This year, I have a different experiment I’d like to try on Twitter. What I’ve noticed is that some of the most interesting attempts to write creatively on the medium have come not ambiently (as ‘J’ was intended to do), but in sudden bursts – I’m thinking of Teju Cole‘s older and more recent excursions, and George Szirtes’ various entries in the form and Paraic O’Donnell, who occasionally goes into a riff on a Friday evening.
So I wanted to pick a time every week when I would tweet a story, or a something, and I settled on Wednesday afternoons, from 3-5pm, when – starting next week and for 10 weeks after – I will be always in the same place: sitting on a train from Norwich to London. It’s a train journey I love, for various reasons that may or may not become apparent during the course of the exercise, which will be over by April.
So, if you want to be in on the experiment, please follow @Wednesday3til5 – it is a new Twitter account I have set up, on which I will tweet only during those hours. What it will be exactly is still brewing, and will almost certainly be semi-improvised, at any rate.
Follow it, and something will unfold – I’m not going to guarantee how many tweets during those two hours each week, but clearly I don’t want it to be so many that you’ll want to unfollow.
I was inspired by a tweet from Niven Govinden (who’s reading his The Gate) to put down The Magic Mountain (it will wait for me) and pick up Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro, as recommended to me by David Hayden, when I mentioned how much I loved Kusamakura, probably the best known of this Meiji-era Japanese novelist’s books.
I am enjoying Kokoro, which is the story of the friendship between a young and an old man, but one thing is confusing, or annoying, me. The novel (234pp in its elegant Penguin Classics edition, not counting introduction etc) is divided up into 110 chapters, the vast majority of which – do the maths – are two pages long.
Despite their brevity, the chapters are often not self-contained, but some four or five of them may cover the same scene, and run directly on from one to the next. As an extreme example, here is the end of Chapter 26 and the beginning of Chapter 27, during which the narrator and ‘Sensei’, as he calls his friend, are sitting in a garden, talking. Continue reading
I have just finished running a Creative Writing workshop as part of the LSE’s Literature Festival 2013. In it I wanted to talk about and explore ways of using Twitter creatively. Briefly, I went through four ways of doing so:
1) the standalone one-Tweet narrative, as seen on nanoism.net. This, we found, was hard.
2) we looked at iterative tweets: those that set up parameters and worked within them, in a non-narrative way. I gave as examples the drone stories of Teju Cole, New Proverbs of Hell by George Szirtes, and some dialogue between W and Lars by Lars Iyer – and clicking on their names here will link to a few examples of each I collected via Storify.
3) we looked at narrative stories on Twitter, Jennifer Egan’s Black Box, Rick Moody’s Some Contemporary Characters, Andrew Fitzgerald’s March story on Medium and Litro’s recent #litrostory – which I contributed to, and may have inadvertently damaged – honestly, Litro people, I thought I was bringing the story back to its main narrative. (I also talked about my own Twitter story, J, which you can read more about here, and follow here.)
In fact, the #litrostory – as i saw it – was instructive, because it showed the pitfalls of open sourcing a project like this. People don’t read up what’s gone before, they push it in odd directions, they might even change tense or gender. I wanted to do something a bit like this, but a bit more curated, so as the final exercise we wrote a collaborative piece of non-narrative fiction, a character study, really, called Carly. This was number four. Continue reading
The job of retracing my reading over a month is a strange one, involving pulling out the books from the shelves where – hopefully – they’ve found their way, so as to make room for the current mess. Some of April’s reading I’ve already written about – Enrique Vila-Matas’s wonderful Dublinesque (the best book of his I’ve read so far, and certainly the one you would hope will broaden his English language readership) and Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière’s brassily erudite conversation piece This is not the End of the Book in a blog post here, to which I added a footnote concerning Teju Cole’s quietly, devastatingly manipulative Open City; and Chris Bachelder’s Abbott Awaits, the book all liberal-minded dads should carry slotted down the back of their Baby Bjorns, celebrated here.
Looking back at books over the chasm of a few weeks, rather than writing about them hot off the last page, means interrogating your reading self to see what remains of the experience: Gabriel Josipovici’s Only Joking, for instance, seems now an unforgivable diversion, a modernist skit on the caper movie that evaporates from the page, leaving no real sediment to speak of. It is a comedy, told largely in dialogue, about a series of variously wealthy, artistic, ingenious and criminal types all trying to do each other over for the sake of a Braque painting, or love, or neither. It entertains, but less than Charade, or Len Deighton in Only When I Larf mode.
The other thing that occurred to me over and over again as I read April’s books, is how wonderful it is to read books in tandem, or close enough to each other that it feels like it. The Vila-Matas and the Eco/Carrière, as I blogged, seemed in direct conversation with each other about the vitality of the physical book, but then there’s Teju Cole and WG Sebald, whose Rings of Saturn I am still re-reading, slow-slow-slowly. Continue reading
A rushed post, while the kids watch the Simpsons, and before I go upstairs to pack to fly to New York tomorrow. These last couple of days I’ve been trying to finish these two books, which arrived over the weekend, and which I’ve been reading in alternation, Dublinesque, the new novel by Enrique Vila-Matas, author of the wonderful Montano (here’s my Indy review, here’s Lars Iyer’s manifesto, which treats it at more length), and This is Not the End of the Book, a transcription of some characteristically wide-ranging and ebullient conversations between Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière.
Quite apart from the resonance of the Vila-Matas to my first trip to New York, of which more below, the two books play off each other through their shared theme of the death, or otherwise, of the book, or literature. In fact, they are almost as much in dialogue with each other as are UE and J-CC in TINTEOTB (an abbreviation which brings to mind both Tintin and Kinbote, the mad editor of Pale Fire).
The Eco/Carrière, as its title suggests, is a repudiation of the idea that the book is going to be killed by the digital revolution Continue reading