Marc Kerr answers 13 questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading? 

MK: I like to read multiple books at once. This has the bonus of sometimes melding them all in to a weird hybrid of unexplainability in my head, but also allows me to make connections and leaps I wouldn't have otherwise. 

In no particular order: 

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. While I'm not a huge fan of Sartre (I got through 'The Roads to Freedom' as a callow youth, but can't say I enjoyed it. His politics are a bit simple and disastrously socialist of that weird French bent) but this is a breezy retelling involving all the major players in the birth of existentialism and surprisingly somewhat light. (I'm more interested in the fact she wrote about Montaigne, and will likely pick that up at some point.) I reserve the right to say I might yet find it awful, not having finished it yet. 

Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans. Having enjoyed a book by this chap previously (The Fens, which is now the part of the world I call home) and also being somewhat of an old Neolithic fan, I picked up this. Conversational in tone, with a good dose of fun and learning to be had. I was trying to see how it chimed in with the other recent readings on how the Celtic tribes are not historicially correct, but it is a bit more recent in historic period that those roots. Still, as a reminder that the modern misthinking that we are the height of civilisation ever because we have iPhones and wifi, it is great. 

Sew Your Own Activewear. My quest to only wear clothes I make continues, and also being somewhat of a runner, this is a great and practical book. I've made shorts and a top for myself, and leggings for my good lady. Obviously not an end-to-end read, dip in and use. Which I do. (Total caveat: the author is also a friend of mine, but even so, it is ace.) I've also some dull maths, physics and computer science books on the go, as I build those AIs that the media keep telling you will take over the world. But I'll ignore those, as it sounds too much like school. It is partly for work, partly for my own noodlings. And as for those AIs? I won't worry yourself over them. 

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

MK: That is a tough call. As opposed to simply 'the best' (I'll get to 'the worst' in a moment) I could give some that rotate around being my favourites. While I acknowledge it might seem pretentious, I do so love Proust. All of human life is in there, even if wrapped up in the vain upper class society warfare of late 19th century Paris. It is just wonderful. My first read through, many years ago as I thought 'I should', blew my expectations. This was funny, wise and the progression from child to man, and the reflection of thinking at each stage, was superb. It was also the first book ever to make me miss my stop on the London Underground on my way to work, back when I thought commuting to London to work was a good idea. 

On a lighter note, I am a total fan of all things (which means comics and novels) Modesty Blaise. More than James Bond, more than simple thrillers, a wonderful character-driven caper. I've been on a (low-volume, but regular) mailing list online about these books since the early 90s, and those who get struck by them get struck by them. I've lent (and re-bought) them to many people many times over the years. The final book, a collection of short stories, wraps it all up. I also know people who won't read the final story in that final book, so as not to have an end. The relationship between Modesty and her right-hand man is so well depicted, their histories so well drawn, all of them are just a joy.

On a side note, she was also the first woman I ever fell in love with. In a literary sense. Read as a child, still re-read to this day. If you like kick-in-the-head sci-fi, The Kefahuchi Tract trilogy by John M Harrison  is up there. The ending is such genius, tying back to the opening. A dizzying parade of ideas, from modern day Cambridge and London to far future and back again. Another that I re-read every so often, and something new comes out every time. 

The worst? The candidates for those are endless. I used to always read a book to the end but life is too short, and if I don't get on with it in the first 50 pages I ditch it. That said, a series of books I read to my children were definitely the worst. They loved them. The world seems to. But dear goodness, they suck. Sub-Enid Blyton jolly-hockeysticks English boarding school plots with awful classical analogies, no wit, verve or originality and reading them aloud was abysmal given the language was so clumsy. And as the series moved on, and the books got longer, all this got amplified. A series that gets popular is in want of a good editor as volumes get added. I am, of course, referring to the Harry Potter series. May I never read the words 'Harry, Ron and Hermione' in the same sentence ever again.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

