Monday, 23 August 2010

Changing my mind and other stories

Every now and then... when not much is going on in my brain, I suspect... I post a few quotations from here and there. So here are some you might enjoy. And no, I'm still not reading much poetry (still finding most of it really, really annoying). And yes, I did just watch the last episode of the last season of 'The Wire' (very, VERY good – incomparable, really).

The first quote is from 'Reasons to be Cheerful' by writer/comedian Mark Steel (who I love). I read this 2001 book a while back but was reminded of it when thinking and writing about living in a small town recently.

"The first influence on my political direction was to be brought up in Swanley, on the border between outer London and Kent. Most people brought up in small towns complain about the lack of entertainment, and the soporific atmosphere, and many insist that their particular example is worse than any other. But telling someone from Swanley about the tedium of your small town, is like saying to Nelson Mandela, 'I've had hassle from the old bill myself, so I know how you feel mate'."

In the past week or so I've been reading 'Changing my Mind' – a collection of essays and articles by novelist Zadie Smith. It is a great read and one of the many books of my Mum's that are lying around this house waiting for me to read them. My Mum loved Zadie Smith (and she is fab – her novel 'On Beauty' especially) and Mum used to say things about her like 'a big brain and a beauty – what a combination' (and she wasn't wrong). The first two quotes come from an article about E.M Forster:

"Here's the funny thing about literary criticism: it hates its own times, only realizing their worth twenty years later. And then, twenty years after that, it wildly sentimentalizes them, out of nostalgia for a collective youth."


"He (Forster) thought the words highbrow and lowbrow 'responsible for more unkind feelings and more silly thinking than any other pair of words I know'."

these are about writing:

"The term role model is so odious but the truth is it's a very strong writer indeed who gets by without a model kept somewhere in mind. I think of Keats. Keats slogging away, devouring books, plagiarizing, impersonating, adapting, struggling, growing, writing many poems that made him blush and then a few that made him proud, learning everything he could from whomever he could find, dead or alive, who might have something useful to teach him."

"It's an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your own novel is two years after it's published, ten minutes before you go onstage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all the pieces of deadwood, stupidity, vanity and tedium are distressingly obvious to you."

and this one turns up in a review of the movie 'Munich' (I don't think I agree with it that much but it might interest a reader or two):

"I should lay my cards on the table: I think Spielberg is one of the great popular artists of our time, and I base this upon the stupidity/pleasure axis I apply to popular artists: how much pleasure they give versus how stupid one has to become to receive said pleasure. The answer with Spielberg is usually: 'not that stupid'."

Lastly, I've been dipping into something I gave Mark for Xmas but that he is too busy to read ('The Q.I. Book of the Dead' by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson). On the inside of the dust jacket I found this:

"What an awful thing life is. It's like soup with lots of hairs floating on the surface. You have to eat it nevertheless." Gustave Flaubert

And I know there is plenty more good stuff this (in the section on Sigmund Freud):

"On the recommendation of his therapist friend Wilhelm Fleiss, he attempted to treat his mood swings with cocaine."

Ha! Wonder how that worked out for him...

Anyway, that's it from me for now. Off to go and mourn the end of 'The Wire'...



deemikay said...


Most poetry "really, really annoying"?

You should get out and read more. And more old stuff - it's all about the song. :p

Rachel Fenton said...

Some very cool quotes there.

At least you're still writing poetry! (Even if not in this post...)

Rachel Fox said...

D - I didn't say it was annoying, I said I was finding it annoying. There's a difference. I don't think it will last this feeling, it's to do with carrying emotion and stuff, I suspect. Still listening to songs too... though maybe not quite as many as usual.

R - yes, I've been doing some really satisfying writing (some of it for another project - not on here, not to be shown yet a while). Swings and roundabouts...


Dominic Rivron said...

Great quotes. The one about editing novels is also true of recording music. Probably true of all creative endeavours.

As for poetry, I keep finding myself clicking on

especially "At Eighty" and "Seven Decades".

Niamh B said...

A great selection of thought provocation here Rachel - thanks for taking the time to post them.
The Mark Steel one is hilarious and Zadie is great alright, love that quote about the best time to edit.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Loved the quotes. Here's another Flaubert quote which refers to writers -

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity.

swiss said...

how coincidental as i'm just lolling thru forster's stories right at this time. and just the other day i was having a conversation very similar to the editing quote.

as to the details of that and the wire generally it shall have to wait until when, and i stress the when, we get up to see you next. it surely must be before october!

martine said...

Interesting sounding book, really like Zadie Smith, White Teeth especially.
Thanks for the link Dominic, I really loved the one called Strawberries, so beautiful.
much love

Rachel Fox said...

Smith has interesting things to say about how she feels about 'White Teeth' now in 'Changing my Mind'! Her first novel has some lovely passages but I'd agree with her - 'On Beauty' is a much better whole. I did read the 'Autograph' one too but can't remember a thing about it...difficult second novel, I suppose...

Marion McCready said...

I like the quote about Keats, I feel the need to go plagiarise someone now just to get writing again!