Solpadol: My Brand New, Free eBook!

Solpadol: My Brand New, Free eBook!

Solpadol is a semi-fictional, semi-confessional eBook based around the twin sins of drug abuse and unrequited love. This is the latest novella I’ve managed to drink my way through. It’s the most recent entry into the Broken Polemic series, which has so far included Adjective Narcissism and God Metaphor. If you’re unfamiliar with my Broken Polemics, you can click on the links to learn more about them.

Taking place over a single day, and revolving around a simple conversation between the unnamed protagonist and the woman he used to love, this piece of writing explores dependency on love, nostalgia and a range of other pleasant-sounding emotions in a similar vein to drug dependency and addiction.

Before, I’ve focused on art and religion, but I have to say that love – or the dry thirst for impossible love – has had such a major effect on my life that if I had felt confident enough I would have liked to tackle a year or so ago. I’ve done my best to avoid a lot of the deliberately garbled, complex sentences that put so many people off of my previous attempts, but I think it’s fairly obvious that I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot of poetry around the same time.

What Is Solpadol?Solpadol covering image for free J.W. Carey eBook

Solpadol, itself, is an industrial-strength painkiller that is regularly subscribed to deal with agonising back pain and a load of other really debilitating issues. For the last year or more, I’ve been using it to numb myself to the horrors of work on a daily basis, as well as a few aches and pains of my own. A couple of these things will send me to sleep, but I’d recommend avoiding them if you plan on drinking. Believe me, it really fucks you up. Not in a good way.

Still, being half out of it all day does make it go a lot quicker.

I’m off it now, but it really impacted me whilst I was taking it (and all it will take is one bad day before I’m knocking them back again). It kind of let me run my daily life on autopilot, and spend a lot of the day thinking instead.

Why Did I Write Solpadol?

Simply, I wrote Solpadol because I wanted to draw a comparison between the effect of unrequited love and drug abuse. Love is the strongest and headiest drug I’ve ever known, but I know that if I was me, now, I wouldn’t fall in love as hard as I have done in the past.

Above all else, I wrote Solpadol because I have known love in smokeless bars, and felt the disappointment when it fails, even if it never really gained any momentum. I have fallen in love with women I’ve spoken to for a few hours and those whom I’ve only seen perform once, in an alleyway in Edinburgh.

I wrote Solpadol because I once heard a Tom Waits lyric that said ‘falling in love is such a breeze, but standing up is so hard for me’, and I think that line fucked me up a lot more than I’d ever care to admit.

Get This Free eBook From Smashwords Today!

This eBook is completely free, so download your free copy today. To download the eBook from Smashwords today, all you need to do is follow the link, or click on the Solpadol image to your left, or at the bottom of the page on mobile devices.

 

A Gangrenous Limb

A Gangrenous Limb

A Short Essay On Morality And Atheism.

There is a certain duty of atheism and of atheists. That duty wears the collar of logic. They need to be logical, intelligent and morally superior. They need to adhere to a certain code that features all the moral features of traditional religious beliefs, perhaps even more of the positives, simply because they are fighting more than 2,000 years of bigotry and propaganda.

And therein lies the issue. Thanks to their heightened need to show themselves as better, thanks to the logical language that they use to form their arguments, they can never appeal to the religious mind set because of the limitations of their logic. Spiritualists, religions, believers; they respond to conjecture, emotion, morality defined by fear, not morality defined by logic.

I do not believe in spiritual things. I will not lie and say that logic has no place in that statement, but the main reason for my lack of belief in traditional, alternative or modern spirituality of any kind is that I find such belief immoral. I think it degrades humanity, as a whole.

The Language of Belief

The first major problem in terms of addressing any argument between the religious and the irreligious is the language we are forced to employ. Immediately, it places one side of the argument, the religious, as the positive and the irreligious or the atheist as the negative. A moment ago, I had to state the fact that ‘I do not believe’; again, placing me immediately on the side of the negative.

After all, simply the fact of disbelieving in and of itself is seen as a negative. Who wouldn’t want to believe in the comforting ideology of a loving god, or an afterlife, or any hope of eternal love or redemption, when compared to the basic facts of life. Rot, decay, an organic circle of life that goes on and on and is half-beautiful, half-sickening.

As our language itself has evolved along the same veins as religious belief, over the same period of time, it isn’t any surprise that there is a certain level of dominance or bias in favour of the ‘positive’ option.

Immediately, therefore, atheism comes up against any and all forms of religious belief, including agnosticism, as the ultimate negative; as the anti-culture; as the spiteful little thing alongside the established beliefs of the predominant religions of the time.

Ideally, we need to develop new terms for faith, perhaps more along the lines of a political spectrum. On the spectrum of faith, belief dictated by fear could be the right-wing, and belief in the proven role of nature and fact and logic could be the left-wing. That brings with it its own problems, of course, but it would be a fantastic way to redefine faith, and the arguments of faith, for the modern generation.

