Books — rating and choosing

There are 15 times as many lin­gerie shops in Italy as there are book shops — though Ital­ian women have only one and a third babies. (Greek and Span­ish women have even fewer). I no longer spend hours rootling in Water­stones  — the only thing I miss is the smell of new books. When in the UK I trawl the book shelves of Char­ity shops, which I pre­fer any­way -  to find the weird, the orig­i­nal, the import and the small run which never appear on the 3 for the price of 2 table. In Italy most of the books I buy come from the more eso­teric back­wa­ters of Ama­zon and its subsidiaries.

The Oxfam book that I was ecsta­tic to find for 50p is Stephen King ‘On Writ­ing’. Partly I like to buy books for pen­nies because it means I can deface them with gusto. I’m one of the world’s great under­lin­ers, have a woolly cloud down the mar­gin of entire inter­est­ing pas­sages, hairy taran­tu­las for things I must go back to, excla­ma­tion marks when I take excep­tion to some­thing, and float­ing ufos for phrases that I’d love to steal. So, you don’t want to inherit my library.

I say all this because I was unusu­ally respect­ful of King’s hard­back (which has one of the weird­est cover images I’ve ever tried to puz­zle out). It was a curi­ous expe­ri­ence, read­ing it. At first it raced, then about one third through it slowed to a glacial crawl — or maybe I did. What­ever. I never take longer than 2 days to read a book — this one took eleven. I was wad­ing through mud, fas­ci­nat­ing and thought-provoking, but hard work. He him­self explains this mys­tery at the end. A man called Bryan Smith ran him over, break­ing his leg in 9 places, frac­tur­ing his right hip, chip­ping his spine in 8 places, break­ing 4 ribs and caus­ing sur­face wounds requir­ing much embroi­dery. ’ Writ­ing is not life, but I think that some­times it can be a way back to life.’ There is so much con­fes­sion, so much good sense, his email address even, which make the book a prof­li­gate act of communion.

I like that he doesn’t bang on about plot but just jumps into nar­ra­tive clad lightly in a cou­ple of ideas. He’s very good on back­story and research. Ruth­less with adjec­tives and adverbs. He quotes his high school teacher’s com­ment on one of his essays: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. For­mula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft — 10%.’ He advises you to find or imag­ine an ideal reader, ‘Try to decided whether he or she will  be bored by a cer­tain scene’. OK, he’s quotable too. ‘The scari­est moment is always just before you start. after that things can only get bet­ter.’  Agents — ‘It’s easy to con a writer who’s des­per­ate for rep­re­sen­ta­tion.’ The book is full of inspir­ing stuff that makes you long to rush off and write. It is writ­ten sim­ply with endear­ing mod­esty. What a lovely man to have on your shelf. 9/10

The Ama­zon book of the week for me was Uzzi Reiss’s ‘The Nat­ural Super­woman’, vehe­mently rec­om­mended by Mar­gosha, an elfin Pol­ish painter whom Anna the Swedish chef met in the pub­lic sul­phur bath at San Cas­ciano Terme  — where they were both audi­tion­ing boyfriends. Uzzi Reiss’s book eulo­gises about bioiden­ti­cal hor­mones, as being the solu­tion to sex tedium, stress, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, insom­nia, osteo­poro­sis and mem­ory holes. It sounded pretty con­vinc­ing to me, but I have no idea what to do about it or where to find these things. But if you enjoy that sense of recog­ni­tion when peo­ple describe your very own ail­ment, you might find this excit­ing. He also rec­om­mends — with sci­en­tific evi­dence — the mul­ti­ple health ben­e­fits of reduc­ing caloric intake by a quar­ter. I could do some­thing about that, but would rather ignore the promised reju­ve­na­tion for heart, brain, bone, mus­cle, skin, sex­ual response, kid­neys, liver, eyes and homones, and have one more piece of but­tered toast and Mar­mite instead. 6/10

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