Up Against the Wall Motherf***er!

Some 40 years ago, a friend had a cassette tape of some guy belting out a song called “UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERF*CKER.” Tonight, Martine was telling me about one of her new exercises, which is basically a form of “planking,” but done with your back against a wall. In one of those things where time collapses — like in those illustrations of how faster-than-light speed could be possible by folding space/time — the song came back to me.

It took about 15 seconds to find it on YouTube. I encourage you all to play this really loud, over and over again.

Oh, BTW, you should read up on the anarchist group the “Up Against The Wall Motherf*ckers” — usually abbreviated as simply “The Motherf*ckers.” No particular reason why. Just a thing to do. You know… inspiration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Up_Against_the_Wall_Motherfuckers

[Originally published on Facebook, November 11, 2016.]

Reading List: Books I Read in 2015

Poke. Poke. Hello? Squeeeeee! Ding! Thump thump. Is this thing on?

(Ahem.) OK, it looks like the Blork Blog still has a bit of a pulse, so here’s a small injection to help it limp into 2016. It’s my annual report on the books I read in the previous year. As usual, they’re listed in alphabetical order, by author. Notable titles are highlighted in yellow, and graphic novels are indicated with “{gn}.” See the asterisk strings for any other notes.

  • The War Against Cliché, by Martin Amis *
  • Slightly Out of Focus, by Robert Capa
  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark **
  • Hellgoing, by Lynn Coady
  • The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion ***
  • The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood
  • The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
  • Thinks, by David Lodge
  • The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre
  • Happy Stories about Well-adjusted People, by Joe Ollmann {gn}
  • Science Fiction, by Joe Ollmann {graphic}
  • I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson ****
  • Paul Joins the Scouts, by Michel Rabagliati {gn}
  • The Song of Roland (“Paul à Quebec“) by Michel Rabagliati {gn}
  • Indignant, by Philip Roth
  • Dream Story, by Arthur Schnitzler
  • A Good School, by Richard Yates *****

Only seventeen titles (well, eighteen, because The Berlin Stories is actually two novels packaged together – Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin). Not a big year in terms of numbers, but a good year of reading overall. As usual, the books were interspersed with countless articles from copious magazines, both online and in paper, along with a noticeable uptick in podcast listening. It was also diffused by too much time wasted on Facebook. Not much time wasted on Twitter, however, as I spent very little time there at all in 2015.

I detect no particular trends in the reading, aside from the usual top-heaviness of “old white males.” Guilty as charged; only two titles by women this year, which is terrible. But I often pick up a book based on a gut-level interest, so it just works out that way. I really should try harder for variety. In my defence I should add that the proportion of women writers I read in magazines is significantly higher.

Here are a few additional notes on this year’s list.

The War Against Cliché, by Martin Amis. I did not “read” this in 2015, I finished it in 2015 after pecking away at it for about six years. Martin Amis is one of those writers whose vocabulary and rapier wit is thrilling to read, yet he constantly makes you want to punch him in the face. The closest I will ever come to doing so is using the term “rapier wit” in this paragraph (twice!) because I know he’d hate it so much.

** The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark. I should be clear that I only read half of this one (the good half). Not that there’s anything wrong with the other half (how would I know?) but this was borrowed from the library and read on a Kobo. I was a bit slow getting to it, so when my two weeks was up it vanished from the device. By then I felt I had read the parts that interested me, so I didn’t bother jumping through the technological hoops of renewing the loan. Perhaps one day I’ll elaborate on my use of the Kobo and why I am no longer in possession of it.

*** The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion. Joan Didion is cool. Hot dang, she’s cool. When I read Play it as it Lays a few years ago I thought that odd, detached, and weirdly strung-out style was an artifact of the 1970s. Her essays don’t read like that – at least not the ones I’ve read. So I picked up The Last Thing He Wanted thinking that this recent novel, with it subject revolving around 1980s US politics and Central-American covert operations, would be a real straight-up page-turner. Um. It was equally odd, detached, and weirdly strung-out as Play it as it Lays. I did manage to follow along and I did get through it, occasionally pulled in the way I like to be. But most of the time I felt like yelling “fer Pete’s sake Joan, just tell the goddamn story!”

**** I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson. This had been on my “to buy” list for at least five years but I couldn’t find it anywhere (excluding online sources; I wanted to flip though it before buying). I was captivated by the title, which is about the most haunting string of six words I’ve ever seen. I searched book stores all over Montreal and beyond but could not find it. I found a lone copy at Book Soup, in Los Angeles. Nabbed it! I wasn’t disappointed, although I did find myself occasionally restless as I read it. It’s basically a slow-moving and somewhat dark story of a man’s regrets and his inability to fully acknowledge or deal with them.

***** A Good School, by Richard Yates. This book is so Richard Yates. It’s one WTF punch after another and makes you cringe in ways you never thought possible. You’ll not wonder why Yates was such a boozer in his lifetime, as he lays his demons bare on the page for all to see and know. It makes you want to go back to 1970 so you can find him in a bar and instead of trying to save him you’d get him even drunker just to help ease the pain. Ouch. (More, please.)

