There once was a time when I seemed to have all my best ideas last thing at night. It was perhaps the cause of my chronic insomnia. What chases away sleep more quickly than some thought or inkling that absolutely must be developed and explored right now, at 2 am?
But now I seem to have all my best ideas first thing in the morning. Or first thing after I have remembered who I am, how many arms and legs I’ve got, what country I am living in, and all the other innumerable things I have to remember when I wake up in the morning. Because waking up for me is a bit like Windows 7 booting up: an interminable process of flashing lights, icons that appear and then disappear again, fragments of music, as Windows 7 tries to remember which operating system it is, and what it was last doing. In fact – again like Windows 7 – some days I fail to completely wake up, and remain in a semi-sleep state all day. Do Apple computers behave in the same way? Or, when they’re switched on, do they just come to life immediately and unhesitatingly, like a radio?
Anyway, today’s idea, which occurred to me when, as ever, I remembered the smoking ban and the antismoking zealots in Tobacco Control, was: If they have contempt for smokers, they have contempt for everybody.
For I usually think that the zealots only have contempt for smokers in particular, and that everyone else is exempt from their profound contempt. But this morning’s insight was that this could not be the case. The antismokers’ contempt for smokers is really only a special case – a single example – of their contempt for everybody.
And that’s why it’s been so easy for them to extend their contempt from smokers to also eaters and drinkers. They have the most complete and perfect contempt for absolutely everybody. They have contempt for all humanity.
It’s the same contempt that global warming alarmists have towards global warming sceptics or deniers or denialisationists. How dumb can they be? How contemptibly stupid of them that they simply can’t see what’s happening in our world – which is populated with countless millions of contemptibly stupid people? We, the enlightened, can see. But these fools do not.
But, shortly after this thought sprang to mind, it also occurred to me that their contempt for everybody would have to include contempt for each other. The enlightened Tobacco Controllers must not only have contempt for smokers, but they must also have contempt for other controllers. Deborah Arnott must hate Linda Bauld and Stanton Glantz and Simon Chapman. And they in their turn must return the compliment. It explains why there are growing numbers of outcasts – like Michael Siegel – from the ranks of Tobacco Control. These people turn on their fellows like wolves. It’s very likely that Tobacco Control is tearing itself apart, as one faction (anti-vaping?) expresses its mounting contempt for other factions.
And finally, it struck me that the contempt in which they hold all humanity would also have to be the contempt that they had for themselves. Deborah Arnott must hate Deborah Arnott. Stanton Glantz must hate Stanton Glantz. Simon Chapman must hate Simon Chapman. The poison that they dish out on all humanity must also be poisoning them. The flamethrowers are being consumed by their own flames.
I’ve been beginning to understand, in recent weeks, why I no longer seem to be able to read fiction. There’s a very simple explanation for it: I read too fast. I read far too fast. I read everything at about 180 mph. And if what I’m reading is well-written, I’ll read even faster. I can get the gist of entire paragraphs in seconds. I’m not actually reading it: I’m skimming over the surface of it, picking up a word here or there. I engulf books.
It’s a realisation that’s been brought home to me while I’ve been reading Dmitri Kossyrev’s Amalia and the White Apparition. Only one of his several books has been translated into English. Or only one of them has been properly translated into English. And Amalia and the White Apparition isn’t one of them. What I’m reading is the author’s own translation of his book. Because when I asked if he might send me a page or two of it, so that I might make an assessment of its promise (it’s already been a great success in Russia), his response was to email the whole book to me. So I’m reading Dmitri Kossyrev’s translation of Dmitri Kossyrev’s Amalia and the White Apparition.
And while he’s doubtless a master of the Russian language (and quite possibly several others), he’s not yet a master of the English language. But then, neither is he a beginner. For the book is almost readable.
And this is where my own realisation about my own reading habits has been dawning on me. For it’s been quite impossible to read this book at my usual fuel-injected Ferrari speed. If nothing else, the book is littered with so many elementary spelling mistakes that any attempt to do so results in the Ferrari hitting a pothole, and being catapulted off the road into a ditch.
So I’ve had to climb out of the smoking wreck of the Ferrari, leave it behind, and continue on foot, skirting around the edges of the biggest potholes, climbing over stones and boulders, pushing through nettles and brambles. My reading has been slowed up to something less than walking pace.
One might imagine that, faced with such difficulties, I would have simply abandoned the book, and stopped reading. But there was a rather arresting opening to the book, which seemed to hold out promise for future pages. And so I’ve carried on slowly reading it. I’ve been reading roughly a chapter a day, rather than a chapter a minute.
At first I thought that the story was set in some sort of fictional British colony somewhere in the Far East. But after a few chapters, upon encountering an English name – Swettenham – that seemed to me to be plausibly English (although one I had never encountered), and searching for it online, I discovered that the book was set in Penang, sometime in the 1930s, and was describing a real town with real streets and a real fort. Using Google maps, I was able to walk along those streets, and visit that fort. So, in addition to reading a book, I’m also discovering the island of Penang. And so both the book – and Penang – have come to unexpected and surprising life.
There’s also a delicious love affair that slowly unfolds from the very outset of the book, which is also interspersed with loving descriptions of oriental restaurants and food, as well as American jazz music and musicians and instruments. And it is punctuated with a sufficient number of unfortunate events to maintain the brooding air of menace that was established at the very beginning.
And I keep having to remind myself that I’m reading a book by a Russian author. For here we have a Russian author writing about two English speakers, speaking English to each other, in the setting of an English island colony. One of them is actually a rather handsome and dashing Englishman, with a trace of James Bond about him, but also traces of any number of stock English characters from any number of other English fictions. There are no Russians in the book. Or none that I have encountered as yet. It’s a book that could well have been written in English by an English author, if it hadn’t been written in Russian.
I’m also reading the book as a critic. I’m wondering what it needs done to it for it to be made into a proper translation. The most obvious thing that’s needed is to correct the innumerable spelling mistakes. But whoever undertakes the task of polishing its English into rather better English will also have to have a knowledge of oriental cuisine and American jazz that exceed mine. But I can’t help but think that if its English was improved, it would no longer teach me the valuable lesson I have learned from it: that I read too fast. It’s a book that has been forcing me to read slowly, and if its English was improved, I’d rescue my Ferrari from its ditch, put new wheels and windscreen on it, and soon be reading at 180 mph again. And so I’m half-wondering whether the book should be published just as it is, spelling mistakes and all. It would be panned by critics as an abomination, of course. But who cares what critics think?
Anyway, I’ve now managed to get about half way through the book, which has managed a number of startling plot twists. I’m enjoying reading it, even if it’s hard going. It’s a new experience.