Sunday, July 30, 2006

Things I won't do before I'm forty...

...or ever, for that matter - since today's the last ever Top of the Pops. That's one ambition (never even remotely attempted, so is that ambition, or pipe dream?) thwarted. Appearing on, say, Later With Jools Holland or MTV isn't quite the same somehow. There's been much nostalgia about TOTP in the papers. Favourite moments? New Model Army doing "No Rest (for the wicked)" with "Only Stupid Bastards Take Heroin" t-shirts, but with the BBC insisting on putting gaffa tape over "Astards". The Human League doing "The Sound of the Crowd", Blondie doing "Denis." It's been crap for years of course, and the BBC, as always, does it level best to destroy these institutions - just think of it shunting off Peel to a couple of late nights a week, or its utter hatred of Dr. Who for all those years. It seems unlikely that TOTP will get a Dr. Who style resurrection; but the Beeb has always treated it as a light entertainment show rather than a music show, and in the era of pop idol nobodies, and with the P.Diddy's and Shakira's of the world planning world domination country by country, according to record company marketing departments, its probably not got a remit anymore. Still, its sad. I don't think they ever invited New Model Army back.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hurling Bricks

I've not yet read "Brick Lane", Monica Ali's novel, but recently saw an interview with her. She is no doubt perplexed by the reaction of the Bangladeshi community of Brick Lane to its protests about filming there. On the one hand, one feels that its refreshing that at least one part of the world doesn't want to be in the movies, no matter what, but that idea soon palls. Ali is not an arriviste, but Bangladeshi, and, more importantly a writer who wants to write about contemporary Britain. Post 9/11 it seems that almost any artistic work that addresses our multicultural society comes under threat from some. It worries me. "Political correctness gone mad" is a neat Daily Mail term, but its about time that works of art are seen for what they are, given more protection than they currently get. The majority of contemporary writers hide in the past, or worse, in the middle classes, and one can only feel that will get worse. More informed comment on this from Baroque in Hackney. The most telling thing is, that like myself, she's a slight worry that we're not even supposed to be debating these things. Its not just Islam, its any religion now seems to be getting special protections. Many councils now have rules of conduct which state that your behaviour should respect not only people's race, gender and sexuality, but their religion. This would be fine, in itself, and like Baroque, I work with a wide range of community groups. What I also am, is secular, and believe we live in a secular society, and we're seeing more and more religious organisations/organisers (many of whom have problems with other people's gender and sexuality) wanting complicity in their own prejudices. I'm suddenly acutely aware that if you make any comments whatsoever about any religion, there's becoming a culture of suspicion. This, of course, does not just come from "multiculturalism", but with leaders both in the UK and America who are not afraid to use their own religion, and relationship with God, as justification and rhetoric - with policies being led by the religious interests or religious ideas (stem cell research in America, for instance, Religious Hatred bill here) - it creates a climate where, I have no doubt, should another fatwa be handed down on a living writer, they'd be very lucky to receive the grudging level of protection given to Rushdie. As Baroque pointed out, the voice that is silenced in all of this, is often female.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

When did I lose interest in Brian Eno?

I've recently found myself getting irritated when I hear of something that Brian Eno's been up to. This is ridiculous, since he's one of my heros. When nobody else was buying his records or knew who he was, he seemed the most interesting artist in the world. I remember a Paul Morley show where he talked of the history of music as if Eno had been involved in every worthwhile bit of it, and in a way he had. Yet, at some point - probably after his 3rd or 4th U2 collaboration - he became the ubiquitous cultural commentator that he is today. And more than that, it seems if anyone wants to add a bit of artiness to a project he gets called in to add his bit. He curated meltdown, he had that exhibition of storage spaces in London, he's produced the new Paul Simon album (Paul bloody Simon!), and he's added humanitarian work - through War child and opposition to the Iraq war - to the long cv. Even now he casts a long shadow - I was thinking of his "long now" project at the Futuresonic event mentioned earlier. I think the problem is that in the past Eno was almost ridiculously interesting. Most of the projects were ones he generated himself that seemed to exist outside of the mainstream - and appeared totally perplexing to it. Yet now its as if he's called in to add a bit of Eno to anything that might warrant it. I was excited - still - to hear he'd written a soundtrack to a podcast of Michael Faber's "Fahrenheit Twins" story, but then, somehow I lost interest. Faber's a bit of an acquired taste, full of inventiveness, but you'll either love or hate his prose style. It strikes me, listening to it, that its an interesting idea, a mutual appreciation between writer and musician, but that I'm not sure there's much more to say on it. It works well - in the Guardian extract - and is perhaps a step beyond the usual audiobook. The story is quite a traditional narrative - atmospheric and descriptive - and in that sense the music can only be a backdrop, rather than integral. Reading about how it was put together, this is perhaps no surprise, but perhaps I'd expected more. I guess I want the Eno of past surprises. Also, it's clearly a commercial venture - the story was cropped to fit on a CD (and one has to admire any musician able to come up with a 70 minute piece as a backdrop of music). But its made me think (as Eno always does.) The audiobook podcast is something that is both nascent, but accessible. So perhaps I'm not irritated by Eno as much as remembering that one of Eno's aims, as I saw it, was to encourage others to work in these areas. That he's still the one being asked, is probably the problem. Part of the project, I think, was that people like me should lose interest in Brian Eno.

