Friday, February 21, 2014

A Guide For Hipsters: The 15 Coolest Novels



So you're a hipster and you live in Brooklyn, Camden Town, St Kilda or downtown LA. You've got your Oxfam cords, your Atari T shirt and your 1970's replica Adidas trainers (I've actually got these and they're great!) You're in the coffee place that no one knows about behind the stolen car chop-shop. It doesn't have Wi-Fi or comfortable furniture but it does have really good coffee. So you're there drinking the Bali Mother Temple Blend, sneaking admiring glances at your trainers, and checking out the other hipsters in the place. Some have Edwardian sideburns, some have full beards and as for the blokes...Sorry, old joke, couldn't resist. No, the girls are really cute and you're sitting there, worried that you're going to spoil the illusion of cool by bringing the wrong retro paperback out of your battered bike messenger bag. What novel is it ok to read that won't set the hipster alarm bells ringing? In the 1980s it was easier - Sartre, Camus, Henry Miller, Eudora Welty, Philip K Dick, a battered Penguin Classic. . .
...
But that shit don't work no more. It reeks of a set-book in uni or sixth form college and you're far too cool to be doing homework in here. So what does work? Here are some book suggestions and what to say to the curious guy/gal who - hopefully - asks you about your reading material:



1. Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace. "It's so much funnier on the third reading."

2. Crash - JG Ballard. "It's about this pervy guy called Ballard who meets this guy called Vaughn who wants to kill himself in an erotic car crash with Elizabeth Taylor's limousine. . .What? They made a movie out of it? I don't watch movies from the last 40 years."
3. Platform - Michel Houellebecq. "It's a bit like Crash, actually, but without the cars, Ballard, or Elizabeth Taylor."  
4. Red or Dead - David Peace. "It's like Fever Pitch, but, you know, good."
5. The Rehearsal - Eleanor Catton. "Yeah, I read the one that won the Booker. This is her earlier better, longer, less crowd-pleasing one." 
7. The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem. "Its about this kid who lives Brooklyn in the 70's and this homeless dude gives him this ring that lets him fly. No, wait, come back, it's the greatest American novel of the last 20 years. . ." 
8. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke. “What's it about? Uhm, well, aliens come to watch all the children on the Earth doing a conga dance that gets out of hand as they merge into a giant supercreature and sublime off into another dimension. He wrote it at the Chelsea Hotel if that helps explain things." 
9. La Casa de los Espíritus - Isabel Allende. "Oh this? No, not really my cup of tea. I'm only reading it to improve my Spanish in preparation for my Ayahuasca rebirthing ceremony."
10. Human Race Get Off Your Knees - David Icke. "Alice Walker's favourite book, apparently. . .Uhm, I think its fiction."  
11. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth. “She hasn’t met all three of her suitors yet but I’m only on page 973.” 
12. The History of Madness - Michel Foucault. "Ok, yeah, not really an novel, but here's an interesting fact about Foucault: he used to go to public lavatories in Paris, lie down in the urinal and have strangers piss on him. . .Why are you looking at me like that?" 
13. The Cold Cold Ground: Adrian McKinty. "The best crime writer you've never heard of. . .Wait, you've heard of him? Jesus, that dude is so over." 

40 comments:

Alan said...

Adrian,"The Jest "sounds like a blast. I looked up the story line in Wikipedia.The work sounds like a reprise of the 60's and 70's through a carnival mirror either reflecting A Bosch like triptych of those times or distorting it (those decades) to make their effects clearer.As for being hip or cool via your chart who knows it might work for some on the same wave length.I remember I once brought "Sun and Steel" to Museum of Modern Art in New York and only picked up a cold.Best Alan

Brendan O'Leary said...

Well, if they're reading actual books, I suppose there's hope for them yet. It seems a bit too late to quibble about the substance.

HARDBARNED said...

Ha! I'm digging your posting innovation here, Adrian. Nice job mixing up the voice. If I'm still trying to get through Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity after a couple months, what does that make me? Ever read that? I got interested in it after Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs. I keep reading because somehow I think this supposed nonfiction technology stuff is good for me, but it's been slow going and some of it soars past over my head at high speed. Of course I've been distracted by Rinzler's comprehensive coffee-table behemoths on the making of the original Star Wars trilogy, so that has slowed me down some. I think you might love those too, if you have a magnifying glass and can manage to carry them home. I pre-ordered ITMIBG. Early March. Stoked.

seana graham said...

