Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with The FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, Pond’s Nick Allbrook gives us an exceedingly entertaining summary of his must-read books.
The Green Man by Kingsley Amis: I just finished this so it's probably easiest to jabber about, also it completely kicks ass. It's about a neurotic, hypochondriac, middle-aged, alcoholic Englishman. He owns a pub and lives a rather typical bourgeois lifestyle—slightly unhappy marriage and distant daughter, but everything gets all messed up because his pub houses a malevolent ghost from the 16th century who decides to use poor Mr. Allington as a conduit for his weird ways.
I always love American literature because of its muscularity and grime, so I haven’t explored the English in a while, but Amis kicks all them goals proper. Pathetic, soft-bellied English middle class. It's really, really funny as well, like when he describes an awkward amorous act as being “the sexual equivalent of playing a piano sonata with one hand and eating a tray of sandwiches with the other.” And it's got supernatural stuff which is always cool. And I have some kind of ancestral affection for Wessex country pastoral mythology, canals and Cambridge and the jack-in-the-green and wotnot. Stupidly engaging, rollicking story, but still intelligent…and funny…and with ghosts.
Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway: I love Hemingway. He is my favorite writer and I could’ve picked from a whole pile of books here, but I’ll say this one is ace. It's about a fellow, Thomas Hudson, who is, naturally, a version of Hemingway. It goes through three stages of his life, the first in the Bahamas, the second in Cuba during WW2 and lastly on a patrol boat where Hudson and his cronies are chasing a German boat around the Cuban coastline. Each bit has the typical brisk, straightforward Hemingway style, but as it develops they reveal different sides of his character. He is happy—tragedy strikes—he is cynical, he is working.
It’s the best example of his "iceberg" style, where he emphasizes themes kind of by brushing over them. The death of his son and the love for a woman and fear of danger are all hinted at and denied like the true man he is, and in that way you really get dunked head first in the emotional struggle of a proud, ambitious man. It maps the inner workings of his mind. Denial of pain and emotion with work and drink. It's inspirational and devastating and kicks ass.
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac: When I was reading this, I felt like I was becoming a better person. For the weeks I was immersed in this book, I found it a lot easier to be content with whatever flaws and fuck-ups and idiosyncrasies I saw in myself. Being your own Buddha, your own idol, the ridiculousness of society's expectations and all that stuff your dreadlocked/acid-fried buddy probably postulates on all the time. But it's real, and it’s a great story. I was walking along a bridge by myself after I finished it, looking at the stars laughing to myself about how simple it all was. Happiness and wotnot. I guess it’s the closest a book brought me to Nirvana. Maybe I should just read it all the time.
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
More badass British writing. My friend Liz Gamage lent this to me, I lent it to my Dad, he lent it to my Mum and now I don’t know where it is. It is the most captivating book ever. I smashed it in a couple of days. It is a rollicking story that still manages to make you learn about the theory of relativity and quantum physics, and think about God and ideas and hellz-trippy shit like that, ey. It is written so perfectly that all the fucked-up mind buggering it will inflict on you gets more and more extreme as the story gets more and more intriguing and spirals into more and more ridiculous places until all the loose ends get tied up right at the last line. It's like those YouTube movies about the guy who can throw a Frisbee up your butthole from across a city block, but without the jock fist pumps. I can’t understand how anyone wrote this, it is fucking genius, AND heaps of fun.