Look at me, I've read a book!
For the last couple of years I've made a habit of reading a book a week and recording it on my Instagram. As so much of social media is “performative B.S.” as I saw it described, where else, on social media, I guess this counts as my own small contribution to the online dung heap.
The upside: I read a book a week. The downside: It can't be a door-stopper like War and Peace.
I’ve managed to maintain this routine during lockdown despite my brain becoming slightly resistant to the concentration required.
This seems to work for me as I'm the sort of person who refuses to give up on a book. If I make it through the first chapter then I will doggedly trudge my way through to the end. At least I thought I was that sort of person until a couple of weeks ago when I made a start on Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett. I guess I’m not that sort of person after all. These trying times can be self revealing.
I’ll return to Malone at a later date when the world doesn’t appear quite so grim.
Anyway, Week 23 2020, I read a book.
Bulwer Lytton by Leslie Mitchell.
I bought this volume way back in, checks receipt, 2005. If I’ve achieved nothing else in lockdown at least I’ve read this damn book that has sat on a high shelf staring down at me accusingly for fifteen years. “I’m a hardback. You paid good money for me and you still haven’t read me,” it has seemed to say for the last decade and a half. Well, all I can say is, “In your face!” An old score is settled. Bucket list item ticked off.
One reason I haven’t read this until now is that I buy more books than I can ever hope to read. The other reason is that it’s a severe looking tome about an eminent Victorian that suggests it will be dry and boring. Not so. This is eminently readable and tells me some of what I wanted to know about this once famous writer.
He’s vain, a hypochondriac, an egomaniac, a domestic abuser, thin-skinned, a lousy husband, an even lousier father, a massive drama queen and, not surprisingly, quite exhausting to be around. His biggest fault in the eyes of the British public was to take himself and the role of the artist incredibly seriously. That made him an irresistible butt of jokes from the likes of Thackeray. Then, as now, the British have little patience for that sort of thing.
He also seems to have been a writer of his time. I certainly wasn’t left with a burning desire to head online and order some second hand copies of his out of print novels. His interest in the occult is given some attention and his wacky ideas about the hollow earth and Vril (the inspiration behind the name Bovril, the “thick and salty meat extract paste” that - unlikely as it sounds - some people are willing to drink) is considered a satire on socialism by the biographer. Madame Blavatsky considered them truth. But then she believed in all kinds of hogwash. The biographer is a serious-minded chap and shows more interest in Lytton’s political career than following up on this sort of entertaining nonsense. I would suggest that Lytton’s wacky satires on The Coming Race (the name of the Vril novel) have had a more lasting influence down the years than any of his serious works.
I am certain that Leslie Mitchell would have sold a lot more copies of his book if he’d shoehorned an image of a Nazi UFO on the the cover. Sadly, as everyone in publishing knows: Nazi’s sell.
I warn you ahead of time that Vril, Blavatsky, Lemuria and other weirdness is a Hellboy-esque wiki rabbit hole that will swallow up your evening if you let it.
What on earth does any of this have to do with me flogging stuff?
As Glister helps the ghost in the teapot to fulfil his very final wish, she starts to uncover another of Chilblain Hall’s surprising and charming secrets.
As it happens, I bought this book for research for Glister and the Haunted Teapot way back when I first put that book out through Image comics mumble mumble years ago. The inspiration was the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest hosted by San Jose State University to write the worst opening line for a novel. Lytton famously began his book Paul Clifford with “It was a dark and stormy night”. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly bad opening sentence but Lytton was considered a bit of a joke even when he as alive and posterity has done little to change that view.
I’d set myself such tight deadlines for those first Glister books that I never had time to more than lightly skim the biography back then. Obviously, none of the darker aspects of Lytton’s life and character make it into the children’s comic. My writer is an egotistical bore so it is in the spirit of the real life Bulwer-Lytton.
It is now available in one volume from Dark Horse, or signed and sketched directly from me.
If you’d like to see some original pages from this book you can find them here.
Which only goes to show, one way or another, a book purchase is legitimately tax-deductible when you are self-employed.