Category Archives: books

Paint it Black

Since I graduated university I’m not reading nearly as many books as I used to. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading; that’s not it at all. I read English at University, which meant we had some 25 odd novels to study every year, as well as plays, poems and essays. I guess after that anybody would need a break from it. I remember saying to myself, when I was studying, ‘once I’ve graduated I’ll finally get down to reading all the books I want to read’.

But then life catches up with you. Now I’m a sub-editor and it is my job to read. All I do is read, read, read at work – which means that when I get home the last thing I want to do is read. Still, I try to find time for it. I try, when I can, to read at least a chapter of a book before I go to bed.

The last book I read was Paint it Black, by Janet Fitch. I have to say it took me a lot longer to read it than it should have, but that’s because I was busy and not because the book was not interesting.

I remember having watched the film adaptation of Fitch’s White Oleander when I was younger and enjoying it, although I had never read the book. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, well, I do. And the cover of this book attracted me.

It tells the story of Josie Tyrell, a teenage runaway and artist’s model/actress living in punk rock 1980s LA. Her life is a cocktail of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and she lives with her lover Michael Faraday, who is her opposite. His mother is a pianist of international repute, he was educated at an Ivy League college. He is dark and moody and is happy to let Josie work three jobs to support them while he paints.

One day, however, he tells Josie he is going to his mother’s house for some solitude; instead, he goes to a motel in the middle of nowhere and shoots himself in the head.

Josie is left to pick up the pieces. She repeats scenes in her head, wondering what could have driven Michael to do such a thing and is absolutely devastated by it. She also has to deal with Michael’s mother, Meredith, who believes Josie stole her son away from her.

The plot is pretty thin, but I’ve come to pay more importance to character development and writing style and this book is rich in both. Fitch fleshes out her characters with nuances and thoughts, giving them all unique stories. They are very believable. And her prose verges on poetry. It is sensual and visceral. She draws heavily on themes and moods from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, with recurring motifs such as the tarot, the desert – even the kitsch interior of Meredith Loewy’s house draws strong parallels with the poem’s second movement – ‘A Game of Chess’.

Definitely not light reading but certainly a book I would recommend – right up there with the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides.


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Books need homes too

One of my first and most vivid memories is of my parents saying “a book will always be your true and constant friend”. I must have been about three, sitting in my father’s lap and reading a book about butterflies, or about chocolate rain and the boy who ate it all; or about roger bear. The latter was a rather bizarre book about a bear about whom all I can remember is that he begins to drown and goes ‘glug… glug… glug’. I have not been able to find that book or any information about it anywhere else.

Anyway, what my parents said back then stuck with me. I have never been able to give away any of my books. I even kept all my old school text books in a box in my parent’s basement. How do you give away your true and constant friend?

I love books, perhaps even more than I love reading. I love to wander into second-hand bookshops, especially in London, and smell the old and yellowing pages. I love how it feels to buy a book. I love the first page, getting to know it, becoming accustomed to the way it speaks to you. I love book covers and blurbs.

And I love keeping books. I have in excess of 300 books and I keep many of them in a lovely wooden bookshelf I had bought on sale. I keep them in alphabetical order and separated into sections, such as ‘fiction’, ‘non-fiction’, ‘poetry’, ‘critical theory’, ‘reference books’, ‘drama’, and so on. It’s the one of the few things I am anal about. My life may be a mess but it wouldn’t matter as long as my books were in order.

I think a big problem with children today (and I don’t mean to generalise; nor do I mean to sound condescending) is that many of them don’t have this love of books. I know that not everybody from my generation has it either, but this fascination with the paper, with the ink and the font, with the weight and the smell, the story, the metaphors – it is being replaced by other educational tools. By software and by e-readers. No, no, no! Don’t take the simple but profound pleasure of books away from our young. It would be a sin.

Teach them books are their true and constant friends. Teach them to make a home for their books in their room, and for the stories in their psyche.

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