MK:  Childhood has many stages, but there are a few books that I not only read as a child, later reading to my own children, but there is still a lot to get out of them as an adult. I'm going to go with the sixth in the Moomin series, Moominland Midwinter, as there is a hopeful bleakness to it that even as I child I saw.  Her adult novels, and memoirs, give away some of where the Moomin stories came from, and puts everything on an even better footing. I still have my battered paperback from my childhood, too. That said, I also have a signed copy of Guide To The Moon by Patrick Moore, that I cherished then, and cherish now. I bought it, posted it to him, he signed it and wrote a letter back to me.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

MK: 
I'm going to run this in with best/worst books for reasons. While I loved Modesty Blaise, and the Moomin stories, I was also an avid sci-fi fan. A little bit of fantasy in there, but given how dreadful the Lord Of The Rings is, I tended to steer clear of that genre mostly. Two series I really loved were The Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley and the Dragonlance trilogies (by a million different authors I think). I awaited each new novel with anticipation. Such absolute fond memories of how great they were. Reading them over a day then back to the waiting for the next. All in hardback from the library, reading as soon as they were published.

And then I picked them up in my early 30s to relive them, and by all that is holy and just in this world, they were the worst racist, misogynist, blinkered, obvious, badly written dirges ever. My whole notion shifted. And this wasn't even as I had matured, as I've read other things from childhood that are suited for childhood but still great, these were just awful. Awful. 

Which leaves me with not having a favourite childhood author, as Tove Jansson and Peter O'Donnell (of Moomins Modesty Blaise) are both favourite authors to me as an adult. 

On the flip side, I won't deny that they were part of my growth, and I did love them at the time. Much in the same way I won't deny bad music from my history, I won't deny that I did like them. But seriously, what was I thinking? 

TPQ: First book to really own you?

MK:  Now, would 'own me' mean it stayed with me a long time, it changed me or some new variant The Kids use? I'll go with the first, one that stayed with me the longest. I can't guarantee it was the first, as I was a voracious reader as a child, powering through all my mother's books (some of which were highly inappropriate for a five year old to be reading), all the children's books in the library and most of the adult ones. 

For reasons I best explain, it is going to have to be Chariots of The Gods by von Daniken. My other love as a child (and still is) was astronomy, and this book, which I thought was going to be about space, taken from my mother's collection, opened me to the wacky world of nutjobs. Conspiracy theories, flat earth, all that stuff is fantastic (as an intellectual game. So let's play a game: I bet you cannot produce any evidence to prove to me that the earth isn't flat. And flat doesn't mean dinner plate flat, but that is a different contortion. As I mentioned, I live on the edge of The Fens, and it all looks very, very flat to me...but I digress) if you take it as fun. Alas people don't. But von Daniken tries to answer fundamental questions by looking at pre-history cultures and civilisations and make sense of them. In insane ways, but I enjoyed it. Of course I saw through it, but to have the thought process laid out was great. Now I want to re-read it.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

MK: Proust for sure, so much so I keep thinking of learning French to read it in its original. His observations on the human condition are unparalleled. And yes, he may write in paragraphs that go on for pages, but there is a rhythm and cadence that is just genius. (The best translations into English came out a few years ago, overseen by a Cambridge academic, and they are just lush. Better than the original translations.) 

I'm not going to go with Jansson again, so I'll come a bit more up to date and run with Siri Hustvedt whose books are a wonder. She writes men better than most men, and there is an understanding of life throughout it all. (Years ago, I'd have went with her husband, Paul Auster, as my favourite male author, but I'm more an apologist for him these days than a fan. His first eight/nine books are great, recently ... I read out of habit.)

A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

MK: Up until about fifteen/twenty years ago, it would have definitely been fiction, but now I read as much, if not more, fact-based books. I'm more choosy about novels these days. We have a book club in work, and I do read those end-to-end, even if I don't get on with them. And it only reinforces that most novels are rubbish. Luckily there is such a breadth of work out there, everyone can find something they like. Airport thrillers are not for me, all the same.  Natural history (particularly about trees, walking in and around trees in ancient landscapes, will do), history (usually Neolithic to fall of Byzantium is as modern as I get) and even theology work. Putting the world around me into context through the lens of its geography. 

