You know when you're in a different city and you want to do things the way they're done in that city?
When blessed with a two hour window in which I could “do” Glasgow last week, I found myself in an Oxfam Books & Music.
They had a section of the shop set aside for Scottish fiction. This section was further subdivided into “Classics” and “Contemporary”.
Ho, was I determined to get myself some Scottish fiction there and then.
Apart from Zola, Balzac and the few remaining works by Dickens I'm yet to obtain, I've all but stopped buying classics. This is because I've a shameful shelf full of such life-affirming works as purport to contain humanity itself. Many of them are unread. A dent must be made before I can haunt the “literature” sections of shops once more.
But seeing as they can often be devoured in a single coach or train journey, and seeing as I'm so often on the coach or train these days, I can buy as many contemporaries as I want.
Yet nothing jumped out from that dedicated shelf in the Glasgow Oxfam. Many of them had the word “kilt” in the title. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to this sort of thing. Indeed, I haven't got a clue. But something tells me that the content of a book of Scottish fiction with the word “kilt” in the title will be in some way lacking.
I might be wrong, and I almost certainly am. But it just felt too obvious. So that was that. Despite the fact that elsewhere in the store was a pristine gatefold edition of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery and a copy of Thor on DVD, I left-empty handed. Idiot: It was Scottish fiction or nothing. I was in a different city!
So I went to Waterstones.
I once had the opportunity to meet AL Kennedy, but didn't take it. She was hosting a special-guest seminar on my creative writing course. I didn't go. In retrospect, that feels like the academic equivalent of leaving the Glasgow branch of Oxfam Books & Music without having purchased the pristine gatefold edition of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery. Or Thor, for that matter.
She's wonderful. She really is. Don't believe me? Oh. Well, perhaps you haven't been reading her excellent Guardian Books blogs? Onwards.
Despite having dedicated herself so fully to her art that she may have significantly damaged her health, she still manages to present the act of writing as the most noble and psychotic of all pursuits. Usually, by the end of even the second paragraph of any one of her articles, I'm reminded already of where this burning desire of mine to write comes from.
Beyond her journalistic work, all I've read of her is the mind-bending WW2 identity drama Day. My copy fell victim to a printing error. There were about sixty pages missing, and in their place was a rehash of a few preceding chapters followed by the remaining few hundred.
It's definitely more a testament to my general lack of intelligence than anything else that I didn't notice until it was too late. I was just thinking – hey! Modernism. But it probably also says something about her style, doesn't it? Doesn't it? It does. I think. Disjointed. Freewheeling. Busy. Stunning.
Ali Smith's There but for me I chose because
a) It too can be classed as Scottish fiction (I was in a different city!)
b) I really liked The Stranger and Other Stories and Other Stories
c) It was in a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer.
I've not started either book yet. I've still got about 400 pages of Stephen King's The Stand to go.
I've already read 832 pages. It's quite long.
Yes, I write about books now, too. Don't look at me that way. This was always coming.