Following on from previous pieces about finding “coincidences” in the things that I have read, seen or heard (links appear at the end of this post) here are a few observations from April, a month in which I didn’t listen to as much, or read as much, as in previous months.
I have left Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” half-read until a time when I’m less distracted and can appreciate it better. I have spent the last ten days reading things that I found easier instead. It’s a cop-out, I know, but in the past getting stuck on one book has put an end to any reading for months at a time.
Since writing, two weeks ago, about failing to read even 50 pages a day (“So much for 50 pages day”) I have finished four books: “The Butler Did It” by Paul Pender (interviews with a multiple murderer who acted as a butler to wealthy and aristocratic families), “Shakespeare’s Local” by Pete Brown (about the George Inn in Southwark), “Misery” by Stephen King and “Hound Dog” (the interview-based biography of Leiber and Stoller, the songwriting partnership behind “Hound Dog” and scores of other hits from the early 50s onwards). [I also finished “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L Frank Baum (reading aloud to my 11 year old son at bedtime) but that was more of a struggle than anything else I’ve read aloud over the last six months.]
The subject of “The Butler Did It”, Roy Fontaine (or Archie Hall), repeatedly refers to “The Arabian Nights” as his favourite book. A number of the tales were mentioned throughout and I realized that I had never read any of them. I downloaded a copy and have been reading it at nights to my son over the last week. (We haven’t got to any of the famous stories yet, no Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or Aladdin, or Sinbad.) I didn’t even know the premise of the tales until this month, that Scheherazade is telling the stories to her husband to stay alive. (Is that Universal Knowledge? It had passed me by.)
I bought “Misery” a few years ago after reading on a writer’s Blog that it was an excellent book about writing, and until this month had never read anything by Stephen King. (I have always been inclined to like him: we share a birthday, and that’s enough for me.) The theme of Scheherazade telling stories to stay alive runs throughout this book; it’s what the author Paul Sheldon is doing while holed up involuntarily in Colorado with mad Annie Wilkes. The name Scheherazade comes up repeatedly. If I hadn’t come across it a week earlier it wouldn’t have meant as much to me.
Both “The Butler Did It” and “Shakespeare’s Local” explain the meaning of the word buttery: it’s nothing to do with butter, it refers to where butts of beer were kept. In inns, taverns and large private homes there would be butteries to store the beer.
Both “Shakespeare’s Local” and “Misery” refer to the popularity of Dickens in America, and the stories of people waiting for the ships to dock to get their hands on the latest instalments of successes like “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
Storm cellars, or tornado cellars, both get a few mentions in “Misery” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.
Somerset Maugham (a name I hadn’t come across for years) is mentioned a few times in both “The Butler Did It” and “Misery”.
Postscript: The day after drafting this piece, and still in April, I listened to Shirley (“Superwoman”) Conran’s “Desert Island Discs” appearance, to hear why she had selected “Career Opportunities” by The Clash. I finished reading “Hound Dog” just before drafting the words above, and both Leiber and Stoller recalled their time recording with Peggy Lee. They wrote in detail about recording their song “I’m a Woman” with her and I meant to check it out. I didn’t have to go looking for it though. It’s the first disc that Shirley Conran chose to take to her desert island so it came to me, “by coincidence”.