[Previous years’ reading lists.]

Reading List: Books I Read in 2014

As has been tradition since 2003, I hereby present for the historical record a list of the books that I read in the year just ended (in this case, 2014). The list is in alphabetical order, by author:

  • The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker
  • Up Above the World, by Paul Bowles
  • Unwelcome Words, by Paul Bowles
  • Louis Riel, by Chester Brown *
  • The Efficiency Expert, by William Rice Burroughs
  • Night of the Gun, by David Carr
  • Summertime, by JM Coetzee
  • Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow
  • Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
  • The Human Factor, by Graham Green
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson
  • The Lake, by Yasunari Kawabata (translated by Reiko Tsukimura)
  • The Dinner, by Herman Koch **
  • Paradise News, by David Lodge
  • The British Museum is Falling Down, by David Lodge
  • Berlin, City of Smoke, by Jason Lutes *
  • Embrace the Chaos, by Bob Miglani
  • A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden, by Stephen Reid
  • Nemesis, by Philip Roth
  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
  • Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris

Any trends? Few than I can see, other than the continuation of choosing titles that are largely of a pre-social media vintage. I don’t do this consciously, or at least very consciously. I’m simply more fascinated by people in a time before Facebook and Twitter constantly pushed phoney views of people onto each other. That’s not to say people were more “genuine” or more honest in the “old days.” Rather, it was the necessity to actually spend time with people before you could get a sense of who they are – or are pretending to be – that grabs me.

Feel free to shred that last statement. I’m not 100% convinced of it myself. But I do know that constant and ubiquitous social media has changed how we relate to each other, and not always for the better. It presents a significant challenge to storytelling in many ways, and I regret to inform you that I’m not very interested in how writers meet that challenge.

All of this is subject to change, as always. In the meantime, the crude statistics are as follows:

  • 22 titles by 18 authors.
  • 17 male authors and one female. Ouch. I didn’t do that on purpose.
  • Two graphic novels (indicated by *).
  • One e-book (indicated by **); the “like/dislike” (not strong enough to be love/hate) relationship with my Kobo is unchanged.

Standout titles are indicated in yellow highlight. Obviously these are standouts to me, not necessarily to the world at large, and their reasons for standing out are fuzzy at best. The short version of the criteria for “stand-out” is simply “how much did I enjoy it?” (Note that I enjoyed them all or I wouldn’t have finished them; the stand-outs are simply that; ones that really stood out.) A particularly pleasant discovery this year is David Lodge, who I hadn’t read before.

And to give you an indication of just how unreliable I am as a critic, you’ll notice that one of my “stand-outs” – possibly the standing-outest – is set in the present day, and incorporates some aspects of social media (The Dinner, by Herman Koch). If you want to discuss any of this further, you’ll have to invite me out for a drink.

[Previous years’ reading lists.]

My Periods

I recently posted a series of photographs on Instagram and Facebook. They were all pictures of me — some self-portraits and some taken by other people — from 1979 to 2000. I called them “retroselfies” and categorized each as being from a certain “period” of my life. I posted one a day for about two weeks.

I’m reposting the images here, on the Blork Blog, as an act of reclamation of ownership, since I don’t feel like I fully own what I post in the walled gardens of Zuckerberg.

So here, for my own sense of reclamation, and for the two or three of you who are not using Instagram and Facebook, is the series of photographs I call “My Periods” (hashtag #retroselfie).

My Periods (1979-2000)

(Not in chronological order.)

Me, in my centrefold period. (Corner Brook, Newfoundland. 1979.)

Corner Brooke, Newfoundland

.

Me, in my radio period. (St. Francis Xavier University, 1986.)

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my “dark and stormy night” period. (Montreal, 1988.)

Montreal, Quebec

.

Me, in my top-hat period. (Nova Scotia, 1980.)

Halifax, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my folk period. (University College of Cape Breton, 1982.)

Sydney, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Hemingway period. (Montreal, 1990.)

Montreal, Quebec

(It was suggested in the comments that this was more “Corey Hart” than “Hemingway.”)

.

Me, in my “Into the Wild” period. (Nova Scotia, 1984.)

Antigonish Landing, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Slacker period. (Cape Breton, 1979.)

Gabarus, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Pablo Escobar period. (Otavalo, Ecuador, 2000.)

Otavalo, Ecuado

.

Me, in my sweater period. (Glenfinnan, Scotland, 1993.)

Glenfinnan, Scotland

(Loyal readers might recognize this photo from this blog post, and this related one.)

.

Me, in my Early Steve Jobs period. (Montreal, 1991.)

Montreal, Quebec

Note: there was no “Later Steve Jobs” period. (It was suggested in the comments that this was more “John Lennon” than “Steve Jobs.”)

.

Me, in my Tri-X period. (Prague, Czech Republic, 1995.)

Prague, Czech Republic

.

And in conclusion, me in my WTF period. (Montreal, 1989.)

Montreal, Quebec