So I’ve mentioned that I listen to audiobooks, right? Well, let’s discuss that a bit. See, I’ve got ADD and dyslexia, which is a major reason for me not reading so much at all during any age. Actual sitting down and reading with my eyes is a laborious, time consuming task. I cannot speed read, and I will sometimes have to go over a sentence five or six times before seeing what the writer is trying to say. As a result, I am not big on reading in the traditional sense of the word. When not concentrating, I am a major skimmer. I scan around, picking bits and pieces from the text, looking for key words, which will often annoy people because I’ll sometimes miss things that way. Mostly it works though.
I can listen though, and often I’ll hear and record things without even appearing to pay attention to what’s going on or being said. Noticing this, my father came up with an idea. If I can’t read a book, maybe I could listen to one. This lead to the purchasing of several audiobooks, and me listening to them like other kids listened to rock albums. This was possible, in part, because back in the day audiobooks kind of sucked.
See, there used to be this thing called abridged audiobooks, and while their scourge has not been completely wiped clean from the face of the earth by the flaming paw of Fancy, they have dropped off as the popular method of production. However, quite often in the 80s and early 90s, there was no choice. Many companies would sell their tapes in a paper or plastic container designed to be about the size of a paperback book. Often, you’d have two 90 minute tapes, sometimes four. Depending on the company, they’d either come in a tape case, or just held in the cardboard by a sleeve or a plastic slot. Warner Brothers were the best because they actually printed a jacket for the tapes in their tape cases so that if you didn’t keep the paper container you could have the jacket art on each tape.
Yes I know this doesn’t seem to have any connection to me actually reading, just hang on, I’m getting to it. This part needs to be told so you’ll understand the rest later. You need to understand the thing with tapes first, so you’ll get the later bits. If not for understanding how audiobooks used to work, it’s hard to understand the whole story.
Now of course that’s mostly changed. Since you can buy audiobooks on CD, which are cheaper and easier to store, or get them digitally which is easier still, abridged books are far less common. What is also gone from the world is Audiobook Club, which was a mail order service akin to the Columbia Record club wherein if you didn’t send back a card once a month you’d automatically get sent a book. This is where we finally get to our author.
Once in a while, I would forget to send the card back, and I would get a book I didn’t want in the mail. This wasn’t actually a problem though, because I could just send it back and not get charged for it. I’d always look at what the book was though, just to make sure it wasn’t something interesting. I was struck by the design of the cover of the book, which was just a shot of the clock tower of Parliament and the words Drink With The Devil along with the author’s name Jack Higgins. The premise seemed interesting enough, a gold heist goes wrong and people have to get the gold back. Okay, I thought, we’ll give this a try.
What I got in the next three hours was an exciting, uncomplicated story about Irish terrorists stealing gold, getting double crossed, coming back some ten years later and trying to get the gold back again. Yes, this was something I enjoyed! I listened to several times, passing it on to my father who also admitted enjoying it. A few months later, the next bookfrom the same author came out and we grabbed that as well. That second book convinced me that we needed to find the first books from this guy. Now, one thing about audiobooks you need to understand is their short shelf life. Some books stay on the shelves at book stores for years and years, but audiobooks tended to get shoved aside very quickly. If there were earlier audiobooks, we had a devil of a time finding any and instead we started to look around for the actual books themselves. That is the important part of the story, I was interested enough to want to find the physical books and read them. This, as it turned out, was dead easy.
See, Higgins is not a writer whose work demands careful study. He writes potboilers, adventure stuff. Strangely, he doesn’t seem to have written any cold war thrillers, which is odd because many of his Sean Dillon Books feel like they’re written for the sort of people who couldn’t get over the fact that the Cold War ended. Anti-terrorist potboilers, that’s what he wrote. Books where the same thing tends to happen over and over again in slightly different situations. Dillon shoots some people, drinks some Krug non-vintage (it’s the grape mix), and then goes scuba diving in the last third of the book. What this meant was that hardcover versions of the books were very easy to come across. People would buy them, read them and then discard them a few months later to make room for the next book on their shelf. Poke your nose into a used book shop and you could usually find one or two. It only took us a couple of months looking to find them all. In the mean time I’d gotten my hands on a couple more of the audiobooks, but that was hardly important. We’d gotten the full collection of Sean Dillon books (up to that point) in hardcover and we started reading them all from the beginning.
That was how I found out how cut to the bone Drink With The Devil really was. The entire middle of the book was removed in the abridgement. Now, granted, you could argue that the section I’m thinking of is entirely superfluous to the story, but still. That is why we hate abridgements, I’d like to decide for myself when the author is simply faffing about.
This proved to be an interesting time for us. I read the books over a few months as we acquired them, then my dad read the books over a couple of weeks, and then Syd read the books in a week, knocking out one a day. The books spread like a virus in our household. Even my mother read one or two of them, though they weren’t really to her taste as she prefers John Saul. The point is, we spread this virus out a bit, until we hit people who weren’t interested in reading or in thrillers, and then it died down a bit.