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

MK: This tends to be a genre I don't get on with. Revisionism (either self, or latter-days) at its finest. Reputation-scrubbing, self-aggrandisement or character assassination, all there. I am not a great believer in 'the great man of history' trope, as it takes more than a single figure to do untold damage, or good. Mostly damage all the same. If I had to choose one, and it was great, 
I'd run with Harpo Speaks! because I loved the Marx Brothers since my earliest times, and this is a bonkers read. Times have changed, so it works on all sorts of levels. Again, writing that I now want to re-read it. 

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

MK: I'm not sure there actually is. I'm happy to stop an awful book once I give it fifty pages or so, there are ones I know I won't enjoy (they tend to have lilac covers and titles in flowery fonts) but there is a chance I'd still pick it up. As for 'problematic' books, refusal to read (or acknowledge they exist) is part of the myopic approach in the current climate's identity politics single-issue world. I re-read some Twain a while back, and some of the language caused an intake of breath, but I'd not refuse to read it.  That said, I might find a good excuse if you offered me a Dan Brown novel. 

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

MK: That is going to be difficult. My history? Maybe something on The Troubles, as even if I was outside the hotspots, it seeped into everything and gives a different slant on the world. My outlook? Maybe something like the Moomin series, with its quiet philosophy and bohemian way of life. My understanding? A mash of foundational physics papers alongside some of the nature writing around forests and landscape. Doesn't every book you've ever read add something to your being? Even if you disagree with it, it becomes part of you. 

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

MK: About ten minutes ago I ordered How to Start Sewiing for a friend's birthday present. A wonderful manual / guide / textbook that I can dip in and out of to expand my skills both at and away from the sewing machine. It still irks me that at school the boys did woodwork and the girls sewing. (I gave a talk recently on how sewing, or making your own clothes, involves all the skills (and more) that are needed to be a good software engineer. In fact, it is miles above that. But stuck down in the 'woman's work' end of things, alas.) 

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

MK: How about something a bit leftfield? The Illuminatus! Trilogy would make a fine, pacy, fun film if done right I think. Other books I love, I'd prefer they weren't. There was a Modesty Blaise film made in the 60s, and it was pitifully wrong. (There was another in the 90s, which was alright, but more 'inspired by' than a book to movie adaptation.) Moving images isn't my thing really, and I like to keep books in my head, as film is such a compromise (and personal vision) medium. Also, the character's voices are always wrong. Always. 

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

MK:  The flippant answer is 'all of them', but really I'm not sure I have anything on my list like that. Books I've wanted to read, I have. Books recommended to me, I have. I dislike those 'X Things To Do Before You Die' lists as they tend to be pretentious, or basically the compiler showing off. I'm sure I'm missing 'classics', but that is by some standard other than my own. Read what makes you happy, if it makes you happy. Read what makes you learn, if you want to learn. Listen to others, but hyperbole around 'must reads' are just that. I don't feel shame that I haven't read X, or heard of  Y. I'm glad you've told me of X and Y, I can make up my own mind if I want to give my time on them.

  Marc Kerr is a bluff Ulsterman currently found telling beguiling tales of the oul sod to a bemused Cambridge audience for fun, while filling those AIs you hear scare stories about in the media with a peculiar and particular type of North Irish bias for profit. Still hasn't managed to lose the accent.

Booker's Dozen @ Marc Kerr

Marc Kerr answers 13 questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading? 

MK: I like to read multiple books at once. This has the bonus of sometimes melding them all in to a weird hybrid of unexplainability in my head, but also allows me to make connections and leaps I wouldn't have otherwise. 

