Showing posts from January, 2010

J. D. Salinger 1919-2010

When a great writer dies, the most respectful response is surely to plug their merchandise. So if you haven't read The Catcher in the Rye yet, I advise you to get on with it before his estate allows some idiot to make a phony film adaptation.

It's one of my favourite books of all time, perhaps only bettered by a certain other book with 'catch' in the title. I particularly recommend it if you're a cynical adolescent, but cynical people of all ages will find plenty to admire. Plus it's still one of the most frequently banned books in America. What higher recommendation can there be?

I have to admit I've never got round to reading any of Salinger's other books. Partly it's because I'm scared they won't be as good as Catcher. If you've read any of them, let me know how they rate.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

Whoever designed my 1996 GCSE history syllabus was, in hindsight, inspired. One of the modules was on the Roaring Twenties in the US. We learned about jazz, flappers, prohibition and so on, but also about the causes of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. As far as I can remember, it was a mixture of laissez-faire government and excessive hire-purchase of lawnmowers that did for them. But the main thought I came away with was this: how could they be so stupid? Why didn't they see it coming?

The inspired part came a bit later, in 2008. After years of economic hubris, we found out that we're not so very much more sophisticated than our predecessors after all. That's probably the most important lesson history can teach us (after "don't invade Russia"). So how could we be so stupid? Why didn't we see our crisis coming?

The truth, now as then, is that some people did. They just weren't listened to. This time round Paul Krugman was one of those people. Back in 1…

The trouble with jokes

Apologies to anyone waiting on tenterhooks for my account of Portland. Christmas intervened when I was still only half-way through Sometimes a Great Notion. But don't despair! My new year's resolution is to have it finished before its centennial in 2064.

Meanwhile I've been seeing some Christmas presents behind its back. Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb was a present from Mrs Tomsk, and is just the thing for the festive period when Great Novels don't really appeal. It's a collection of Brooker's Guardian columns: a mix of his 'Screen Burn' TV reviews and his writing on other weighty matters.

Brooker's columns are both puerile and misanthropic, and all the better for it. Above all they're very funny. I'm not a fan of tasteless humour in general but he has elevated it to an art form. If you're not familiar with his work, pause now and contemplate his 2006 end of year TV review. If you laughed at his summing up of Torchwood, you'…