Eventually, I started to loose interest in Higgins. When my interest waned, so did everyone else’s. I can’t say why exactly I lost interest. I think my tastes just changed, because I don’t go back and listen to or read his books now a days. I didn’t think much of his post 9-11 books, maybe that was it. No, I think it’s just that I grew out of them. They were interesting for a few years, and then they were less interesting and then I just wasn’t into them anymore. For a while though, they were great fun and just the sort of thing to excite the mind of a guy in his early 20s.
And it did get me reading, and trying to read. And it got me to learn a lot about the IRA and IRA and other groups like them. Any book that makes you want to know more has to be a good book, at least in my mind. Even if it only makes you want to know more to see if the writer is full of shit or if they knows what they’re talking about.
So where does the talk about him being a professor come from? He taught Liberal Studies at Leeds Poly before his writing income gave him the freedom to quit.
1. Until yesterday, it never occurred to me just to what extent snow storms play merry hell with autofocus. Seriously, I was trying to get a picture and all I was getting was the whir of the motor as the lens tried to fix on every falling flake.
2. 8/5ths of the time, when this blog goes silent and merely presents photographs, it’s not because I’ve got nothing to say, but rather I’ve got no energy to say it.
3. I seem to have lost my ammo pack with my SD and business cards in it at the zoo. I know this, because someone at the zoo e-mailed me to let me know he’d found it and would hold it for me. I’ll have to go back there tomorrow. I had a feeling that might happen with my new map bag, because the little pocket has no secure buttons for it.
5. Going to have to make marshmallows next week, and take photos of the process for a new project that I’ll discuss later.
I’ve hinted before that a drunk and a pair of guys who taught college are greatly responsible for the fact that I read anything after high school. I’m not sure if this is absolutely true, but it’s good for a narrative. If we say it’s true to its narrative, that doesn’t make it a lie, but rather a formed truth. That’s all blogging is anyway, and I’ve spent the last week watching and then reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So take this for what it is. One part Gonzo Journalism, one part underground literature class, two parts gin, one part vermouth.
So let’s begin with the one you all worked out a long time ago, who is The Drunk? The drunk is one Dashiell Hammett, a man so intoxicated he needed a couple of drinks inside him before he could start drinking. Hammett may not have been much of a novelist, but rather the earliest Gonzo Journalist, since many of his stories have an autobiographical ring to them. Read any of the Continental Op stories and you quickly realize that it was merely because he’d put his name on the cover that the character’s name is never said inside the books. I’m not saying the books are embellished a bit, but I am saying that most of them ring so true that they could only be from experience. He only wrote a few books, although there are a wealth of short stories, but we’re going to focus on the book that made me step back from The Brink.
Now, this is where the tale gets a little muddled. See, I never really stopped reading exactly. I always sort of read, and I always listened to audiobooks. The audiobooks thing became a dual cure when it was discovered that both ADD and dyslexia were real things that hampering the fuck out of a young boy with a curious mind. And there comic books, but lets ignore those for the moment. Audiobooks will often come up because I have hundreds upon hundreds of them. I was a member of one of those Columbia Record Club style audiobook clubs. That will come up later, so let’s leave it to one side for right now.
Besides I didn’t read this book in audio format. I don’t remember how I got it into my head to read the book, but I did. All I can think is that I was getting tired of reading The Shadow novels, which I was starting to find irritating. Tolkien no longer appealed and I was probably going through my first period of having an issue with Stephen King. I had seen The Maltese Falcon and I recognized the name on the cover as the writer of that, even though it would be years before I read that book. No, instead I saw a title and decided to try and read the book for some reason. I have a feeling that I was sitting there, thinking that reading and me were going to give it one more try and if this book didn’t turn out like I wanted then I would bullshit my way through the rest of my life pretending I’d read stuff.
So I get started on The Dain Curse and… just wow. If anyone had told me that while I was being forced to read mind numbingly pointless shit like Gentlehands, that were books out there that had stuff like this in them, I would have slapped them in their lying mouths and told them to stop lying like the lying motherfuckers that they were. See, I had been forced to read such complete and utter shit in school that I was compeletly and utterly turned off the idea of trying to read anything that didn’t have elves, dragons, machine guns, zombies, or hot Victorian sex in it.
Now, The Dain Curse has a few juicy murders, but that is so not the point. Imagine if you, that you’re an impressionable young lad, maybe 17 or so. You’ve had boring, pointless shit like The Grapes of Wrath rammed down your throat for years, although to be honest you were a little distracted by the turtle in the first chapter and kept wondering when it would return before you worked out that the turtle couldn’t help you. Five points if you understood ANY of that btw.
So, you’re about 17 right? You’re male, right? And you’ve almost come to the conclusion that comics might be the only books you read from now on, right? The Old Man and The Sea has done nothing to inspire confidence in the world of the written word, you’re done with this whole reading thing, right? Okay, now imagine reading this story where a young girl is being held quasi-hostage by charlatans posing as religious figures and cult leaders. They’ve been shooting this girl up with morphine, they kill everyone around her, they’ve fucked this little girl’s head and the only person who can help her is a guy who might not give a fuck if the world ended tomorrow.