In no particular order: 

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. While I'm not a huge fan of Sartre (I got through 'The Roads to Freedom' as a callow youth, but can't say I enjoyed it. His politics are a bit simple and disastrously socialist of that weird French bent) but this is a breezy retelling involving all the major players in the birth of existentialism and surprisingly somewhat light. (I'm more interested in the fact she wrote about Montaigne, and will likely pick that up at some point.) I reserve the right to say I might yet find it awful, not having finished it yet. 

Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans. Having enjoyed a book by this chap previously (The Fens, which is now the part of the world I call home) and also being somewhat of an old Neolithic fan, I picked up this. Conversational in tone, with a good dose of fun and learning to be had. I was trying to see how it chimed in with the other recent readings on how the Celtic tribes are not historicially correct, but it is a bit more recent in historic period that those roots. Still, as a reminder that the modern misthinking that we are the height of civilisation ever because we have iPhones and wifi, it is great. 

Sew Your Own Activewear. My quest to only wear clothes I make continues, and also being somewhat of a runner, this is a great and practical book. I've made shorts and a top for myself, and leggings for my good lady. Obviously not an end-to-end read, dip in and use. Which I do. (Total caveat: the author is also a friend of mine, but even so, it is ace.) I've also some dull maths, physics and computer science books on the go, as I build those AIs that the media keep telling you will take over the world. But I'll ignore those, as it sounds too much like school. It is partly for work, partly for my own noodlings. And as for those AIs? I won't worry yourself over them. 

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

MK: That is a tough call. As opposed to simply 'the best' (I'll get to 'the worst' in a moment) I could give some that rotate around being my favourites. While I acknowledge it might seem pretentious, I do so love Proust. All of human life is in there, even if wrapped up in the vain upper class society warfare of late 19th century Paris. It is just wonderful. My first read through, many years ago as I thought 'I should', blew my expectations. This was funny, wise and the progression from child to man, and the reflection of thinking at each stage, was superb. It was also the first book ever to make me miss my stop on the London Underground on my way to work, back when I thought commuting to London to work was a good idea. 

On a lighter note, I am a total fan of all things (which means comics and novels) Modesty Blaise. More than James Bond, more than simple thrillers, a wonderful character-driven caper. I've been on a (low-volume, but regular) mailing list online about these books since the early 90s, and those who get struck by them get struck by them. I've lent (and re-bought) them to many people many times over the years. The final book, a collection of short stories, wraps it all up. I also know people who won't read the final story in that final book, so as not to have an end. The relationship between Modesty and her right-hand man is so well depicted, their histories so well drawn, all of them are just a joy.

On a side note, she was also the first woman I ever fell in love with. In a literary sense. Read as a child, still re-read to this day. If you like kick-in-the-head sci-fi, The Kefahuchi Tract trilogy by John M Harrison  is up there. The ending is such genius, tying back to the opening. A dizzying parade of ideas, from modern day Cambridge and London to far future and back again. Another that I re-read every so often, and something new comes out every time. 

The worst? The candidates for those are endless. I used to always read a book to the end but life is too short, and if I don't get on with it in the first 50 pages I ditch it. That said, a series of books I read to my children were definitely the worst. They loved them. The world seems to. But dear goodness, they suck. Sub-Enid Blyton jolly-hockeysticks English boarding school plots with awful classical analogies, no wit, verve or originality and reading them aloud was abysmal given the language was so clumsy. And as the series moved on, and the books got longer, all this got amplified. A series that gets popular is in want of a good editor as volumes get added. I am, of course, referring to the Harry Potter series. May I never read the words 'Harry, Ron and Hermione' in the same sentence ever again.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

MK:  Childhood has many stages, but there are a few books that I not only read as a child, later reading to my own children, but there is still a lot to get out of them as an adult. I'm going to go with the sixth in the Moomin series, Moominland Midwinter, as there is a hopeful bleakness to it that even as I child I saw.  Her adult novels, and memoirs, give away some of where the Moomin stories came from, and puts everything on an even better footing. I still have my battered paperback from my childhood, too. That said, I also have a signed copy of Guide To The Moon by Patrick Moore, that I cherished then, and cherish now. I bought it, posted it to him, he signed it and wrote a letter back to me.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