The Morality of Worship; The Logic of Faith

My main argument, here, is not whether the logic of faith is necessarily true. If we, hypothetically, say that Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Karma, Ganesh, Shiva or any other deity you care to name does exist, I would like to address whether it would actually be ethical, or moral, to worship them. For the moment, I am going to primarily focus on the Christian god, Jehovah, as a standard archetype for generalised religious belief – after all, ‘God’ is the mismatched, purloined template from a host of different religions, mainly Pagan religions as a means of cementing control and making their occupation much more palatable.

It is my belief that the idea of worshipping some mystical entity, or even a living thing, an institution, a belief system, or anything at all, in fact, with the exception of oneself, is degrading. What’s worse, however, is that it isn’t just a matter of personal degradation, but of universal degradation. When people place creatures, phantoms – things – above themselves, they are destroying the ideology of equality. They are, intrinsically, lowering the value of a life. Death doesn’t matter because people live on in the afterlife, because it’s all part of God’s plan, because we’re going to see all of our loved ones again in the end. It doesn’t make a mockery of the death itself, but it acts like a coping mechanism which degrades the entire life that has already been lived.

By worshipping a higher power, spiritualists or religious people lower the entirety of humanity. They destroy the efforts, the work and the struggles that people and animals have had to endure because it was always God’s plan. By attributing any glory to a deity, you are taking away the purpose of the struggle; you degrade the value of the human spirit. Fate, or the idea of fate, removes to potential for success. Pre-ordainment negates the reasoning behind any pleasure and joy in favour of the inevitable.

To my mind, simply believing in the existence of a higher power is enough to weaken the integrity of the entire species, but by actively worshipping anything at all, you are aligning yourself with fanatics. Fanatics are the worst possible representations of people; they are deliberately opposed to the ideals of a free, fair society, they are opposed to debate and honest, intellectual discourse and development. Fanatics and followers will ignore the negatives and focus on the positives of their subject and their beliefs. Fanaticism, in the modern era, has largely developed into an attitude towards conversation and debate, with the exception of deluded creatures being used as living weapons in a war that is more political and economic than holy. They will discuss their beliefs with zeal that offers no opportunity to be persuaded, that leaves absolutely no room for the presence of logic.

I believe, if I believe in anything at all, that to call yourself a human you need to adhere to a certain set of standards and morals – not necessarily follow the law as laid down by government and society, but have a set of rules that you, personally, need to live by. One of the most important rules, for me, is the rule of intellectual honesty, especially in the face of weakness. People need to accept the obvious truths, the proven scientific laws, and cannot choose to ignore, adapt or pick and choose these laws to fit in with beliefs. By choosing to ignore fact and favour fiction, by choosing to believe instead of think, spiritualists and religious people are weakening the integrity of the entire human race.

I advocate complete practicality when it comes to this particular form of mental illness. If someone chooses to live in a fictional world, at the cost of humanity, then they should be helped to overcome their problems. If there are regular functions where people can gather to be converted and controlled, there is no real reason why something similar could not be arranged for their treatment.

For those who refuse to admit that they have a problem, or those who are blatantly obsessed with their own fictional world, I would continue to advocate in favour of practicality. If you have a limb that turns gangrenous, the only way to limit the damage is to remove the limb. If there is a sub-section of humanity degrading the rest of us in terms of thought, and honesty and even morality, then for the good of the majority they need to be treated. If they have gone so deep into their delusions that they are beyond treatment, then they need to be isolated or dealt with in such a manner that they cannot spread their infection to others. In extreme circumstances, I would not call for re-education, but for damage control via quarantine.

Preaching Hate, In Favour of Equality

I am opposed to people being treated differently because of things they cannot control. When it comes to race and sexuality I will not accept anything less than complete and utter equality. When it comes to gender, I am in favour of equal pay for equal hours, longer maternal leave than paternal leave and the same job and educational opportunities based on talent and predilection for the job.

I am in favour of people being treated differently for their beliefs. I have often wondered if that makes me a preacher of hate. To me, it is no different than someone being treated in a certain way because of their actions. If someone chooses to believe in the existence of a higher power, and abandon Humanist morality, then they should be treated differently to someone who has respect for human life and beliefs that there is nothing, or few things, worse than taking a life. Just like someone who has never murdered someone should be treated differently to someone who has.

I believe in judgement, but not the judgement of imaginary creatures. I believe in horrifying, human judgement; as fickle and unfair and unfounded and spontaneous as it is, I believe in human judgement.