Ayuhuasca. Iowasca would mark that hipster wannabe as the self-referential Midwestern farmboy he no doubt is. Unless he just wants to highlight the fact that he was at the Iowa School.

And I think Infinite Jest is all any of them would ever need to carry around as a credential, which is probably why I haven't read it.

#15? Trending...

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Infinite Jest is actually very good but I still prefer the essays.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

Good point. I've been saying for years that reading novels will increasingly become a niche cult-like activity... I shudder to think what the % is of people who read at least 1 novel per year.

adrian mckinty said...

HB

I've read the Kurzweil. I dont know if I'm convinced. I think he may be right about the tech but wrong about the timeline. It looks like something for 200 years from now.

Hope you dig Duffy#3!

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I shall edit when I get the chance.

There's no way I would want to do a drug that actually only works when you're vomiting it back up....

seana graham said...

Oops, I misspelled it too. It is Ayahuasca. As you can imagine, ayahuasca is a very Santa Cruz hipster kind of drug. But then I am not a hipster. Although I have read Satanic Verses.

I did hear a presentation this week by a team styling themselves as psychedelic freedom fighters. But that was somewhat inadvertent. Although they were actually quite interesting.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Freedom Fighter and psychedelic just dont seem to go together. I think the ruling powers everywhere wd secretly be very happy to see a docile population tripping on acid or zoning out on opiates.

seana graham said...

These two weren't docile or zoned out, but definitely more of a "the revolution starts within persuasion" than what you're seeing on the streets of Kiev right now.

Liam Hassan said...

Adrian - no self respecting hipster would be without some Naomi Klein or Noam Chomsky. Sticking it to da man, psychedelic or otherwise.

Lethem is always a good choice - the reviews for his new one look quite promising. You had a chance to get a copy yet?

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Kiev is depressing. I think its going to be a replay of Beijing, Tehran, Cairo...

adrian mckinty said...

Liam

Isnt Chomsky pretty much old hat? His line hasnt wavered in 50 years: "America is the great satan."

Havent read the new Lethem. Wife and mother in law both loved it though. Wife occasionally emails Lethem (not sure how that got started) and raved to him about the depiction of Queens in the 70s and 80s.

seana graham said...

What's even more depressing is that Kiev seems to have bumped Venezuela out of the headlines. I guess we can't having two countries undergoing violent change in our minds at the same time. Not that it's a skill I much want to acquire.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Kiev/Ukraine is definitely winning the news battle in the UK, coming second only to the devastating shock of David Bowie expressing an opinion.

Of the hipster list, I've only read Vikram Seth, the Tibet one and Golden Gate, way back when, both of which I admired a lot - enjoyed even. But I'm old enough to remember "hipster" the first time round.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Oh, and number 15. That McGinty guy. So 1983.

Liam Hassan said...

Wow- emailing Letham himself? Never been to Queens, but the depiction seems to ring true. Love the old seventies funk bands he pays homage to - my wife bought my an old vinyl record p,Ayer for Xmas, first album I bought was maggot brain by funkadelic. Hipsters - don t know they re born!

Peter Rozovsky said...

A coffeeshop without WiFi? And with cool books? Get out of here!

I don't think I've ever been surprised in my local. Most of the youngsters not dressed like Rachael are on their computers, rather than reading anything, interesting or not. Or course, so am I most of the time. I'm generally editing or blogging there. I do my reading at home or on my dinner break at work.

But seriously: I have been astounded by the lack of interesting books that my fellow coffee drinkers seem to read. I don't think I've seen any books on the table there that I might not have seen in the 1970s or '80s. I have seen Herman Hesse a time or two, David Foster Wallace just once, and Erich Fromm once. It's not a crowd terribly interested in interesting reading, I'm afraid. They talk a lot more about their music of their art than about other people's books.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well I know what Chomsky wd say about Venezuela and Ukraine: "Its all the fault of America: the great Satan."

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

Its funny: he flirts with fascism -not a word. He puts a decade of shitty albums - shtum. He calls his kid Zowie - silence. He says "hey Scotland stay with us" and the fucking world goes mental.

adrian mckinty said...

Liam

Yeah I think it was in the context of teaching him...

