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Serial Reading/Singular Reading

There was a time, long ago, when I only valued, personally (I mean, as opposed to appreciating books on reading lists, unavoidable classics, books on my parents' shelves) books I believed were entirely singular. I found my treasure, by chance, in second hand bookshops, on stalls, at Jumble Sales.You couldn't buy books like these from a shiny branch of Waterstones, you would never see them reviewed. Arthur Machen's stories came into this category (every singular one of them). I was thrilled when I found a collection of his works, some with uncut pages, lurking on the P stacks in Sussex University library.

Now the dusty backstreet bookshops where lost treasure could be found are rare, lost treasures themselves, and even The Golden Centipede has a web presence. (I love the fact that the cutting I've linked is from NZ. I once found A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire in a charity shop in Auckland, when all I knew of the Campfire Girls came from intriguing references in the Abbey Girls series), & I recognise a different kind of singularity. Genre is serial, genre readers know the plot, they read to find out exactly how things are going to turn out this time. Proper highbrow mainstream writers write singular books, each one a new start.

Still, occasionally I find a book, such as The End Of Mr Y. I'd never heard of Scarlett Thomas, I just saw this book in the library, picked it up every now and then, and put it down a few times. I assumed it was to do with sex chromosomes, and confused it with the comic book series Y: The Last Man. In the end, I took it home with me, & discovered, terrific, wonderful, it's not the Y chromosome at all. It's Mr Y as in Mystery, or maybe Mr Why?, if you want to preserve the motif of a Virgilian guide to the Underworld. A young woman living the life of an Arthur Machen character, starving scholar, obsessed with strange semi-occult C19 mysticism. She finds a weird book she has longed to find, in a dusty backstreet shop, and. . . and I was absolutely sold until about p.206, when the seedy, desolate half-world reverie (Arthur Machen is back, decor updated for the C21 and he's a girl!) suddenly gave way to a paranormal thriller plot with holy water homeopathy & renegade men-who-stare-at-goats and my attention wavered. I looked up the mysterious Ms Thomas, something I'd promised myself I would not do until the end, & found she's teaching creative writing at Kent, & has a "classy oddball" sheet a mile long.

What'll I do now? The trouble with singular writers is that each is a genre in his or herself, as unmistakable and specific as Westerns, SF, Thrillers etc. As you may know, Gravity's Rainbow is one of my major touchstones, but I don't value anything else by Pynchon. No, it's no use, it's like reading the same book over and over again & noticing everything that jars. What if the "girls' boarding school" bit is the true Thomas? I don't like fiction about the mean thoughts of mean girls, so I'll be repelled. . .

I'll give her the benefit of the doubt of course, no matter how the end of mystery turns out. Classy genre writing gets called oddball, and she seems to have a detective series going. Excellent.


Saturday 22nd May, warm and clear, a fine day for taking Australians to see Lewes, with a proper castle, cream tea, cucumber sandwiches & everything but the beach. Beach at Newhaven, the only actual sand for miles around, has been cancelled, due to a dispute between Lewes Council and Natural Heritage or some such who run the carpark. Ah, well. Time to get in some birdwatching.

You had to be there, but this was such fun.
What d'you think? Do I have a career in conceptual art? Be honest, don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. . .