Thursday, 4 February 2010

baby don't go in no corners

I've been a PhD student for two and a half years and only gave my first departmental paper on Tuesday evening. I've given papers before and it's actually something I quite enjoy, but giving a paper to your entire faculty is something else altogether. It went very well, thankfully, and a moment of extreme smugness ensued when one of the professors asked me where I lived in France (a lot of my paper is in French). I've never lived in France, I'm just pretty good with languages.

While the experience was less painful than expected, it also reinforced what I wrote about a few days ago. I don't want to know everything about an extremely limited field, à la academia: I want to know everything about everything. I am inquisitive and curious - insatiably so. I clip interesting looking places/books/shows/etc out of newspapers or magazines and then I actually go there/read them/see them. Cf. latest wonderful discovery - the Alice-in-Wonderlandesque cocktail bar 69 Colebrooke Row - thanks to an article in the FT weekend magazine.

Apart from my game of cultural russian roulette - which for me seems to work better with books than music and has brought me
GK Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill, Norman Doidge's The Brain that Changes Itself, JK Donlevy's Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B as well as Ronan Bennett's The Catastrophist and Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing - I keep my eyes peeled and my ears open.

If I hear a song in a shop or a cafe and I have no idea who it is, I'll write down a few of the lyrics and track down the song later when I get home. This doesn't seem to yield the same kind of results that I get with random book buying, but I've come to The Cribs, The Young Knives, and the Hot 8 Brass Band this way.

One of the best books I've ever read - James Salter's Light Years - was discovered by snooping through the contents of the desk of a very cute boy sitting next to me in the London Library. I wondered what he was reading and when he vacated his desk for a moment, I took the opportunity to rifle through the books on his desk (like I said, insatiably curious). The book at the top of the pile was Light Years, which I'd never heard of, so I went out and bought a copy and then spent the next day on the terrace at Somerset House savouring it. Such a marvellous book! And one which I might never have come to know had I not been up to my silly tricks.

When I was in Edinburgh over the Christmas holidays I headed to Armchair Books [Armchair served as the inspiration for Dylan Moran's Black Books bookshop - tis an Edinburgh institution] to pick up a few gifts and look for something new for me. I found what I was looking for giftwise and then asked the [totally and hilariously random] bookseller if he might recommend something good. As it happened, he was just about to put a book on the 'staff recommendation' shelf with a handwritten note blue tacked to the front which read: 'This book is astoundingly good. And I have excellent taste.' I finally got around to reading the book on Tuesday, but your man was right. I don't know if it's astoundingly good, but it is a good book [it's Russell Hoban's Amaryllis Night and Day]. But the thing that really gets me is that it's so perfect for what's been going on in my head lately - about the nature of creative people - and how they think and where they take inspiration from. A reminder that it's not a bad thing to be a girl who loves eighteenth-century French literature and Latin epic and neuroplasticity and architecture and opera (though not Stravinsky, as I learned last night) and dance punk and London and Edinburgh and dressing up and grunging out - why limit possibilities for the sake of a good old-fashioned academic career.

Nobody is going to put this baby in a corner.

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