Like all good purveyors of fast (soul)food should, the Poetry Takeaway serves up made-to-order and digestible poems to the “hungry yet discerning literary consumer.” Among its rotating kitchen of poetry chefs is creator Tim Clare, a writer and stand-up poet who can be seen on his bio page comparing head-size to a ukulele which we must assume he also plays. Tim will be found touring in the next few months with his How To Be A Leader show – and so will the Poetry Takeaway! – but right now, we welcome him to our Bookshelf slot…
The Complete Short Stories of Saki: H. H. Munro
Reading Saki is a guiltless treat – short, lovingly-wrought stories that just flow off the page. To remain likeable while playing the witty smart-arse you have to be genuinely, consistently funny – a gargantuan ask – but somehow Saki manages it. Saki vs. Wodehouse is the Blur vs. Oasis of British comic literature, and while Wodehouse is great, for me, Saki edges it. "’Arlington made a joke in the House last night,’ said Eleanor Stringham to her mother, “in all the years we’ve been married neither of us has made jokes, and I don’t like it now. I’m afraid it’s the beginning of the rift in the lute.’” – The Jesting of Arlington Stringham
The Complete Accomplice: Steve Aylett
No author I have ever encountered rewards on such a sentence by sentence basis as Steve Aylett. His writing is both economical and rich, and while this doesn’t make for an easy read the first time through, a little bit of diligence yields a wealth of funny, unpretentious prose. The Accomplice Quartet comprises four books – Only An Alligator, The Velocity Gospel, Dummyland and Karloff’s Circus – set in a sweltering republic beset with corruption, killer doves and a chronic pasta surplus. Even the demons that rise from the underworld to assail hapless postal worker Barney Juno are perfectly-monickered: Trubshaw, Skittermite, Rakeman, Sweeney, Dietrich Hammerwire. Weirdest of all, Aylett manages to undergird this polychromatic nonsense with a stealthy ratcheting up of our emotional investment, so that, despite ourselves, by the final book in the series, we care about these gormless, snot-soaked bastards.
Franny and Zooey: J D Salinger
I have encountered people who hate this book – who, indeed, recall it with a severity of grimace otherwise exclusive to haemorrhoidal pensioners sitting down on a cold stone wall – but these minor contretemps are more than compensated for by the welter of chipper high fives that pronouncing one’s love for F n’ Z engenders. It’s a simple novel, consisting of just three conversations. I love the characters; I love the richness of detail surrounding them. I return to the book just for another chance to take a nose around the Glass family medicine cabinet. Yes, they’re angsty, middle-class overachievers, but they’re brilliantly-realised, sympathetic angsty, middle-class overachievers, and my life is better for having met them.
Dispatches: Michael Herr
This is a collection of semi-fictionalised reportage about the Vietnam War. It’s also one of the most jaw-dropping sustained riffs of lyrical and intellectual invention I’ve ever encountered. The language is so pow-pow-pow impressive and engaging all the way through that it’s frankly a little sickening. Herr has got lots of provocative insights into the nature of war, coming at last to the ugly conclusion that war takes place because men love war. All through the narrative, all anyone wants to do is get home, to escape from the conflict, and yet as soon as they do, they look back on it as the best time of their lives. I’m not saying the unrelenting linguistic bombast is for everyone, but to spend a couple of days frying your brain in it is a singular experience.
Guys and Dolls and Other Stories: Damon Runyon
I’m often surprised and a little saddened at how few people read Runyon these days. Of my acquaintances, a round, wholesome zero have confessed to reading so much as a paragraph of his extraordinary prose. Sure, he’s not an author of what you’d call weighty import, his stories concerning themselves more with the eventful capers of shady – but generally benign – mobsters than harrowing excavations of the human condition, but he’s brilliant. Every story is entertaining. The characters are likeable. He’s extremely quotable. He doesn’t sound like anyone else. If you like one story, the only place you can go to scratch that itch is more Runyon. I don’t doubt that, in the fullness of time, his genius will be recognised, and that a whole new generation of readers will have the pleasure of discovering his work anew.