an appeasement ritual whose origins lie back in the pre-history of the propeller age. The ceremony, like the transubstantiation of the host, has no meaning for us but is kept alive by the airlines to foster a sense of tradition.
- Who else but JG Ballard?
My favourite tiny moment of PR genius (via the keen eye of Kevan. National Be Nice to Nettles week (18th-29th May) is kicking off with ‘WeedStock’:
An absolute feast for all nettle and weed fans! Stalls, Plays, Games and even a mini opera on all of gods weeds! With special guest confirmed (John Nettles).
The Sopranos has been described by some as the finest television series ever made but, for various reasons, I never quite got round to watching it. I confessed my predicament to a friend, who introduced me to the DVD revolution; the entire first series of The Sopranos in one boxed set. It has lain on my shelf for nearly a year, unviewed. This week, I decided to hand it back.
- Armando Iannucci on learning not to worry about the amount of stuff that you’re missing. This resonated particularly with me as I too have the first series of The Sopranos on DVD courtesy of a well-meaning friend who couldn’t believe I hadn’t watched it. Time, I think, to return it.
While we were discussing book covers (we were, and are, and will be), this one is a cracker and very little mistake. A Morris Minor peers over the white cliffs, and the whiff of sweet tea almost wafting at you from a Thermos within.
It’s Bollocks to Alton Towers, from those Framley chaps, offering a guidebook of quintessentially British days out, from Gnome Magic in Essex to the Cumberland Pencil Museum.
Particular joy is the entirely gratuitous index, which lists Stephen Fry before fudge (naughty boys) and covers Kendal Mint Cake, nettle rash and “umbrella, an inside-out, torn”, as well as four varieties of tea (afternoon, cup of, flask of, very weak).
All of this excellent fun reminds me that somewhere I have a contribution to the Deep North’s collection of imaginary indices (here’s No. 1 again), that must, must go up.
Perhaps I’m going all Chomskian in my senescence. The house was full of nephews and neices over the weekend. As I was repeatedly jumped on, hid & sought, bounced, and was endlessly nattered at by various toddlers and crawlers, my mind naturally turned to the knotty question of language acquisition.
In particular, I noted the way one of little chaps got all of his endings right while mislaying the starts entirely. So, the toy binoculars of which he was so proud were “noculars”. A rabbit was an “abbit”. His younger cousin, who has come up with a fine little language of his own consisting entirely of monosyllables, showed the same tendency. So, cat was “aaa” (not to be confused with that bird beloved of Scrabble players and cruciverbalists, the a’a).
When I look at my own frankly horrible attempts at adult language acquisition, I sense that I’m concentrating far too much on the start of the words, when I should be getting down with the kids and skipping straight to the ending.
The ending is after all where most of the subtle action tends to be, with your verb endings, plurals and suchlike. I never delved very deeply into the realms of the universal grammar, so of course I suspect that my thoughts are either very well known to everyone else or else empirically incorrect. All the same, I can’t help thinking that if only I could force myself to peep, burble and mangle my words like a child, I’d soon be able to communicate with the peoples of the world, or at least their kids.
Back, like a fool, just in the nick of time for polling day. Unexpectedly, there appear to have been no unexpected twists and turns to the election to leave me baffled and behind in following the last-minute coverage.
All that was left, after discharging my democratic duty at half seven this morning in an almost deserted school building, was to amuse myself with the traditional read-through of newspapers’ exhortations to vote their way. This, I feel, is the payoff the papers think they’ve earnt for four years of hard toil covering government announcements: the chance to pretend for a day that they have voters (some, any) at their bidding.
Far be it from me to suggest that, at the end of a parliament, the papers might like to review their own performance in the damnably tricky business of reporting faithfully the news. Where ever would we be if we adopted new-fangled concepts such as quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Oh, I see.
On this, the Longest Electoral Day, that finest of Watchmen, the Metro, is faced with a particular problem. Unlike all the other major papers in Britain, the Metro cannot endorse a party, much as in its throbbing Daily Mail heart, it would love to. For the Metro is a free (as in worthless) paper, and its carefully nurtured distribution rights (for instance, in the London Underground system) would be under threat if it developed an overt political sensibility. So this paper of papers ducked the problem entirely this morning by running (in the London edition at least) on an entirely separate issue:
Human Babies ‘Grown in Labs’
A headline of some genius, you will agree, given that the story relates to immature human egg cells being artificially cultured from stem cells. Now, this is a genuine story, and it is worthy of comment from various perspectives, but not this one. The result achieved by the scientists constitutes the tiniest first fraction of the effort required to grow a human baby, and very far from being one of the many harder parts of the task. It is a little like looking at one of Leonardo’s designs for a flying machine, then running a story that Da Vinci airlines are running cheap flights to Florence (this may in fact be one of the claims in Dan Brown’s book for all I know: I haven’t checked). It is, in fact, about as wrong as a headline can be without the reader concluding that the headline has been misplaced from another page, or indeed another newspaper, entirely.
So, no change there. Four more years? Let’s hope not.