Religion as A Weakness

Belief in nonsense is not so bad, but belief in nonsense that degrades humanity, that tries to paint us, as a species, as weak and in need of shepherding, is morally wrong. It is also selfish, as it projects internal guilt, imagined sins and all too real weaknesses onto other people. Because these worshippers have a low self-esteem and little in the way of confidence, it seems to me that they are trying to overcome their weaknesses by declaring that everyone suffers them. How could we not, after all, when there is something big and unknowable and fantastic out there, amongst the clouds, smiling down on us benevolently.

John Lennon once sung that ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain’, whereas I would amend that to say ‘God is a concept by which we measure our weakness’. People, real people, do not turn to faith, their imagination, when they suffer a setback or a tragedy. Instead, they deal with it themselves and emerge the stronger for it. Suffering, as the old saying goes, builds character. To me, it seems a waste to spend that suffering on building up the perception of an imaginary character.

People turn to God in their moments of weakness, when they need help or they’re frightened for their lives; when people believe that things are completely out of their control, they surrender to the whims of an almighty being. They neglect to take responsibility for their actions, simply because they don’t need to. ‘It’s in God’s hands now’, is a common enough saying when waiting outside an operating theatre, or when you hand in an exam paper, or when you’re waiting to hear back from that job you applied for – it’s not; it’s in the hands of people or as a direct result of the actions you took, or neglected to take. Having a crutch, for that is all faith is – a painkiller for weakness – doesn’t really strengthen a person or, if it does, it strengthens them at the expense of their mental health. Any and all belief in a higher power is directly opposed to self-respect and awareness and love.

Religion allows people to avoid the obvious truths; the unpleasant truths about existence that should be beautiful. We have a finite amount of time; we are not given it, but it is ours and something is trying to take it away from us. Nature is our greatest ally, for it provides us life in the first place, but it is also our greatest enemy for it immediately tries to take its gift back. Nature is not God; faith in science is not faith; thought is not belief – if we, as humans, need to believe in something, then we need to believe in ourselves. The rest doesn’t matter.

In Conclusion:

From a moral perspective, ignorant of science and logic and fact, religion is abhorrent. It stunts our growth, or leads us down pathways of mental illness and irresponsibility. It can be used to control us with fear, or with promises of paradise. It stops us, as a species, from realising our full potential and creating a paradise amongst ourselves. If paradise is external to us, as is eternal damnation, then what choice do we have but to exist in a fluctuating half-and-half world, where there will never be complete joy, just as there will never be complete misery.

It sickens me to see spiritualists and the religious as the moral backbone of a society. Anyone who believes in themselves, who does not adhere to the laws of decency because of rules laid down thousands of years ago by an imaginary creature, is to be applauded far more than those who bow down to fear and conformity. People who believe in a personal code, and stick to it, and are able to look themselves in the mirror at the end of the day, are made of much sterner moral fibre than anyone obeying the whims of a fictitious deity.

9 Authors I Want To Read In 2016!

9 Authors I Want To Read In 2016!

Consuming literature is one of the greatest joys in my life, from self-published, modern authors to the literary classics. Similarly, I like reading a traditional paperback as much as I enjoy more interactive fiction.

Fairly hypocritically, I’m not that big a fan of eBooks really, although I’ll definitely read them if I can’t get a hand on a physical copy. Hell, I think the first eBook I ever bought was “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”, and that was only because I needed it for a class later that day.

I’m often criticised by friends of mine for my reading list, and it’s rare that I’ll read something by someone who’s still alive – although if I do see an independent eBook that looks interesting, I’ll always at least read the free portion.

So, rather than just go through all the writers that I already like, and focus on learning more about their work, I thought I’d go through the list of authors that I haven’t started to read yet, but are sitting firmly on my to-do shelf.

Top 9 Authors I Want To Read In 2016!

Now, these aren’t authors that have risen to fame at any point over the last few years, but they are authors that I want to have read before the end of the year. I’ll admit, I’ve not made much reading progress so far, (I’ve been more focused on reading back through Camus, Miller and Bukowski), but I will do!

James BaldwinJames Baldwin, Distinguished Visiting Professor

Born in 1924, Baldwin was one of the US’ leading sociological and political writers, particularly in his dealings with race and sexuality. His essays are the stuff of legend, particularly his first collection Notes Of A Native Sun.

I’m not really sure how I’m going to approach his work, but I think I’m probably going to start with the infamous Sonny’s Blues, which is a regular appearance in a range of introductory anthologies to American literature.

George Gissing

An English novelist born in 1857, Gissing was the mind behind several great works of English Literature, including New Grub Street and The Nether World. New Grub Street, in fact, was named the 28th best novel by the Guardian some years ago, and it’s been on my reading list ever since.

Gissing has never been a hugely popular Victorian writer, but he has since been applauded for his brutal look at Victorian literary life.