(And for the record: 5 great Eno moments -: "Baby's on Fire" live - from 1st June 1974 CD, "The True Wheel" from Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) - the band A Certain Ratio took their name from this song, "I Zimbra" - Talking Head's finest ethnofunk moment, "Miss Sarajevo" - from the Passengers project with U2, Warszawa - with Bowie from "Low".)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I, Conservationist (a poem)

The wonderful summer is with us at last –
though it comes bearing warnings.
The butterfly, for instance, is in peril
and I trust we’ll do enough to save it’s neck
before its too late.

I would grow wild buddleia for bees in my garden
and plant flowering honeysuckle for the butterfly,
but I’ve not a garden in my first floor flat.
Perhaps I can donate a small sum,
for retaining meadows across the counties.

Though come to think of it, I should save my cash
to build a windfarm and make my own power,
instead of relying on the nuclear option.
And then there’s the worry of saving for a pension,
and for the cost of my radiation cure.

Despite a country past, I’m stuck indoors,
with antihistamines and fridge-cooled water
to take me through the wilting day.
A common moth hovers outside my window,
and with twitching nose, I shut it out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Future is...niche

I seem to have overdosed on futurology by uber-geeks this week. First was Paul Caplan of the Mediatrust evangalising about new media made easy. His talk was invigorating, but since it was aimed at community groups, a couple of points are worth making. He said, "if I can use Wordpress anyone can...all it needs is a server with MySQL", which kind of seems a little extreme for any of us without a server or MySQL. (For the record, I've a "server", I guess, for my website, but it would cost me quite a bit more for the other bit.) A little hubristic I felt. And then I looked at his website - and God, when did he think that white print on a black background and a really small and very odd font was a good idea. Get accessible Paul! As always with such people they use a Mac, and have a bit of a blindspot about the 99% of the world that doesn't. Then, it was Futuresonic today, which is, I guess, where art and technology collide. It's always quite difficult to get a handle on. There's a bit of a private club sort of feel to this - a niche too far, so to speak - but it was interesting. Anyone visiting the 1830 warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry over the next week will see some great "homemade" musical instruments. This quirky arts 'n' craft side of things is what endears me to Futuresonic. Masaki Fujihata's digital mapping was partly aweinspiring - a GPS stream made into a visual movie with photos/videos along the route - and partly banal - the content was mostless pointless, arbitrary. Yet its early days for this sort of thing; the "doing it" is enough for now. For lovers of Sebald and Sinclair, a must, methinks. Maria Stukoff was evaluating the conference on behalf of where I work, and will no doubt blog on it shortly. Matt Webb's futuregazing was all over the place, a maybe attached to another maybe, but invigorating. He posited the sci-fi staple of a "generation" spaceship where whole generations grow up on a long distance space ship on the way to somewhere - and how they might adapt to the space. I began reading Brian Aldiss's "Non Stop" (1958) recently, its a similar premise, so nothing new under that sun. A particular point though: the web - "the space" - we're now inhabiting is consuming. It has a Year Zero, beyond which everything seems less documented; and it is also consistently, constantly re-inventing itself so that there are no equivalent of internet Victorian terraces we could live in - they've all been torn down so that we can live cheek and jowl in our neighbourhood of Myspace and Blogger identical boxes. I'm too cynical (and too old) to be too obsessed with the cusp, the margin of the new - it seems that it hasn't alway furnished us with the same leaps of imagination that you find in Burroughs and Gysin for instance. Webb talked about "Second Life" - a virtual world - where, because second lifers don't have genitals, someone has invented genital underwear to put on their second lifer characters, and just as inevitable perhaps, someone else has started doing "upskirt" shots of secondlife characters. This is a maybe of a maybe of a maybe of a maybe which maybe a new record. What has this to do with literature? Nothing. And everything. Literature kind of invented the web (from Douglas Adam's Babel fish to Burrough's Interzone to "Slaughterhouse 5" to Jerry Cornelius) - and now its everywhere, can a book truly exist that doesn't reference it? Last week's Guardian summer short story selection was a treasure trove, but distinctly ancient in its references. I'd recommend everyone reads Colm Toibin's striking "A Summer Job". It's from a different world, but the emotional strangeness is strongly contemporary.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mercury Rising