That, perhaps, more than anything else was the thing I really liked about the book. The main character isn’t classically likeable. Oh sure, you come to like and admire him, but not in the pandering way that most writers use to get you on their side. Most writers let you know who your hero is, and that he’s the hero right away. You’re sympathy is with them from the word go, unless you’re dealing with a tedious piece of “literature” and then the character is unlikeable from the word go. What I found interesting about Hammett, is how disinterested he is in what the hell you think. His characters aren’t likeable, unlikeable, or anywhere in between, they’re people. Granted, I would later find this trick used by dozens of hard boiled writers and of course most the good film noir characters are like this too, but this was my first. You always remember the one that popped your cherry, you know?
This is also a drug book, but without the tediousness of having to read about some asshole cramming everything he can get his hands on into every orifice they’ll fit in. Sorry Hunter, enjoying your book and all, but seriously. Most your drug books are tediously annoying because they’re written from the point of view of the junkie. I can’t even remember what that piece of shit our 11th grade teacher made us read was called, but it was a book about a boy all fucked up on smack. It was from his point of view and it was all “Drugs are bad M’Kay?” and it rang about a true as a bell made of marzipan. You want a drug book? How about a description of bringing someone down of a morphine addiction? From the point of view you’re most likely to be in? “Friends help friends come down off smack, and it kind of sucks.” You sort of feel like he’s been there, like he’s describing a situation he remembers exactly what the skin of a dope fiend looks like.
I remember the light bulb switching on over my head when I read this book, because it said that you didn’t need monsters to have an interesting book. There was nothing fantastic in this book, just a lot of stuff that could really happen in real life. No ghosts, no monsters, no pen names come back from the dead to avenge themselves on the writer who killed them, just drugs and sex and madness and money and murder.
I also remember sitting there and asking aloud, “Why the hell did no one tell me there were books like this out there?” I remember being fairly offended that we’re been given unreadable shit to try and wade through… and The Great Gatsby*, while there were books like this in existence? People who wrote like this were around and we were wasting our time and effort on the crap we’d been wasting our time on? I was now offended about how English class had treated me up until that point. I could begin to comprehend the reasons as to why no one had ever given me a
glass of ilk this book.
And why not? Hammett was a dead white guy, and he wrote books. He wrote books about the human condition, and about people being shitty to each other. All the things my English teachers seemed to love! Hell, there was even pretentious stuff in the narration once in a while. Why the hell didn’t we read him in class? Was it because they were afraid we might enjoy something and take up a lifelong joy of reading? That was the only answer I could come up with. Many, many mystery books, audiobooks, and movies would soon follow. I can’t say my life long addiction to mystery stories started here, because that germ got started way earlier, but it helped.
And for that, we have a drunk who wrote trash to thank.
*Forgot the foot note! I actually liked The Great Gatsby, although I maybe the only person I know who does.
Some one recently said that being fat makes you public property. You’re no longer a person, you’re an object for ridicule and disdain. Now, there is a lot to say about that, like that person is right, but also that they don’t go far enough. I would like to point out at this moment some fascinating research that has come to light that when you give two mice the exact same diet, but subject one to city air and one to country air, the city mouse gets fat while the country mouse doesn’t. Think about that for a second, just being around cars is making you fatter. So can we please agree that eating too much isn’t the cause now?
Where was I? Ah yes, fat as public property. Men get it, women get it, women get it a hell of a lot more. I think being fat does do this, but so does simply being female.
I would like you to look at this cover for GQ magazine, where a photo of Michelle Williams features prominently. Tell me she is not being treated like a piece of public property. The headline alone comes to me as “How dare this bitch not show us her tits before?” and acts as if she should have posed in her underwear a long time ago.
I would like to blame our old foe in this one, and explain why I rarely mention it.
See… when every I read the words “The Patriarchy” I tend to think of Adam West saying it. Try it with me for a moment.
Best Batman Ever: Yes Robin… it’s our old foe… The Patriarchy!
The Only Robin We’ll Really Accept: Holy slut shaming! (punches own palm) You’re right Batman, it’s the only explanation!
Best Batman Ever: I wonder what… diabolical scheme that… enslaver of souls has planned this time.
You can hear him can’t you? You know The Patriarchy is played by Peter Lorre or some shit, right?
I normally roll my eyes, since I’ve seriously heard someone claim the patriarchy as why their shoes didn’t fit them right. That is as opposed to the real problem, she bought the wrong size. However, I think that actually probably is the problem here. I mean, you can’t even make a music video that’s supposed to celebrate geek girls without having all the girls in it conform to the 8% body fat rule. Also, they have to be naked and on their backs. Natch!
There is a massive feeling that women are just public property, from shaming one who gets fat, drooling over anyone who happens to conform to the momentary standard, to telling one that gets raped to be glad it happened, society acts like women are public property. So yeah, for all those reasons, I want people to leave Paula Deen the hell alone. Also, I want someone to bring back the old Batman crew for one last caper against The Patriarchy, because how cool would that be?
And he could make a pun after doing it too.
Best Batman Ever: Your days of corseting humans into rigidly defined gender roles are over Patriarchy.
This is the constellation of Orion. I played with a few different filters during a cold night.