 

Walter ScottWalter Scott Novel Cover

One of the most famous Scottish writers of all time, Walter Scott’s diverse range of novels and poetry are still read by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Some of the most well-known include Rob Roy, The Lady Of The Lake, The Heart Of Midlothian and Waverley.

His influence can still be seen throughout Edinburgh and Scotland. Addressing both contemporary (at the time) and historical Scottish issues, much of Scott’s writing was done in a post-bankrupt haste as he tried to keep his creditors away.

James Hogg

Another Scottish poet and novelist who was actually a James Hogg Novel Coverclose friend of Walter Scott. His most well-known work is The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner but his long-form poem The Queen’s Wake was also extremely popular.

His literary work was acclaimed during his life, mostly due to his ability to overcome his humble origins and make a success of his writing without any benefits supplied by high-birth or inherited money. He was regarded as a man of great intellect, albeit he was a little brusque and often offensive.

Simone de Beauvoir

Certainly one of the most well-known names on this list, de Beauvoir was a feminist existentialist and close compatriot of the French existentialism school. She was also widely known as a result of her open relationship with the philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre.

Although I will eventually get around to reading her well known 1949 treatise on feminism, The Second Sex, I am more interested in her fictional work including The Blood Of Others.

Nicholson Baker

Widely regarded as an experimental novelist, the idea behind The Mezzanine is what draws me to this author. The entire novel takes place in an escalator ride, but every page is dedicated to addressing certain parts of the ride with maddening detail.

As someone who has previously been accused of talking about the details too much, the idea is fascinating to me.

Johnny CashJohnny Cash Novel

Yeah, the Cash. I’ve been a long-time fan of Cash’s music, but I found out a few months ago that he wrote a book called The Man In White. The title is clearly designed to reflect his own title, The Man In Black.

Although he is still widely considered one of the best musicians of the 20th century, I’m still kind of in two halves about this book. Trouble is, I’m hugely anti-religious, and The Man In White is a novel about St. Peter. I’ll still give it a try, but I’m not in too much of a rush to check it out.

Saul Bellow

Believed by many to be one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, I’m excited to start reading Bellow’s work. Some of the many themes in his work which appeal to me include modern civilisation’s ability to create a kind of materialistic madness, and how knowledge can be used to mislead people.

A friend of mine told me that Bellow’s work also contains themes of redemption, and promotes the strength of the human spirit.

Lu Xun

Although I’ve not read much Chinese literature (excepting the Romance of the Three Kingdoms) Lu Xun seems like an interesting author to me. In particular, his 1919 work ‘A Madman’s Diary’ looks particularly interesting. The entire narrative revolves around the writer’s fear of cannibalism, and how he sees it occurring around him.

Although it is all only paranoia, it seems like a fascinating idea to explore, particularly when considered in terms of society and capitalism.

Any Writers You Think I Should Reading?

I’m always on the lookout for new authors and poets to read, so if you’ve got any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’d especially like to know about any self-published authors that are pushing more experimental forms of literature, particularly any self-reflective, personal kind of writing.

5 Books I’m Glad I Read Before I Turned 23

5 Books I’m Glad I Read Before I Turned 23

So, in a very short period of time I’ll be 23. 23. 23 years old. Jesus Christ; even the idea of being that old makes me feel tired. Anyway, as I’m now a man of a certain age, it’s time for me to stop looking forward to the next five or six years I’ve got left on this earth and, instead, start to look back at my formative years.

It’s also time when I stop trying to be creative and potentially experimental and, instead, really knuckle down and create these kind of vacuous lists that tend to perform so well online.

I read; I read a lot – admittedly, not as much as I used to but that’s not the point. Over these past few years, I’ve read hundreds of books. Most of them have been crap, some have been okay, but some have stood a head and shoulders above the rest. So, without further ado, here are:

5 Books I’m Glad I Read Before I Turned 23!

Henry Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer

I can’t remember what first attracted me to Henry Miller. Maybe it all came down to the fact that, for a time, his writing was banned in the United States. I’ve learned to use US controversial writing as a marker for quality. Tropic Of Cancer Book Cover

Written over the course of 4 years – between 1930 and 34 – Miller used his bohemian, mad life in Paris as the backdrop for this novel, blending autobiography and fiction to the point that I’ve no idea what really happened and what didn’t.

Aside from all the sex, madness and degradation that occurs within the novel, it is fairly simple to see that many of the characters are highly caricatured versions of real people. Occassionally talking directly to me, the reader, Miller’s writing really left an impact on me – especially as I read it alongside his companion novel, Tropic Of Capricorn.

My Favourite Line:To sing, you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This, then, is a song. I am singing.”

Of course, the entire book is packed with fantastic lines that kind of sear themselves onto your forebrain; in a way, Miller has a fairly poetic form of writing in these novels, and a kind of weary, miserable cynicism that is reflective of the novel as a whole.