This year's Mercury Prize shortlist for best album of the year doesn't seem one of its best - despite all the talk about "best years for music ever" - the Arctic Monkeys aside, its a little lightweight. Not that I've heard enough new albums recently to be sure. No Primal Scream - but then its long ago been moving away from the venerable to the very recent - and no Sandi Thom or Lily Allen (like they need the publicity). I think its become a bit too music critic for its own good - you can't imagine a Spice Girl or even a Ms. Dynamite these days. My money's on either Muse as a potential "grower" taking a cult band mainstream - or Guillemots, as an only just out, but sure to get big this summer breakout hit. Interesting that very not-British Mark Lanegan makes it in collaboration with Isobel Campbell (perhaps Guns N Roses might have once been eligible, who knows?) and if you were wondering whether new albums from Razorlight, Snow Patrol were really as good as the reviews stated, none of them are to be seen. It's clearly an award for new music, even if its comeback-style such as Scritti Politti. There's usually at least one unexpected gem on the list - last year it was my introduction to the Go Team.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What a Poetry Magazine Needs to do to Survive

If you haven't seen it, the estimable Michael Schmidt writes about PN Review being 30 years old, and how it lasted so long. In truth, not the most illuminating of articles. Like a lot of the poetry scene it seems to be tilting at windmills that only other branches of the poetry scene can see. "Anglo-American and European modernisms and their legacies are to be valued and taken to heart, and the postmodern condition is not to be seen as inescapable" is his conclusion at the magazine's value and agenda, and I can't disagree with that, but mainly because I don't really know what he means by it! His comment on Poetry Review, which "might be thought (erroneously, it seems to me) to have a duty to be a magazine of record" sets up an argument that I'm not sure anyone's making - that in the brackets he repudiates, though I like the idea of a "history of taste" seen through its varied editors. Poetry Review is sometimes the Newcastle United of poetry magazines, never sure whether it wants a dour traditionalist keeping the dressing room in line - and never winning anything - or a risktaking libero who'll upset the directors - and never win anything. All I can say, is that if you ever come across PN Review you'll come away with something, and the new website looks good. 30 years for any literary endeavour is worth celebrating, though I can't help think that whilst PN Review was opening its doors, a number of "poets" - Mark E. Smith, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto etc. - were watching the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Recent magazines are not really mentioned; and so many have fallen by the wayside over the last few years, from an exhausted Angel Exhaust, through Prop and Brando's Hat, through Thumbscrew, that it's hard to see without London Magazine-Ambit-Agenda-PN Review-Poetry Review there'd even be a poetry magazine scene. Yet, the Rialto still goes about its own quiet businesses, and smaller, more locally based zines proliferate. Best place to start is the Poetry Library - currently closed for refurbishment, but still there in cyberspace. Is it just me, or has the gloss worn off poetry a little? I don't see quite the same "hype", and that's probably for the best. But since the surfeit of millennial anthologies there's been nothing for the casual or interested reader to use as a roadmap through contemporary poetry.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Old? No way

