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In which it takes yours truly a year to read a book (but not a year to read it)

Twelve months ago I started this blog to get me back into books after an extended period of not reading anything other than newspapers and the odd magazine. Now, I’ve long been a gold-standard procrastinator, so it comes as no surprise that I am only now putting pen to paper (or, you know, fingers to keyboard) after … reading a book!


A couple of months ago my pal Lee lent me a slip of a thing called Jesus’ Son (yeah, I know, it should be Jesus’s Son) by the late American writer Denis Johnson. I’ve previously read Johnson’s Tree Of Smoke, a doorstopper of a novel that I quite enjoyed – but I hadn’t sought out any more of his work. Lee assured me a friend of his had knocked over Jesus’ Son during an hour-long flight. It took me slightly longer than that, and spread over two sessions, but finally, GOAL ACCOMPLISHED!

Johnson, who died last year at the age of 67, is best-known for both these books – and Jesus’ Son was turned into a 1999 film that would probably be well worth seeing. This collection of 11 short stories are interlinked by an unnamed narrator, a down-and-out drifter and addict who mixes with similar lowlifes. It is safe to assume these vignettes cut close to the bone for their author, who was publicly open about his own issues with alcohol and drugs. They certainly have that sheen of gritty authenticity about them.

But despite the high praise and critical acclaim for Jesus’ Son, this reader was left largely unmoved. Most of these stories don’t actually go anywhere; they meander and peter out. Perhaps that is the point – they reflect the monotony, hopelessness, and daily drudgery of lives wasted on the way. Maybe I’ve read way too much “dirty realism”, and this genre has since lost its literary allure. I suppose I could re-read Burroughs’ Junky and get back to you on that one.

But, frankly, these stories left me feeling grubby and in need of taking a shower, stat. That might have been appealing, once upon a long ago – but not now. I must be getting older – or perhaps just wiser. Regardless, I no longer have the appetite for this sort of thing. No matter how well written – as this is, undoubtedly.

But hey, at least I finally read a book – and blogged about it. I’m off the mark! And hopefully, you won’t have to check back in another 12 months’ time for the next installment …

JESUS’ SON by DENIS JOHNSON, Granta 2012 (originally published 1992)



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