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Kaddish And Other Poems

Sticking with the theme of American literature that caused a stir, we can’t help but turn to my favourite poet (and probably one of the most well known internationally) Ginsberg. Of course, before I’d read this, I’d heard of Howl, I’d heard of America (the poem, not the nation) and I knew that Ginsberg used to hand around with Bob Dylan. Immediately, that got me interested. Ginsberg Poetry Book Cover

After surviving obscenity trials in 1957, that many have suggested made the poem much more widely known than it would otherwise have been, Howl itself has gone on to become one of the most incredible poetic achievements from the last few hundred years. There was even a film made about the poem, starring James Franco as a younger Allen Ginsberg.

This collection features a range of other poems, including the equally fantastic Kaddish, Death To Van Gogh’s Ear (one of my personal favourites) and America.

My Favourite Line (From The Poem Howl, Of Course):They broke they backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Taking a single line from Howl seems almost like cheating, but if you are interested, and you haven’t read or heard it before, I’d definitely recommend it! Ginsberg is probably the poet who, more than anyone else, showed me that poetry can be beautiful, can be artistic and isn’t simply a waste of time for rich people with nothing better to do.

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s In The Labyrinth

In The Labyrinth is a masterclass on disconcerting and confusing the reader, often to the point where I really had to reread several pages over again just to make sure I’d kept hold of what was going on. Some scenes are so incredibly similar that I genuinely thought I must have accidently lost a few pages and gone back to where I was before. Book Cover Of In The Labyrinth By Grillet

This entire novel seems to have been written with an almost general dislike of the reader. At times, it can be a hugely torturous process getting through it, but it has definitely been one of the books I’d most enjoyed reading over the past couple of years.

Even fairly simple techniques, like introducing the character as The Solider and then on the next page saying that A Soldier is leaning against a lamppost is surprisingly disconcerting. You’re constantly bombarded with this sense of tension, to the point that I’m sure I started to feel stressed out when I was reading it.

My Favourite Line:Below the engraving, in the white border, a caption is inscribed in an Italian hand; The Defeat At Reichenfels

Picking any one line from this novel is hugely difficult when it seems like ever paragraph has been written like any other author would create a single line. However, this line, written about a particular picture, sums up the entire character of the novel for me – the solider is looking at a picture of a scene he is actually looking at, engraved with a caption that he is currently living. If that isn’t confusing, then I really can’t think what is.

Albert Camus’ The Fall

Any long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Camus; pretty much his entire body of work has passed through my hands at some point. The Fall, in my eyes, stands out simply because of the strange polemic style it adopts. Albert Camus' The Fall Book Cover

The entire novel is a one-sided conversation, a confession, if you will. It features a loss of innocence and self-loathing – two things which I happen to understand perfectly well. Seriously, if you’re looking for a unique read, then The Fall is a great option for you.

My Favourite Line:So, tell me, please, what happened to you one evenings on the banks of the Seine and how you never managed to risk your life. Say the words that for years have not ceased to echo through my nights and that I shall finally speak through your mouth: ‘Young woman! Throw yourself into the water again that I might have once more the opportunity to save us both!’ A second time – huh! That would be rash! Just imagine, dear colleague, if someone were to take us at our word. You’d have to do it. Brrr… The water’s so cold! But don’t worry. It’s too late now, it will always be too late. Thank goodness!”

Okay, so it’s a little long, and it needs some context, but the last paragraph has always stuck with me. It says so much, about regret and about the folly of regret and the joy that a character can feel as they regret. I could open this book at any page, and you would be able to see incredibly imagery and fantastic writing, along with sentences that hint at deeper meanings and promised of things that never came.

Perhaps, The Fall has had more of an effect on me than I’ve given it credit for. Still; it remains one of my favourite books, and one that I read every few months.

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Okay, so this might be a bit of a controversial one! I know why people dislike Ayn Rand, not just for her politics, but for her dense and often unforgiving writing style. Still, sitting down over a few days to read Atlas Shrugged was one of the best decisions I ever made. It made me question a lot of vaguely socialist (not really), extremely liberal beliefs that I kind of took for granted. Atlas Shrugged Book Cover

Plus, there really are some fantastic examples of writing in this novel. Aside from the badass sounding quote about Atlas balancing the world on his shoulders, there are pages and pages dedicated to John Galt’s speech over the radio towards the end of the novel.
Wherever you lie on the political spectrum, you cannot afford not to read Atlas Shrugged, if only to learn what you are fighting against.

My Favourite Line:I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle

Literature Has Helped Me Turn Into The Person I Am Today

It might sound corny, but I wouldn’t be who I am without the literature I’ve read – that might not necessarily be a good thing, but it is certainly true. Anyway, now that my 23rd’s approaching, I’m on the lookout for even more great literature to consume, so that I can look back in a year’s time and wonder how the hell I got this far without having read (insert title here) by (insert name here).

