Saturday, 24 October 2009

Reading: On The Strange Celestial Road With Sun Ra & Another Road With Jack Kerouac

She said “When’s the last time you finished a book?”
I said “I dunno.”
I didn’t know.
Don’t know.
The question reminded me of a girlfriend who loved the way her books looked (books do furnish a room, as the title of one by Anthony Powell suggested) and kept a few unread ones just because they were impressive titles.
But I don’t keep certain books because of the intellectual clout they'll carry should anyone come into the room.
Few people come into the room.
Fewer people I know are interested in what books are on my shelf.
The less people you know, the less likely it is that you will be asked what a certain book is like; one that sits on your shelf unread.
Relative isolation has its benefits.
The last novel I remember finishing was Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. That was...3 years ago (!)
Correction: that was the last novel I remember finishing because it’s the best I’ve read for a long time.
I have finished others but they don’t seem to be on the shelves and so I must have thought them not worthy of keeping because I’d never re-read them.
Now I prefer a line, paragraph or chapter.
Here’s my latest non-fiction purchase:

I found it in Oxfam. Didn’t even know it existed.
Here’s a poem from the book:

To The Peoples Of Earth

‘Proper evaluation of words and letters
In their phonetic and associated sense
Can bring the peoples of earth
Into the clear light of Cosmic Wisdom.’

If my words are properly evaluated I doubt that they’ll bring you into the clear light of Cosmic Wisdom. No. But Sonny’s music brings those of us who love it into the clear light of wisdom. We are wise to the fact that he was one of the 20th century’s great artists. Perhaps you are not.
So what.
Towards the back of the book is a list of Sun Ra’s reading.
Now, for a minute, I fantasise that my book is there, between John Eric Sydney Thompson’s ‘Maya Hieroglyphic Writing’ and Peter Tompkins’ ‘Secrets Of The Great Pyramids’.
But of course my book wouldn’t be there - Sonny died 7 years before it was published.
Jack Kerouac died 40 years ago, almost to this day. I sometimes think that he was the last novelist to change me the way authors and their works are supposed to if you take that idea seriously.
If ‘The Road’ impressed me more than any other novel of recent times, ‘On The Road’, back when I was 17, knocked me out. I can honestly say that it did change the way I saw books, the way they could be written and most of all the way they could speak of a cool world and the metaphorical road that was my life, which seemed to stretch out a long way ahead back then.

And having read the book I dreamt of a road paved with interesting poets, and writers. And we’d form a band of outsiders hell-bent on defying the square world, the materialistic world, the world of Mr & Mrs People.
It took me a few more years to travel the ‘railroad’ to a new life in London and get closer to my version of the beat life, the jazz life, the night life of Kerouac’s world. I even got to meet Slim Gaillard, just as Jack did. I considered it a holy connection of some kind.
Well, ‘Old Bull Lee’, as Jack called William Burroughs in the book, turned out to have written novels that would intrigue me for far longer than Jack’s – but none of them changed me the way ‘On The Road’ did back then.

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