The Apple Of My Eye
So what are you reading then? I have to say that I haven't had time for much of anything recently, and that sucks because there's nothing better than reading, but what are you gonna do? The days are too full, and there's always something else to do.

I think the things I read most these days are other people's Tangents articles. Does that sound sucky? Whatever. I enjoyed John Carney's recent article about magazines, for example, mainly because it was good to know that there might be some worth in music magazines still. Personally I gave up on them all except Careless Talk because they really bored me to tears. I mean I dig ´old' music as much as anyone, but I get so tired of reading the same old shit about the same old shits. John is right, they miss so many great opportunities by playing to the safe option all the time. So fuck that, right? Right.

I'd like to read bbgun though. That sounds like a lot of fun. I thought Grand Royal was such a great magazine, even though some of it was about stuff I didn't like. Like demolition derby racing or, uh, wasn't there an issue with ´booty' stuff in it or something? Actually thinking about it maybe that's why I loved the mag so much: there was all this stuff I didn't care about, but it was done in a cool way, so I actually ended up kind of intrigued. But there was always still that feeling that I wasn't cool enough to be a part of the gang, like I had to hide my copy behind a PC World or somethin'.

Speaking of PC World, I have to say I don't read PC magazines anymore. Man, I kicked that habit good. No, now I'm addicted to Mac magazines. Some will smile in a knowing way, and Rupert at least will be smirking with an ´I told you so' look on his face, but it's true, I'm a Mac addict. I can't believe I spent ten years working with a PC and saying that Mac's sucked. Just because the first computer I ever tried was a Mac in Art School that died when I so much as looked in its direction. These were the days of the vinyl / CD wars of course, and so Technology was evil, and hey, there wasn't much more evil than the personal computer. All I ever wanted was my mom's old Swiss portable typewriter and access to a photocopier. Man, that was heaven right there.

But Mac's, yeah, how times have changed. These days I live in bi-weekly cycles; the time between issues of MacUser, naturally. I like Mac magazines because they aren't doorstops filled with a gazillion pages of adverts for ugly PCs and because they aren't filled with lots of articles about what to do when your PC isn't doing what it's meant to. Mac magazines tend to be filled with lots of articles saying ´look at all these cool things you can do with your Mac!' They are much more artist-centric too. God, I can't believe I spent so long in the wilderness... Sheesh.

I guess my Mac love affair is partly the reason I started reading Microserfs all over again. Another reason would be that actually, any excuse to dig out some old Douglas Coupland books is one that should not be passed over lightly. So I re-read Generation X and wished I was back in Palm Springs or at least had remembered it was set in Palm Springs when I was there. If I had for sure it would have been poolside reading. It's easy to forget when talking about Coupland that he's way more than a cool chronicler of our popular culture. He's also a damn good writer. And actually he's that first, and the chronicler second. There are so many beautiful passages in his books. I mean it. Go read them again, see if I'm wrong.

There's also that whole theme of God and religion threading it's way through his books. I think I maybe missed that before, but it's there, sometimes bubbling under the surface, sometimes near the top, but always there. His obsession with notions of faith and how that meshes with our post-society is strangely charming and olde worlde, and we should clasp him to our collective bosom as a result. His most recent effort, Hey Nostradamus! has those themes busting like geysers all over it. It's essentially a Life After God with more characters whose tales intertwine, and if it lacks the magical fanzine quality of that earlier title, then it makes up for that with a load of really fine writing. It feels less clutzy than some other Coupland books (the ghost figure here, for example, is more carefully played than in Girlfriend In A Coma), and whilst I'm not sure I really cared too much about all the characters, it nevertheless had me hooked. Another theme that Coupland deals with all the time is the structure of families, and they way they function, or more often fail to function. The drive of Coupland's viewpoint seems to be that all families are psychotic. He keeps coming back to it. Hell, he even named one of his novels after the idea.

It's a pretty depressing viewpoint, and you always get the impression that Coupland doesn't really believe in the possibility of families functioning in a positive manner, even when he concedes the point at times and allows then to do just that. It's like he just doesn't trust them; like he ascribes to the idea that dysfunctionality is the only modern mode of living in spite of himself. Of course maybe it's just a neat literary move that leaves him free to look at how that dysfunctional quality meets the need for faith, but whatever, it (usually) makes for great books.

So yeah, Microserfs is such a great book. I love all the Apple references in there. I actually get most of them now too. I guess I'll get even more when I've managed to get the time to get through the copies of Fire In The Valley and Apple Confidential that are sitting on my shelf. They can be my Christmas holiday reading.

Speaking of Christmas, I got a neato gift idea for anyone looking for a cool stocking filler (and at only a fiver it's a right bargain). Do people still have stockings? I don't know. Well regardless, the Exeter Mis-Guide would fit snugly in one, and that's also regardless of whether you live in Exeter. It's basically a quick detournement of city travel, a kind of post-situationist activity booklet filled with ideas for mapping your psycho-geographic city. It's based on Exeter, naturally (that's Exeter, Devon, not Exeter, New Hampshire - although thinking about it, how cool would it be to try the same activities in NH!?) but the principles can be applied wherever you live. Use it as a template and make your own! In fact the whole booklet is all about making it up as you go along, about inventing your own rules and then breaking them... except maybe the one about always carrying a notebook, and maybe a camera. There are too many neat ideas in the book to mention here, but I'll just drop in a reference to the photographic A-Z of your street. Try it! It's cool... and just the thing for Art teachers planning photography courses.

So what else have I been reading? Well like John I've also been digging the new issue of Smoke. It's a London peculiar right enough, and actually is a bit like a mis-guide in it's own right. It's certainly full of sideways glances and overflowing with the spirit of adventuring and of delving into the history of the world you pass through every day. And whilst I don't live in London, I'm nevertheless drawn by the tales of strange pasts and presents mingling, so that places like Peckham, Deptford and Camberwell take on an odd romance that is most likely hilarious to residents of the city itself. John Carney is right when he says that the thing that's missing is music, but I'm not too worried about that because sometimes music can cloud the issue, and I find buildings are as intriguing as songs sometimes, so there you are. Oh and yeah, Matt Haynes really should be one of this nation's most treasured novelists by now, but we can always dream of future possibilities, and let's not be too down on the other writers because there's a wealth of talent here and I really do like Jude Rogers' turn of phrase, and Clare Wadd's ´Unlikeliest of Places' is a treasure. It costs less than two quid, and you can buy it London, oddly enough. Or here, which is even odder, but handier for those of us who don't (although it appears the site is down at the moment because it's too popular and is hogging bandwidth. Time to upgrade kids!).

I never did live in London, but I did live near Glasgow once upon a time, and spent a lot of time there at its Art School and wandering its streets. It was nice then to recall some of the places of that past whilst reading Louise Welsh's The Cutting Room, even if the tone of the book was far from pleasant. It's a dark broody novel of pornographers, antique dealers, transvestites and attics full of books and photos that summon ghosts of times gone by to dance with the lonely souls of the present. It's maybe not as focused as it might be, and the threads don't always come together as interestingly as they might, but it's still a fine first novel and well worth checking out, particularly as you can pick it up from the Canongate site shop for under a fiver.

And that's about it. There's a new Mac World waiting for me downstairs and it's time for my fix.

© 2003Alistair Fitchett