If you’ve got any suggestions for novels or poets I should try out next, I’d love to hear them! I am, it has to be said, undergoing something of a dry spell in terms of literature.

By the way, if you look on over to the left, you’ll notice a load of links to longer things that I’ve written – if you’re a little strapped for something to read, why not give them a try? After all, free eBooks aren’t to be sniffed at!

What Role Do “Good Books” Have To Play In Modern Life?

What Role Do “Good Books” Have To Play In Modern Life?

I recently sat down to write the obligatory “The Future of Literature” post that everyone seems to be rolling out now that we’ve crashed into the new year with reborn opinions and increased senses of self-worth and optimism. However, as I was doing so, this one phrase kept cropping up again and again; even when I realised it, and actively tried to avoid it, I still found it heavy in my thoughts with my fingertips desperately looking for synonyms in order to maintain my sentence structure.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take a little break from my other writing and try to nail down my own ideas of what this phrase really means, if it has any kind of objective meaning at all.

What Is A “Good Book”?

You see, it may seem like a simple question, but I really had trouble defining it to myself. What, after all, are the actual qualities of a “good book”; does it have any? If it doesn’t, then are these novels, so often described in this manner, really anything more than an illusion or, at the least, an ideal that we constantly strive towards – not as writers but, instead, as readers?

The obvious idea is that a creative work described as good is down to personal opinion – “curling up with a good book” just basically means that someone is going to read a book that they think is enjoyable, right?

But there are thousands of other factors to be taken into consideration when describing a book, including; the narrative, the tone, the style, the setting, the characters and their development, any political, philosophical or sociological thought behind the premise; what kind of an impact the book has on the reader, on the world, how other people react to the book, its value for money, what’s going on in your life at the time you come to read it, or any one of numberless other features can go into the experience of reading.

Logically then, the definition is entirely subjective; but does subjectivity really mean anything?

The “Good Book” As A Patronising Term?

To me, even the phrase itself sounds extremely patronising. “Good” doesn’t indicate any kind of growth, meaning, change, literary evolution; to me, a good book doesn’t have any value aside from the enjoyment to be gained during the read. Good work isn’t a work of art, it doesn’t have any redeeming quality, it won’t last forever, it won’t be held as a standard of fantastic literature to inspire people for a thousand years or more.

Cup of tea and Levi
I don’t think I’m designed to make my life look amazing and artistic. I need to invest in some filters.

When I think of a good book, I think of trashy literature – the kind of stuff that we could throw away and it wouldn’t matter. For all the effect that good books have on our personal enjoyment, I can’t really imagine someone leaning back after finishing the novel and resolving to change their life; resolving to commit to some new ideal, resolving to be a better human being.

Good books, you could say, do not really encourage resolution in the real world because they intrinsically feature their own resolution; the beginning and the end of a thing. How could they inspire change, when you lean back, happy and satisfied – perhaps a little sad that the experience is over?

The “Good Book”, Personal Marketing and Social Media

It seems to me, that the major role of these novels in modern society is something for people to be seen reading, or something that they can claim to read. It’s absolutely ideal for social media, for example, simply because it is an ideal. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the others are absolutely fantastic when it comes to perpetuating ideals like these, when it comes to sharing moments that you control in order to present such a perfect existence.

We’ve all seen the pictures that people pose, with a coffee or a glass of wine sat next to candles and expensive chocolate and a quasi-romantic novel, normally with a cartoonified image of the protagonist on the front cover. These same images are often represented through some nostalgic looking filter, as though to suggest that the simple act of sitting down and reading is something noble and honest in a world of digital fakery.

Good books, then, could be considered a form of advertising; content for a personal marketing strategy to suggest a particular identity – a brand, as it were. Of course, this is a technique which actually works as well, simply because people live within their own crazy, ragged lives and they want to believe that a better life is possible.

Who Reads “Good Books”?

Now, this is extremely sexist, but I tend to think of “good books” and a certain type of woman. I am hugely aware that I am straying into dangerous, offensive territory here, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male post a filtered picture on social media with the phrase “good book” attached – I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said by a man either.

Perhaps this is because these kinds of novels tend to be fictional romances, and there is something hovering in the back of the reader’s mind which suggests that the thing they are reading isn’t a “good” piece of writing at all, but something enjoyable to read that passes the time, allows them to relax, and encourages them to escape from the day-to-day existence they find themselves in.

Bookshelf
Would you describe the books you read as “good books”, or is there an alternative definition that you prefer?

Good books often go hand-in-hand with peace and quiet, and perhaps it is simply part of the pressure that modern digital communication places on gender. Just like men are pressured by the demands of the digital age to show off their masculinity, perhaps women are encouraged to show off their femininity.