I watched an interview on BBC News 24 "HardTalk" last night with Patti Smith. I saw her in concert a couple of years ago, and although the set was predominantly her later career - she had a 16 year break from music to bring up her children - her voice and presence were remarkable. I first heard "Horses" at University in 1985, and its a great album, obviously, but more than that, despite her being linked with the punk/new wave scene, its clearly more than that; and owes quite a lot to some of the progressive/art rock tendencies of the early 70s (note her involvement with Blue Oyster Cult!) That run of albums - with "Wave" "Easter" and "Radio Ethiopia" formed part one of the career - but part 2 has also got value, there's great songs on all of her subsequent albums, and the 2-CD best of a few years ago made a good attempt at summarising the career. Although still an activist, she's also still an artist - and, though it was a bit oblique what she plans - its less likely to be music than art, writing etc. Her identification with romantic heroes such as Blake and Rimbaud is well known. I read a biography by Victor Bockris, which emphasised that the New York scene that she was on in the early 70s, centred round the St. Marks' Poetry Project, was as likely to have George Harrison and John Lennon dropping in, alongside readings by Smith and others. The Factory was in full flow of course, and she was a close friend with Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the iconic photo for the "Horses" cover.) You had great energy from the second wave of the New York School, people like Anne Waldman; Ginsberg was still writing, and very public; and its a period that is ripe for re-assessment, the equivalent, clearly of other high water marks of artistic highs, such as the "beats" and "Bloomsbury's." Moreover, that moment when the biggest band in the world - the Beatles - had split, but were intimately involved in the avant garde, in the openended artistic scene in New York, sees a rare confluence between music, literature, visual arts and film.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mixed Feelings

As a subscriber to the deceased Zembla Magazine, like Bookworld, I began receiving strange letters from solicitors about its untimely demise, with debts of £400,000, and being a creditor of one, Simon Finch Books. That can't be the same Simon Finch who has just paid £2.8 million for Shakespeare's first folio, can it?

Spam Poem

I hope Tony Trehy creator of the Bury Text Festival might like this one,

Spam Poem#1 (Stanley Stephenson)

I am Stanley Stephenson
to deemphasize
Amelia postmark from,
go burglarproof
go do dragonfly Amelia
then conclude go
showroom downturn
this bourbaki. can,
why baboon deemphasize
go me comport Amelia
the entice the garland
shakespearian this
pole Amelia
that aries can
afar from sleigh.
transvestite that this
Amelia from budge me
shakespearian bourbaki
drove that bergen.

I fear that J.H. Prynne might be out of a job. Those last 3 lines get me every time. "Amelia from budge me shakespearian bourbaki drove that bergen" has anyone ever said it better? (More soon.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Keep up to date

In the absence of City Life, various websites can help you keep up to date on activity in the North West.

Anyone missing City Life's literary listings should keep up to date with the fine, clean lines of Literature North West.

If you want to check out the wide range of publishers and publications in the region - or are starting one yourself - then try its sister site Publishing North West. Who says publishing is a London thing?

For film and related activity you can have a look at the Northern Film Network's informative blog, and I'd recommend subscribing to their very useful email newsletter.

To whet your appetite for the autumn, the first Manchester Literature Festival will be with us in October. The website and brochure are coming soon.

And for all things Mancunian worth reminding people of the Manchester Blogger's Aggregator and for more blogs than you can shake a piece of hypertext at, Manchizzle's blogroll.

Not Manchester based, but anyone who caught poetry boy band Aisle 16 last year - and anyone who likes a bit of humour in their verse - should try and catch Luke Wright at this year's Edinburgh festival.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