MK: 
I'm going to run this in with best/worst books for reasons. While I loved Modesty Blaise, and the Moomin stories, I was also an avid sci-fi fan. A little bit of fantasy in there, but given how dreadful the Lord Of The Rings is, I tended to steer clear of that genre mostly. Two series I really loved were The Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley and the Dragonlance trilogies (by a million different authors I think). I awaited each new novel with anticipation. Such absolute fond memories of how great they were. Reading them over a day then back to the waiting for the next. All in hardback from the library, reading as soon as they were published.

And then I picked them up in my early 30s to relive them, and by all that is holy and just in this world, they were the worst racist, misogynist, blinkered, obvious, badly written dirges ever. My whole notion shifted. And this wasn't even as I had matured, as I've read other things from childhood that are suited for childhood but still great, these were just awful. Awful. 

Which leaves me with not having a favourite childhood author, as Tove Jansson and Peter O'Donnell (of Moomins Modesty Blaise) are both favourite authors to me as an adult. 

On the flip side, I won't deny that they were part of my growth, and I did love them at the time. Much in the same way I won't deny bad music from my history, I won't deny that I did like them. But seriously, what was I thinking? 

TPQ: First book to really own you?

MK:  Now, would 'own me' mean it stayed with me a long time, it changed me or some new variant The Kids use? I'll go with the first, one that stayed with me the longest. I can't guarantee it was the first, as I was a voracious reader as a child, powering through all my mother's books (some of which were highly inappropriate for a five year old to be reading), all the children's books in the library and most of the adult ones. 

For reasons I best explain, it is going to have to be Chariots of The Gods by von Daniken. My other love as a child (and still is) was astronomy, and this book, which I thought was going to be about space, taken from my mother's collection, opened me to the wacky world of nutjobs. Conspiracy theories, flat earth, all that stuff is fantastic (as an intellectual game. So let's play a game: I bet you cannot produce any evidence to prove to me that the earth isn't flat. And flat doesn't mean dinner plate flat, but that is a different contortion. As I mentioned, I live on the edge of The Fens, and it all looks very, very flat to me...but I digress) if you take it as fun. Alas people don't. But von Daniken tries to answer fundamental questions by looking at pre-history cultures and civilisations and make sense of them. In insane ways, but I enjoyed it. Of course I saw through it, but to have the thought process laid out was great. Now I want to re-read it.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

MK: Proust for sure, so much so I keep thinking of learning French to read it in its original. His observations on the human condition are unparalleled. And yes, he may write in paragraphs that go on for pages, but there is a rhythm and cadence that is just genius. (The best translations into English came out a few years ago, overseen by a Cambridge academic, and they are just lush. Better than the original translations.) 

I'm not going to go with Jansson again, so I'll come a bit more up to date and run with Siri Hustvedt whose books are a wonder. She writes men better than most men, and there is an understanding of life throughout it all. (Years ago, I'd have went with her husband, Paul Auster, as my favourite male author, but I'm more an apologist for him these days than a fan. His first eight/nine books are great, recently ... I read out of habit.)

A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

MK: Up until about fifteen/twenty years ago, it would have definitely been fiction, but now I read as much, if not more, fact-based books. I'm more choosy about novels these days. We have a book club in work, and I do read those end-to-end, even if I don't get on with them. And it only reinforces that most novels are rubbish. Luckily there is such a breadth of work out there, everyone can find something they like. Airport thrillers are not for me, all the same.  Natural history (particularly about trees, walking in and around trees in ancient landscapes, will do), history (usually Neolithic to fall of Byzantium is as modern as I get) and even theology work. Putting the world around me into context through the lens of its geography. 

