“A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a seminar on ageing and fiction at Brunel University. My interlocutor was Fay Weldon, who in her 80th year is not only still writing herself, but also holds the chair in creative writing at Brunel. I’m not sure we had anything that insightful to say on the subject, but the audience seemed entertained. I hesitate to ascribe to Weldon the wisdom of the aged – because, inasmuch as she is weightily wise, she always leavens this with a wickedly dry wit; and besides, she seemed exactly the same to me as the first time I met her, which must have been 15 years ago, when she was a mere stripling of 65.
“While John Kasarda shares the title page of this scientific romance masquerading as a work of urban theory, Aerotropolis was written by Greg Lindsay alone. Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s business school, may be a peculiar sort of Johnson, but Lindsay, a business journalist, is nonetheless his committed Boswell. A Boswell who, in search of his subject’s zeitgeist wisdom, once mounted a three-week exploration of ‘Airworld’ – as Kasarda calls it – by jetting from terminal to terminal around the globe but never exiting through the door marked ‘arrivals’. Why? Because it is Lindsay’s belief that Kasarda is the most important urban theorist alive today, a man who has fully anticipated the shape the future city must have and who has moved to make it a reality.”
“I well remember hearing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message for the first time released in the United States and the UK in 1982, it charted here in August and got some airplay for a while before dropping out of earshot (although Stateside it went platinum in a month). At the time I had an early-adopting friend who earnestly assured me, while wearing a capsleeve T-shirt, that this was the shape of things to come. I didn’t think his taste in singles quite as laughable as his singlet, but nevertheless disputed it. However, nigh on 30 years later he’s been more than vindicated, for if any genre of popular music can claim to be a global soundtrack it’s rap, and if any popular art form can be said to have been genuinely influential on mainstream culture then it’s hip-hop.”
Teach us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing by Tim Parks, Harvill Secker, £12.99
Do I have to say this? Yes, I suppose I ought: Tim Parks‘s digressive memoir of his debilitating but ultimately life-affirming struggle with pelvic pain made me leak a few tears, guffaw a lot, and besides quietly instructing me in some fresh perspectives – on such matters as Samuel Beckett and Buddhism (and that’s only the Bs) – ultimately taught me an eminently practical lesson about coping with age and mortality. Must I utter the blurbish cliché? Why the hell not: Teach us to Sit Still made me laugh it made me cry and it made me seriously think about taking up Vipassana meditation.
In March I was on the panel for an edition of Question Time filmed in Canary Wharf. The big news that week — I say “big” but “awful” might be more accurate — was that Jon Venables, one of the ten-year-old boys convicted in 1993 for the murder of the toddler James Bulger, had broken the terms under which he had been released on licence and was being returned to jail. Now we have the further atrocity exhibition of two boys — aged 10 and 11 — convicted of an attempted rape on an eight-year-old girl. With such crimes as these, surely — we must collectively ask ourselves — it becomes possible to explain them only by positing the existence of some exceptional depths of inner darkness?
A review of James Le Fanu’s Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, published in the Evening Standard.
Will now has his own Author’s Choice page on Amazon, which you can find here.
Will’s review of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic in the Daily Telegraph.
Will’s review of The Age of Elizabeth II by AN Wilson.
Will Self reads a life of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious dope dealer of modern times, and recalls his own adventures in the land of addiction
“I’ve got cocaine running around my brain!” So chanted Dillinger, the reggae toaster, in a mid-1970s paean to the white stuff that was an instant hit with those of us adolescent delinquents intent on an instant hit. Dillinger wasn’t the first or the last reggae star to take his moniker from a famous outlaw, but his cheerful little ditty was a curtain-raiser on a quarter-century during which the only criminal act in the global village worth talking about has been the production, export and sale of drugs.