Contemporary culture and Fiction are both usually very broad subject areas, encompassing a huge array of texts, authors and fields of discipline. With our fledgling section at Watkins we aim to offer a selectively curated cross section of suitably metaphysical, unusual, profoundly spiritual, or just too weird and wonderful to leave out – books, graphic novels, and films.
The list that follows only represents a small cross section of what we have on offer, and should make for a good introduction to the section in its various aspects – metaphysical, spiritual, mythological, whimsical…
Basil Bunting – Briggflats
Described as “the finest long poem to have been published in England since T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.”
Briggflatts is a great poem of love and loss, identity and vocation, restlessness and belonging. It moves with supreme grace over cultures, continents, emotions and varieties of music. The central theme, however cunningly elaborated, shines through clearly today.
Mikahil Bulgakov – The Master and Magarita
The Devil, and his entourage descend upon Moscow, what ensues is a fascinating story, spanning 2,000 years. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves…
George Orwell – Books Vs Cigarettes
Beginning with a dilemma about whether he spends more money on reading or smoking, George Orwell’s entertaining and uncompromising essays go on to explore everything from the perils of second-hand bookshops to the dubious profession of being a critic, from freedom of the press to what patriotism really means.
William Burroughs – Naked lunch
Needs little introduction, as one suspects anyone interested in the less ordinary will have come across this classic, if not the book, the horrifying and by turns brilliant David Cronenberg film, that was inspired by rather than based on this book. It’s easily the best example of Burroughs’s work with the cut up technique – i.e. the book is written as series of routines, then cut up and arranged in a seemingly random order. It holds together despite this, story lines intersect, and die down, inter-sped with poetic passages and darkly humorous routines, moving at the speed of the human stream of consciousness.
Neil Gaiman – Sandman Series 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
I would happily recommend the entire Sandman series, Gaiman’s unique gift for storytelling, and perfect blending of so many genres makes for mesmerizing reading, great novels that just happen to be graphic/comic. Throughout the series Gaiman effortlessly blends mythology, reality, social commentary, and fantasy – this first book in the series draws mainly on the occult, and horror – and features cameos from some familiar faces from the D.C. Universe, and although not generally thought of as a stand-out, Preludes and Nocturnes contains three of the best single chapters of the entire series (24 hours, Passengers, and “The Sound of Her Wings”).
Dan Simmons – Ilium
Dan Simmons expertly weaves three separate story lines, across an epic tale that draws on Science Fiction, the Iliad, Shakespeare and Proust. Brilliantly written and gripping to the last.
Taking the events and characters of the Iliad as his jumping- off point, Dan Simmons has created an epic of time travel and savage warfare. Travellers from 40,000 years in the future return to Homer’s Greece and rewrite history forever, their technology impacting on the population in a godlike fashion. This is broad scope space opera rich in classical and literary allusion.
Jon Ronson – Them
Them: Adventures with Extremists leaps into the heart of darkness, with Jon Ronson, as ever playing the picaresque, neurotic reporter in the middle, trying to make sense of it all. Involving 12-foot lizard-men, PR-conscious Ku Klux Klansmen, Ian Paisley, the legend of Ruby Ridge, Noam Chomsky, a harem of kidnapped sex slaves, David Icke, and Nicolae Ceausescu’s shoes. Jon Ronson is chased by men in dark glasses whilst trying to infiltrate a Bilderberg conference in Greece, unmasked as a Jew in the middle of a Jihad training camp, and witnesses CEOs and leading politicians undertake a bizarre pagan owl ritual in the forests of Northern California. He also learns some alarming things about the looking-glass world of them and us. Are the extremists right? Or has he become one of Them? This is a fascinating investigation into extremists of every stripe.
The Lovecraft Anthology. Vol: 1
A graphic rendering of some of H.P Lovecraft’s best short stories. This book is a fun read for anyone already familiar with the world of Lovecraft and his “weird tales” – What is at the foreground here is the vision of the illustrating artist – but even with economical text, the comics are true to Lovecraft’s original tone, and bring the hideous often indescribable horrors of the original tales to life.
Bryan Lee O’malley – Scott Pilgrim series
If you’re hip to the Universe you will enjoy Scott Pilgrim regardless of your age. The six volumes deal with themes of Love, dreams and memory – like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, for the 21st century…except these books have a lot more Ninjas.
Dylan Horrocks – Hicksville
Yet another comic, this one is more or less about comics, it’s also about finding yourself, or just working out who this “self” that you’re finding actually is. It’s endearing, hilarious, sweet and heroic – it avoids all of the possible pitfalls of the medium, and wonderfully exemplifies everything that is good about comics.