I’ve started to see the “good book” as something as a plague on the possibility of many readers, simply because something is saying that this is what the person should be reading. But, then, maybe these readers are just looking for something positive in their life, as an alternative to mainstream network television in which every problem needs to be resolved in an hour or so.

Honestly, I can’t be angry at those who choose to read these books that I would not really feel guilty in calling pointless – not simply because I have no right to, but because they are reading; they are connecting with another human being’s narrative through the written word; and I love that.

The Writers of “Good Books”?

I tend to think that no writer starts out with the idea of writing a “good book” – I mean, no writer worth a damn anyway. Any novel, poetry, non-fiction, script, whatever; if it starts out with the definition of being good then what’s the point? Anyone can walk into any book store in the world, and find a dozen “good books”, normally on some kind of BOGOF offer as well.

Personally, I’ve never really been concerned with writing something that is, simply, good. I mean, I’ve still got years left to try and create something good, if I ever become so desperate, but should creating something that the reader will enjoy be our primary concern?

If you’re a writer, and you want to create a “good book” that people will enjoy, is that enough? I’m hugely interested in the different motivations which turns people into writers, and I really think that the motivation behind the creative act is often just as important as the creation itself.

Anyway; what do you think? Do you have a working definition of a “good book”? Do you think that they have a part to play in the history of literature (if we believe that literature in of itself has some redeeming quality) or are they for personal enjoyment and nothing else? But then again, is personal enjoyment enough to qualify as great literature?

What Is Literary Merit?

What Is Literary Merit?

I’ve been thinking, recently, about the idea of literary fiction and its merit. I think most writers come up against the idea of their work having merit at some point in their careers/lives. It has been, for the most part, one of the most divisive aspects of modern literature, and for many is what sets the more popular types of ‘classic’ literature apart from the modern dross – yeah, I’m talking about teenage wizards and sparkling vampires and things with Sheikhs and sassy-female lawyers in.

What Is Literary Merit, And How Do We Define It?

When most people think of literary merit, it ends up being characterized as little more than a piece of writing which has some kind of subjective importance; a lot of people, nowadays, will publicly view this kind of importance as little more than a term used by high-brow readers, who mostly consider themselves scholars of literature.Literary Merit - Howl Obscenity Trial Quote

In 1957, at the obscenity trial for Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (which is, I think, one of the best poems ever written), the author Walter Van Tilburg Clark, said that “the only final test, it seems to me, of literary merit, is the power to endure”. Now, a large part of me agrees with this practical, working definition, but then it seems to me that creating a work of literary merit, or with the intention of the piece receiving literary merit, is impossible.

How then, do we explain those many thousands of writers looking to create the next Great American Novel? Surely every creator is striving for literary merit? Who, then, decides if a novel, a play or a poem receives this merit? I thought this might lead me down some interesting trail of thought – until I found out that Tilburg Clark had expanded on his point and I’d just never heard the rest of his testimony. He went on to say that “I think the test of literary merit must be, to my mind, first, the sincerity of the writer. I would be willing, I think, even to add the seriousness of purpose of the writer.”

So, yeah, there we are; the three test of literary merit are, potentially:

  • The Durability of a Text – Obviously, this relies on the text being read by people long after its publication.
  • The Sincerity of a Text – How honest is the text in question, and honest in what ways?
  • The Seriousness of the Purpose – Even if the text has humour within it, how serious or important is the writer’s intention, or topic of their writing.

The Problems With These Definitions Of Worth In Writing

(I know, that H2 could have been worded a lot better, right?) Here’s the thing; if a piece of writing is to have literary worth, then it must pass all three of these tests and, whilst I kind of agree, there are still a few problems that I have with this idea.

Durability

This test relies on the text being widely accessible to a range of people, easily read to ensure that it can survive generations of different people and address issues which are likely to remain prevalent in the future. That means that most pieces of writing, in the history of the world, have absolutely no literary merit – someone could pour their heart out into a piece of prose that will only ever be read by half a dozen people, whilst the autobiography of Katie Price or the personal letters of Bukowski might be read by a million, million people over the years. The potential for most literature to actually survive the years is extremely small, and in this world of oversaturation, even the very best writing could be passed on by.

Sincerity

Of course, I am of the opinion that writing must be sincere; it must come from somewhere inside the writer and represent something – it must be honest to emotion, in my opinions, above pretty much everything else. Of course, this can be easy in poetry, but impossible to represent in a play or stage production, when the emotion is reliant on actors, directors, costume and makeup artists, et cetera.

Seriousness

Again, I approve of the seriousness of the purpose, but what of those things which are written with, apparently, no purpose? The major part of these texts would all be political/religious/societal texts, from 1984 to Cwmardy; but are we possibly saying that these texts are worth more simply because they are created to represent a point of view? Of course, they are great pieces of literature, but are they truly great pieces of writing?