O! To Be...Postmodern

So this is what we do, innit? We go to a literary do on th' evening and can't wait to leave so we can get home an' file our copy. Here goes then. Names have been psychologicallly morphed to protect the innocent (and hey, they won't come up in a Google search) -: So it was Crispian Rizzle's leaving thang where we all gathered at the Copa Cobana bar at the bottomend of the Fifthways Building down in the Northend Quarter. Fuck, I arrived too late for canapes, and first stunner I saw was blogmeister extraordianaire Catriona Delf where we cut to the quick and talked about the footcha, inc. Bloggers meet at Rubbish in a few wks. Sure I'm up to it. I blog! I am! Then she had to go talk to someone and I needed a break. Caught Rizzle's eye, but he was being surrounded by friends all night. At bar, bumped into Pa Rage, doyenne of Mancunian publishers, SemiColon Press, and he was his usual self, albeit a little drunker by this stage. You never know whether to talk serious or silly wit' da Pa, because he's always checking his options, and I'm only glad I aint got anything on his slush pile at the mo' that we can avoid talking about. He asks me, as everyone does, how the magazine, Lemming Bridge, is doing, but I have to inform them I'm no longer editor. You can see the shock! Advert Catcher has jumped from the Lemming Bridge, but alas it's so. Then as I try and grab a few words with Dee Lumley - who is Crispian's right-hand-woman on the festival, and she's deep in converse with top art poet Walmart Welsteve. I always shake Walmart's hand and have the same conversation with him - kind of about has he written anything lately? I don't mean it in a bad way, and its become a joke between us, I think. Walmart's sticking with his ouvre, Thursday night at Stans if you're interested in hearing the latest interpretation. Then there's old stalwart from back-in-the-days of Stonewart's readings, Walmart Ice, sporting a dapper 'tache. We have non-lit connections so we talk about this and that. But everyone's always got someone else to talk to. So I'm there with the guy who I met at the Burton Anthony reading, who is there with Dilly Storm from the library. And we huddle like non-speaking guests at a Tourette's conference, giggling quietly at the "fucks" and "buggers." Hey, it's a motley crue, that's for sure, and no Tommy Lee! Just time to catch a few spoken words with Zara Spake Thunustra, who runs the spoken word night and works with Welsteve at Lontob college. I tell her "not to worry" because she always seems to.. I leave quickly to go home and write my blog, which was my whole parasitical take on th' evening, though I have been known to be "fond of a drink". Kind of think Crispian Rizzle will slam dunk Norwich when he get's there, there's my boy. Wot a bloomin' sendoff! Zinedine Zidane!

Shine on You Crazy Diamond

Sad to say, Syd Barrett is dead at 60.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lonely Rebellions

One of my lonelier rebellions is against bad avant garde writing. Cult publishers, blogs and magazines seem to have no quality control whatsoever when it comes to particular writers, writing and subjects. Transgressive sex makes transgressive writing, seems to be the mantra, when really, it can just be S&M Mills and Boon. I am grateful, therefore, to 3AM Magazine for providing an extract of some of the worst writing I've ever read. Stephen Barber has all the right credentials of course; he's an academic, usually a signifier of limited literary merit; in digital and media arts; which adds a certain certainty to it; and, here's the killer has been described as the most "dangerous man in Britain" by the Independent. Given such credentials, it would be a near miracle if he wrote anything good at all, but this extract from "Tokyo Sodom" is numbingly bad. It's almost pointless to quote from it, since every line is a gem. Like an ethics professor with Tourette's he can only interrupt the S&M Mills and Boon of his porn movie fuckfest, to spout, verbatim, chunks of geopolitics. His banality can describe breasts as "Mount Fuji-like", and his erudition can include mid-sex dialogue such as "In the Second World War, (the Slovakians) were the only nation in Europe that actually paid the Nazis to take our Jews away to Auschwitz! 20,000 of them,at the cost of 50 crowns per deportation." Though I did enjoy the choice Slovakian insults. Well-heeled academics write trash for money most of the time, but we don't have to pretend there's the remotest thing interesting about fiction this bad.