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

MK: This tends to be a genre I don't get on with. Revisionism (either self, or latter-days) at its finest. Reputation-scrubbing, self-aggrandisement or character assassination, all there. I am not a great believer in 'the great man of history' trope, as it takes more than a single figure to do untold damage, or good. Mostly damage all the same. If I had to choose one, and it was great, 
I'd run with Harpo Speaks! because I loved the Marx Brothers since my earliest times, and this is a bonkers read. Times have changed, so it works on all sorts of levels. Again, writing that I now want to re-read it. 

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

MK: I'm not sure there actually is. I'm happy to stop an awful book once I give it fifty pages or so, there are ones I know I won't enjoy (they tend to have lilac covers and titles in flowery fonts) but there is a chance I'd still pick it up. As for 'problematic' books, refusal to read (or acknowledge they exist) is part of the myopic approach in the current climate's identity politics single-issue world. I re-read some Twain a while back, and some of the language caused an intake of breath, but I'd not refuse to read it.  That said, I might find a good excuse if you offered me a Dan Brown novel. 

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

MK: That is going to be difficult. My history? Maybe something on The Troubles, as even if I was outside the hotspots, it seeped into everything and gives a different slant on the world. My outlook? Maybe something like the Moomin series, with its quiet philosophy and bohemian way of life. My understanding? A mash of foundational physics papers alongside some of the nature writing around forests and landscape. Doesn't every book you've ever read add something to your being? Even if you disagree with it, it becomes part of you. 

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

MK: About ten minutes ago I ordered How to Start Sewiing for a friend's birthday present. A wonderful manual / guide / textbook that I can dip in and out of to expand my skills both at and away from the sewing machine. It still irks me that at school the boys did woodwork and the girls sewing. (I gave a talk recently on how sewing, or making your own clothes, involves all the skills (and more) that are needed to be a good software engineer. In fact, it is miles above that. But stuck down in the 'woman's work' end of things, alas.) 

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

MK: How about something a bit leftfield? The Illuminatus! Trilogy would make a fine, pacy, fun film if done right I think. Other books I love, I'd prefer they weren't. There was a Modesty Blaise film made in the 60s, and it was pitifully wrong. (There was another in the 90s, which was alright, but more 'inspired by' than a book to movie adaptation.) Moving images isn't my thing really, and I like to keep books in my head, as film is such a compromise (and personal vision) medium. Also, the character's voices are always wrong. Always. 

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

MK:  The flippant answer is 'all of them', but really I'm not sure I have anything on my list like that. Books I've wanted to read, I have. Books recommended to me, I have. I dislike those 'X Things To Do Before You Die' lists as they tend to be pretentious, or basically the compiler showing off. I'm sure I'm missing 'classics', but that is by some standard other than my own. Read what makes you happy, if it makes you happy. Read what makes you learn, if you want to learn. Listen to others, but hyperbole around 'must reads' are just that. I don't feel shame that I haven't read X, or heard of  Y. I'm glad you've told me of X and Y, I can make up my own mind if I want to give my time on them.

  Marc Kerr is a bluff Ulsterman currently found telling beguiling tales of the oul sod to a bemused Cambridge audience for fun, while filling those AIs you hear scare stories about in the media with a peculiar and particular type of North Irish bias for profit. Still hasn't managed to lose the accent.

4 comments:

  1. Both esoteric and eclectic, an interesting list. Moomin fans tend to be hardcore. I worked with one who was a fanatic.

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  2. They are fascinating books, and while I own all of them, and all the comics, and a plush Moominpappa comes on travels with me around the world, and even with Moominmamma and Momminpappa hugging as a tattoo on my shoulder (with wedding anniversary date below), a range of cups, plates, prints and...yeah, no, I'd not say I was a fanatic. Or hardcore. Nope. Not me.

    -- mwk

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    Replies
    1. Lol. I had a good laugh at that. Moomin fans do tend to have an admirable sense of humour.

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  3. The roads to freedom, that rings a bell, way way way back there was a really good TV series based on this book. Harpo Speaks I will look out for this.

    ReplyDelete