What We’re Reading / What You’re Reading: 02.01.13


It’s time for another Friday edition of the segment where we fill you in on what we’re reading, and we hope that you’ll reciprocate by telling us what you’re enjoying (or loathing) as well.

Don’t be shy, we want to hear from you! Feedback from our followers will play a role in helping us to determine what books to read, review, and feature on this site over the coming months. It will also give us a better idea of the topics and genres that interest you.

Aaron is currently reading Travelling People by B.S. Johnson

For years now, I’ve wanted to explore the work of British author B.S. Johnson.  The near obsession started after I read Jonathan Coe’s amazing biography, Like a Fiery Elephant a few years back.  What took so long?  My stubborn determination to start at the beginning of Johnson’s output and work my way forward.

Travelling People, his first novel, is one that the author all but disowned, and as such has been wildly out of print for ages.  I see copies of it on sale on eBay from time to time.  They usually start around $500.  I want to read it, but I’m not necessarily inclined to want to own it.  Finally, through the magic of the interlibrary loan system, I can now properly begin my Johnson journey.

Published in 1964, much of the material that comprises the novel is, as expected, somewhat dated in nature.  Still, Johnson’s bold command of language and his unwillingness to conform to the idea of what a standard novel should be are refreshingly delightful.  He switches between first person narrative, movie script, thought, journal entries, and letters here as he tells the tale of young Henry Henry’s time spent working at a country club and the hilarious chaos that ensues as a result.

Below is a passage about wages that struck me for being as relevant to today’s society as it was to Johnson’s nearly 50 years ago:

Last night Maurie seemed to drink just as much as he had on the previous couple of nights, but did not become anywhere near as drunken. He spoke to Trevor most of the evening, mainly about business matters, and I can see how ruthless he must be as a businessman. This ruthlessness is combined with something near to a nineteenth-century attitude towards employees: he was discussing with Trevor whether to pay Bob the gardener monthly instead of weekly, as at present:

“It would simplify the accounts, of course. Only one cheque instead of four. But these working people are so funny about their wages—they don’t have a penny saved. It’s the same with our farm labourers back in Cheshire—if they don’t get their money on a Thursday evening, then their wives are ringing up —awful fuss, awful fuss. Not a penny saved, not a penny!”

I knew reaction was deeply entrenched, but I have never met anyone as one-sided as this before. Maurie also has a nineteenth-century outlook on Britain’s Place in the World: our present decline could be halted, he firmly believes, when it becomes really serious, by British ingenuity, the national ability to be clever in thinking of things first. He places a great deal of faith in this: that such ingenuity often takes the form of the invention of some diabolical new method of enslaving or destroying people, does not seem to him worth remembering.

None of the remarks in which these attitudes were embodied were addressed to me, so I did not find myself in a heated argument; and, merely listening, I felt more astonishment that anyone could hold such attitudes than anger at their holder.

A proper review of this one will follow shorty.

Karli is currently reading Daniel Fights a Hurricane by Shane Jones

This dazzling and bizarre novel is a portrait of one man’s journey through mental illness.  Ever since he was a child, Daniel has been afraid hurricanes.  As he enters adulthood and his fears worsen, Daniel begins to see things, including a giant hurricane made of children, an elephant, a tiger, and several imaginary friends that have been his “co-workers” for years.  As Daniel disappears into the woods, prepared to fight this hurricane, his ex-wife Karen is desperately trying to find him.  Told from alternating perspectives between Karen and Daniel, this novel is simultaneously a fantastical and realistic portrayal of anxiety, fear, and depression.

According to Daniel, his mental state is as follows:

“I have a moment that everyone has, and that moment is wondering if I’m crazy or not.  The answer is no.  I’m simply going through something, and I need to get away and clear my head.  I need to fix myself and it would help if I had my wife back, who has left me because she has had too many moments where she’s wondered if I’m crazy or not.”

Let us know your thoughts on what you’re currently reading using the comment field below.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.