I still have vinyls but there'll all in an attic in Ireland. Pretty sure the first one I got was The Undertones The Undertones.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

This is very much a cafe like Orwell's pub The Moon Under The Water...

I was in the Ikea cafe a few weeks back and it had tons of hardback books by writers like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh and Dorothy L Sayers but unfortunately they were all in Swedish. I couldnt really understand the point of this except as set decoration because Ive never met a Swede yet who couldnt speak perfect English.

seana graham said...

As to the Ikea café, well, it was probably to avoid the Aussies stealing their books. No offence, Aussies. I'm just saying how it would all play out in Santa Cruz.

I don't know about Chomsky, but Rushdie would call him the Great Shatan.

More on topic though, I think most Americans feel uninformed on both fronts. Whether they acknowledge it or not.

Anne said...

Hey all you young dudes!

I out-cool you all re. David F.Wallace... I have read all his fiction, his non-fiction, his short stories, his essays and even his biography. But the best one to attract the hipsters (well, O.K. aged hippies) is Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Never fails.

Conor said...

Wait, The Rehearsal is than The Luminaries? Gave up on The Luminaries must admit...

Conor said...

*longer than, that was supposed to say...

Brendan O'Leary said...

I'm not sure if you're aware, but the JD Wetherspoon pub chain in the UK has about a dozen named The Moon Under Water, which must be post-ironic or something.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I never thought of that. You're probably right. Nice set decoration and no one will nick the books.

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

Big fan of Pirsig, at least I was when I was younger and when I owned a motorcycle.

adrian mckinty said...

Conor

I gave up the Luminaries too as an audiobook but I did finish it as a pbk. Could possibly have been a little more tightly edited.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

I'll bet you they are non smoking which if you read Orwell's article on the perfect pub is entirely wrong.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Adrian, The very thing I was going to say but wasn't 100% sure of my recollection of Orwell's piece. I don't smoke but the missus does so we don't go to pubs much now. It was only tailor-mades bothered me, rollies were OK as they didn't burn with saltpetre and soon went out if left in the ashtray. Imagine trying to enforce "rollies only" though.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

I remember a nice Billy Connolly rant about this cigar bar he used to go to in Vancouver being closed down by the city...what made it funny is that the bar was on the same block as a city funded building where heroin addicts could inject themselves in a safe environment.

Anonymous said...

You know what a hipster's favorite number is?

It's pretty obscure, you've probably never heard of it.

-Brian O

seana graham said...

Brian, that was good. It realize that I was probably a hipster in the making as a kid because I used to torment my younger sister by replying to her, "Never mind--you wouldn't understand."

Luckily, life soon enough kicked all hipster tendencies out of me.

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Peter Rozovsky said...

Late news flash: I saw a guy in the Pen & Pencil this weekend who had a copy of Infinite Jest. (I had twice previously seen the same person asleep at the bar.)

Quizzed about his reading choice, he said he was making his second attempt at IJ. He either read 300 pages last time before giving up and was 100 pages in this time, or vice versa.

Bill Polley said...

Hi Adrian
Bill Polley here...Your ex geog teacher from Carrick.
Just found 2 of your 3 Sean Duffy stories in Carrick Library and took them with me as Winter week reading while in Livigno, N. Italy. You do really capture the whole era very well. I liked the geography touches of the "belfast urban area" stuff too. Coronation Rd will neever seem quite the same again.
Sorry to report that I went to the police station (to report a random pushbike left at my house in Ellis St) it now only operates from 1pm to 5pm ... no liquid lunches in the 'Oak' now !! How are the mighty fallen......
Ironically the PC had downloaded your 1st Sean Duffy onto his kindle and was looking forward to reading it.
I ordered your 3rd instalment from the Liby and received it today. Reading a John Le Carre at the mo (but almost tempted to stop for the last part of your trilogy - yes they are that good.

Very well done on capturing much of the essence of here in the 80's. I'll mebbe send you a link to my flicker site, though I've never had time to look at and scan in any images of the prints I took of the 80's, though there are some 70's ones transferred from the slides of the time.

Brilliant to have found your writings and I have enjoyed them so much, Thanks again
Bill Polley (retired Geography teacher)

adrian mckinty said...

Bill

Yup I always try and get some glaciated landforms into the books somewhere!