Every 14 Days…(51)

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole Sue Townsend)

Another instalment of my moling my way through Mole (and by moling I mean buying for my wife, waiting for her to read and then reading for myself). I’m now in so deep that I can’t specifically remember what occurs in this particular volume.

Despite being the sixth of eight chronologically, this is actually the seventh to be published, hence the “Lost” element of the title. I’m working chronologically, rather than publishingly, and with a foreword from the fictional author some years in advance, I felt there may have been some spoiler alerts missing for the last two books.

“The Cappuccino Years” saw things seemingly on the up for Mr Mole, but here we find him crashed straight back down to the earth of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. His failed relationships, past, present and imaginary, are all evident here, as are his struggles as a father raising his two differing life stage sons.

The laughs are still delivered with clever timing, with a taste of what is yet to come (or had already been…published).

  • Days to read: 10
  • Days per book: 14.6

Contemporary Japanese Film (Mark Schilling)

It’s fair to say I took my time getting through this. The Japan Times film critic introduces and selects some of the interviews and reviews he conducted and wrote up in Japanese cinema’s re-emergence during the decade of the Nineties…and it would appear I chose to read it in real time.

Much like Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp’s “New Japanese Cinema” – a similarly named book covering a similar period, published after – I similarly read this as a “toilet book”, experiencing a whole film in the time it takes to evacuate ones bowels.

Rather than looking back, however, this is a collection of essays written at the time, and so are written without hindsight. Predictions of the overall legacy of a certain film, therefore, may be a little off, but shows how they were received at the time by one of the leading English-language writers on Japanese cinema. As such, it doesn’t focus on the films that would define the era, but as they come, with the good, the bad and the ugly all featured, painting a bigger picture of the time. It may have been a resurgence in Japanese cinema, but a lot of dross was produced as well.

With over three hundred titles reviewed, it also shows just how little I really know about my favourite era of cinema, having seen only a small percentage of them, but thankfully that means I have a lot more to discover.(Typically, I’m the sort of twat who would calculate the exact percentage I have watched, but today I simply cannot be arsed.)

One thing this could use, however, was a proofread. It has more typos than bullets in a 1989-1999 Kitano film (well, the ones that do have a lot of bullets, anyway – I do know some things).

  • Days to read: 478
  • Days per book: 14.6

Teach us to Outgrow Our Madness (Kenzaburo Oe)

After my thorough enjoyment of Oe’s “A Personal Matter” (it is a ruddy good read), I wanted to expose my eyes and brain capacity to some more of his writings. And what better way to do so than with four shorts by the man?!

As the title suggests, the linking theme here is situations with a bit of madness thrown-in: a man dictating his last will and testament while on his deathbed with a “cancer” that he has willed to be (“The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away”); the story of a village who capture a black American soldier during the Second World War and keep him captive, befriending him before mutual betrayal sets in (“Prize Stock”); a man with an on-going feud with his mother over the revealing of information about his dead father, close to breaking down when at the zoo with his son (“Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness”); and a young man offered the job of accompanying a mad conductor, struggling to come to terms with his son’s death (“Aghwee the Sky Monster”).

The first is the most complex, touching on the disbelief of some at Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War and the realisation that the Emperor was a mere mortal. Looking back at the time, the willing patient is unable to refer to his father by name, while the “acting executor of the will” listens on, interjecting and never fully buying the story. This is the most challenging of the four, but the most rewarding in the way that it displays a cancer of choice.

“Prize Stock” is a much more straightforward read, but again is rewarding in how different sides interact when war is pushed to one side, but ultimately conflict is always below the surface and sides will always remain.

The final two are weaker, but still nice pieces in a collection of four strong works, and alongside “A Personal Matter” show just how personal a lot of Oe’s writing is.

“Oe, Oe— Oe, Oe —” (as a football chant). I’m not mental.

  • Days to read: 16
  • Days per book: 14.6

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Stern)

My introduction to Laurence Stern’s character of Tristram Shandy was the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon vehicle “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”. What I gathered from said film is that the original book was a bit “post-modern”. Ooooo.

That was well over a decade ago, and I’ve done little about that introduction since. Until I read Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson’s introduction to Natsume Soseki’s “I am a Cat”, referencing Stern as an influence on Soseki’s debut, and then all the memories of that mediocre film came flooding back. So I bought a second-hand copy.

Written like well over twelvety years ago, this book was probably well ahead of its time when first published in the Eighteenth Century. While in the current Twenty-first Century, I am well after its time, I still found this a difficult read. Though that is the intention.

A deconstructed mess of storytelling, Shandy acts as the narrator of the book, though is in it little as an actual character: more the story of before he was born and the interactions of his father and uncle Toby. But there is little actual story here, as Shandy keeps going off on tangents in deep explanation of a tiny detail. Stern himself also interjects to explain the content of chapters and how it should be read.

It’s all quite difficult to follow.

But while difficult to get your head round, what is being done here is clear: The distraction of storytelling and going off on tangents is natural of any conversation involving the phrase “Where were we?” and passages of pure comedy are littered throughout, if you can find them, that is. One can see the influence on a Stewart Lee stand-up routine, with the long-winded storytelling that may lose many along the way. Soseki’s extensive writing of noses present in “I Am A Cat” also owes Stern some debt.

But unlike a Lee routine or Soseki’s debut, I am not left wanting more; the constant changing of state and diverging doesn’t make it a nice casual read, and as such, isn’t an altogether enjoyable experience. Though I’m fully aware he is probably lampooning me in my assessment.

One can hear the trombone sounding on reading the last line.

  • Days to read: 23
  • Days per book: 14.6

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