What If These Three Tests Clash?

And, of course, there is always the possibility that these tests will be forced out in favour of another. If a text is incredibly well written, sincerely and seriously, are we to say that it has no worth, simply because it is not picked up by a large audience? Or what if it is popular, and addresses a serious issue, without the writer themselves having any real first-hand experience of the issue it addresses?

The idea of testing a piece of writing for literary merit does, in a way, repulse me. But then again, I always tease people I know for reading books which are just terrible – Mills&Boon, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, for example.

The Question Of Literary Fiction And Form

Form is one thing that is often associated with literary worth, particularly in regards to poetry. In fact, one of the major criticisms levelled at Howl was that it did not necessarily follow any rhyming pattern; instead it was a mad, hurried scramble of expression – literally, a howl. How well a text adheres to a certain form, such as the graphic-based calligrams, is also another symbol that many people use as an indicator of worth.

The issue with this is, simply, that there is really no definitive value with regards to literary worth and/or merit; just because something approaches a serious topic doesn’t make it necessarily worthwhile; just because something is popular doesn’t make it good; just because something is beautifully written doesn’t make it mean something; just because something is written from the soul doesn’t make it important to a culture.

What Do I Think Literary Merit Means?

Personally, I don’t really care about the idea of literary merit. To a lot of people in my life, it might seem like I do. My bookshelves are littered with things which, ostensibly, have literary worth, but they are also scattered with fantasy writers and graphic novels which may, or may not, have worth applied to them on a critical level.

For me, literary merit shouldn’t matter; it’s all about personal experience. I am a firm believer that some literature is (if you’ll excuse the phrase) “worth” more than other writing, but not as a result of its popularity or its age. I lean more towards the emotions behind it; I loved the bleak view behind Sketch Of A Last Day; I liked the fact that Brave New World made me feel physically sick in parts; the last line of 1984 is one I repeat on an almost weekly basis at some new advance in creepy, meta-human technology and I often recite as much T.S. Elliot or Ginsberg or Hughes as I can remember, just because I can’t get them out of my head.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your opinions on worth and merit, especially if you think you have a working definition! Do you think it relies on the work being original, adhering to a specific formula, obtaining a wide readership or anything else?

Showing Off The Furnace (Dream 14)

Showing Off The Furnace (Dream 14)

I dreamed that I walked in the ashes of the Third World War.

I’d taken up smoking as soon as the first missile flew and Ireland split apart to reveal the children of a special friendship that went a little too far and a thousand primed heads pointed towards the moon.

I dreamed that the Conservatives burned their unearned officer’s outfits and clothed in their accents walked amongst the rabal mass of the Labourers and the shirt-chequered liberals and the nazi-coated taxi drivers.

I dreamed that a plump-faced cherub addict wavered and split and let his dog-jowled confederate lead the charge suspended from hydrogen balloons like a dragon-rider.

They stood on the shores and beat back the black-skinned Atlanteans to emerge from the water, not humans.They burst the bloated frogs and butchered the pigs who swam from their own islands.

I dreamed that I heard the screams and fell asleep to a sound like a butcher’s axe and I woke up in a desert rock sound and walked for miles and coughed that black tar from my lungs with every thirteenth step.

I came across a white-skinned figure with milky eyes sucking the moisture from the moss that grew over a tumbled statue of Billy Joel. I dreamed that this man had no arms, no legs and was completely hairless. His lips were overly-elongated, and he was a barnacle on stone and this was what humanity had done to itself, and I couldn’t bear it.

I walked the world, traversing water with the ocean on my tongue and crossing sandy plains with memories of a Joan Baez documentary rattling in my stomach and making me nervous.

I came back to the fallen city, old and wizened and ravaged by my actions and this hairless creature mocked me with its permanence and I thought of George Washington and dropped a rock on its snout and it spasmed and I could hear it choking and I let it drown on starvation and oxygen.

Dear Psychologist,

From a purely aesthetic point of view, this guy looks like a fucking freak; never mind the eroticism. I’d recommend a hearty-dose of iron, straight through the heart. Or, if you can’t get planning permission, I’ve got a furnace out back that we can use instead? I normally use it to heat the garden in summer, cos’ you know how fickle and flighty these Welsh weathers get. I found it on a website I was running some SEO for, and don’t you know they gave it to me for a discounted price? It’s a YPLC, but I wasn’t expecting the half a percent discount – if I had of done, I’d have probably upgraded to the YP9C.

Hers,

The Right Lord Honourable Sir Peter Morrison

P.S. Tell Bush I know about the legacy, and Lara Croft is looking into it, but she keeps getting killed by this Tiger demi-god every time she steps out of her front door and she’s locked her butler in the freezer again – we’ll have to cover it up; don’t want the plebs to hear.