Reading David Thompson's intriguing history/polemic of Hollywood, "The Whole Equation." It's not just the Fitzgerald quote of the title (from "The Last Tycoon") but Thompson's clearly a Fitzgerald obsessive, which is great. Already I get the sense - a few chapters in - that Hollywood has lost it, will no longer keep our collective pulse raising, and still might. There's a few more novels about Hollywood than rock music; and I'd guess there's a whole raft of novels that owe something to the grammar and the glamour of film. (David Foster Wallace might say its television that influences his generation of writers, but he's American - growing up in Britain in the '70s there wasn't really enough television to influence a writer; and the BBC, despite its legendary remit to entertain, educate and inform, never touched on the wider vocabularies that I was discovering through literature, music and movies. Only Channel 4's arrival provided that stimuli.) Somewhere I've a book about poetry and the movies, (American movies), and I guess it mentions the D.W. Griffiths' short "The Lonedale Operator" which John Ashbery paraphrases in an early prose poem. It strikes me that this was the same technique - a film from memory - that Fiona Banner was so successful with in her writing-on-the-wall pieces such as "Hunt for Red October." Interestingly, around the time that I was at my most Ashbery-esque, I wrote a poem called "How I came to Love the 20th Century", which mentions Griffiths' epic "Birth of a Nation", without, I'm sure, having been aware of "The Lonedale Operator." Thompson makes much of the Griffiths' films economic as well as cinematic connotations. That the Griffiths' film was based on the novel "The Klansman" and may have led to further lynchings in the year after its release, is one of the great embarassment's of American movies. But we're not yet at Hollywood at this point - and Hollywood - and the Californian light, so memorable an image for Hockney's swimming pools (another reference I used in my poetry), is the central subject of the book.' You read the dates in the book, and you realise how young an art form cinema is, and he compares and contrasts the films being made in the first quarter of the century with the literature, the music, the art. This mass medium had yet to find its vocabulary. I think it does, later, and does with the power of a symphony, or a great novel. I'm reminded by the Manchizzle, that George Clinton comes to Manchester next week. He of course produced and co-starred on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' early highlight "Hollywood", and I guess for any non-initiates a good starting point in all things Clinton would be a Parliament compilation, or even Bootsy Collins' "Back in the day" compilation. "The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership" can be recommended unadvisedly as well, if you can find it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's a flap, jack

In the ten years since the IRA bomb, much has been made of the city centre's regeneration; and perhaps not enough of what's lost as a result. In a city like Manchester, messy, unplanned - you get the unexpected amidst the chain stores. Little by little, we regenerate away. The last jack has been flapped, the last pancake flipped, the Dutch Pancake House is no more. Despite not having changed either its menu or its window display for the 24 years of its existence on the corner of Oxford Street, somehow it survived all that the city and it's fashions could throw at it. It would have been almost new when I first came to the city; yet I can't imagine it ever was fashionable. I only went once - you'd be unlikely to go twice - and had a savoury pancake followed by a sweet pancake. I always imagined it must have been a front organisation for some Dutch Cosa Nostra, and, like the VIP adult cinema club a little further down the road, I've never actually seen anyone come in or out. (Though I did once see an ambulance outside apparently taking care of an overindulged punter - the adult cinema, that is, not the Dutch Pancake House. )

Sunday, July 02, 2006

England's Glory

Sunday night. Post-England game. Feel like writing terse sentences a la James Elroy or David Peace. The typical England under adversity fight after the team were down to ten men is undeniably valiant, but makes you wonder why it always has to get to that point? Ah, football, mirror to a nation's soul. The links on the side of this page have expanded a little, so I'm going to try and rationalise - more categories so you know what you're looking for - but also I'm tempted to get rid of any that are not paying their way (e.g. are not being updated.) Susan Tranter dropped by the site to point me in the direction of Encompass Culture, and her blog on it. Its the British Council, which always seems to treat literature as being a bit more important than the Arts Council ever does. Perhaps because internationally at least, we're still the land of "Dickens and Shakespeare" (and probably Rowling, but I'll let that pass.) Though its annual new writing anthologies - number 14 is just out, just published by Granta - are an often uneasy mix of the new, the worthy and the popular. Perhaps necessarily so, though I've not found them essential for quite a few years, but a useful starting point, I guess, for a snapshot of contemporary writing. I think David Mitchell got his first break in one, a few years back, so they've something of a talent spotter role to play. The latest one contains eleven "novel extracts", a format that seems pointless to me, though we've all had cause to provide an extract for something or other over time. I usually cheat and call them short stories, which brings me neatly to my new, long-delayed task, of putting a few of my older stories online. I'm starting those that have had some kind of public life - either been published or otherwise disseminated. Our premature World Cup exit will at least let us get to the beach before the Germans and the Sunday Papers are full of their holiday reading, which always makes me imagine that there is a "holiday season" with everyone going off to the French Riviera for the summer, like they do in "Tender is the Night." Perhaps Robert McCrum does. Who knows? My time off work tends to be spent frantically catching up with my own, oft-neglected writing. Those for whom neither "New Writing 14" or the Richard and Judy booklist provide summer solace, might be thinking of a social disease to take on holiday rather than bring back from there, such as H.P. Tinker.