Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reading material

On the way to Taipei, I picked up a copy of Harper's at the airport. It always surprises me that you seem to be able to buy the New Yorker anywhere in Hong Kong, yet Harper's is confined to the airport bookshops and (in some legend) the magazine rack hidden in the basement of Pacific Place.

Harper's is a strange and wonderful magazine, with a liberal bent, but where you're never quite sure what it will include, save for an impenetrably difficult crossword puzzle, a page of statistics designed to impress, confuse or disgust, and, usually, something interesting to read. (Occasionally it fails to provide this, but I like that too; it appears they're trying to broaden my horizon by showing me things I don't care about, or just refusing to cater for my exact demographic.)

In this month's issue, there's a terrific piece by Clancy Martin, starting with a quotation from Steve Wynn:
Las Vegas is sort of like how God would do it if he had money
which is just so wonderfully hubristic, contemptuous of religion and spirituality and anything that doesn't involve materialism and (probably) a fake version of Venice built in a desert. And Steve Wynn wasn't afraid to offend people by saying it. Although I guess if you were offended by Steve Wynn, you probably weren't in a demographic that the casinos of Vegas are trying to serve.

Martin follows this up with a sorry, disillusioned tale of visiting Vegas and being robbed by prostitutes, marketing jewellery and Swiss watchmakers' envy of Rolex's success. It's a terrific read, mentioning people with names you would think are complete fabrications (Armand Hammer, anyone?) and lovely similes:
Boiled faces under ACE AND QUEEN OF HEARTS baseball caps, everyone pulling his own body like a suitcase.
It's a terrific seven pages, which among other things drew my attention to the existence of scratch-proof, inordinately durable tungsten carbide wedding rings set with black diamonds. ("Black diamonds? Please, they're rocks.")

As soon as I can, I'll be purchasing How To Sell; I'm just hoping Martin can keep this quality up to book length.

I read quite a few books in the last few days; The Hungry Years, by William Leith, which I shouldn't have started before the race, because it made me very sad about liking toast and other carbohydrate-rich foods, and also made me perturbed about having a wider waist than William Leith, despite being three inches shorter.

However, that might have been at a point in his life when he was bingeing on cocaine, so perhaps it was an unfair comparison.

I also read The Serialist, which has a blurb saying the author is "brash, irreverent, and indecently talented", but unfortunately if he is so talented, he's rather too in love with himself. At various times he calls out novels for being the constructions of falsity that they are:
The truth is that the writers and filmmakers most admired for their natural-sounding dialogue are completely stylised, while most real, unedited transcriptions of actual conversations soon grow unbearably boring.
That is as maybe, but if the dialogue and characters and plot you write are unremittingly dull and a drudge to read, you don't come across as painfully hip and postmodern. You're just painful. I finished it, but mainly because I was in a hotel room with nothing better to do, and I needed the low level stimulus of some trash. Shame it wasn't quality trash.

The final book I bought in Taipei, Bangkok Days, I also struggled with initially; to begin with it feels like just another memoir of some booze soaked expat in Thailand, but I've grown to like it. There's much more self awareness that begins to come to the fore, with delicate understatement and a coterie of unsuitable friends ("There are two men for you outside, sir. The look like tramps. Shall I let them in?"), which make exchanges like
"She's not a marketing undergraduate. She's in sales."
"How nice for you."
inexplicably funny.

I'm just at the point where a group of decrepit expatriates are playing poker for the phone numbers of ladies of the night, and the book seems to have hit top gear. Wonderful stuff.

However, it's growing late, I've spent two hours yelling and waving my fists, and so finishing this book will have to wait for tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I once stayed in the Las Vegas Wynn (have you seen the replica in Macau?!). In a city full of amusingly tacky glitz and memorable fakery, it managed to be both unbelievably dull and utterly forgettable.

Mr Cushtie said...

I quite like the Macau Wynn*; the MGM is a bit cuter, but both of them do well in comparison to the Lisboa (imagine a giant gold lotus growing out of the world's biggest Faberge egg, stuffed full of thousands of unhappy men smoking and furiously gambling, overlooked by a phalanx of curiously militaristic croupiers)

* although the only thing I remember about it is the Starbucks inside, and the fountains outside

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