Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John Lanchester

I don't think I have the right temperament for a blogger. My assumption, always, is that everyone knows everything I know AND MORE. Rephrase. Everyone who is interested in the kinds of thing that interest me knows everything I know AND MORE. If they're not interested they don't know but don't want to. So there's no point in mentioning things that strike me as interesting, unless a) these are events in the last, say, 5 minutes (so those disposed to be interested might not be au fait or b) I'm up for proselytizing (those not disposed to be interested might be with enough encouragement).

I don't think this is rational. I think the assumptions are false. But these beliefs seem to have no influence on whatever it is that pushes one into writing a blog post.

I thought of this again after reading yet another piece by John Lanchester in the LRB. I first heard of Lanchester on an ill-fated fellowship at the Cullman Center at the NYPL: Patrick Keefe talked about the brilliance of JL's The Debt to Pleasure, which I had not read, so I bought the book and sure enough this anatomy of a lunacy is a brilliant book. Have I ever mentioned it in a post? No, because naturally everyone disposed to be dazzled already knows about it.

Since then I've read many of Lanchester's columns in the LRB - he specialises in pieces on the financial industry, though he does tackle other topics. The way it works is, I pick up the LRB at a newsagent, or go to the website; think: OH, they've got a piece by JOHN LANCHESTER, how FABULOUS! Buy LRB / read LRB online, depending on circumstances. Never bother to link to them on the blog (this is not the stuff of which great bloggers are made) because everyone disposed to be interested is already, obviously, keeping an eye out for new Lanchester sightings in the LRB.

Lanchester has a new piece in the LRB, anyway, on the Scottish banking system, here. Before reading the piece, I had no idea why this particularly mattered; thanks to JL, I now know that the Royal Bank of Scotland is, by asset size, the biggest company in the world; that RBS got an injection of capital of £20 billion from the British government after the weekend of October 11-12 last year, giving the British taxpayer a 60% ownership of the company; that it has since realised it needs more, the 'more' bringing taxpayer ownership to 95% - and there is, of course, much more, and, what can I say? It's great. By 'great' I mean something like, this restores my faith in reviews, there actually are reviewers who are not afraid to get their feet wet, Lanchester goes on to give an explanation of why mergers and takeovers tend to destroy value yet are attractive to the stock market, spreading, if not sweetness, then light. (If you know your LRB, you'll know that the website makes it easy to check out previous pieces by an author, so you can read Lanchester on video games, Wal-Mart and much much more.)

It would be better, of course, to write a proper review of The Debt to Pleasure, but the book is in an apartment which has been sublet till the end of July, and I writing from a cafe, and what with one thing and another circumstances are not propitious. My conscience does bother me, but not as much as it would bother me if I went on holding out for the perfect moment.


Bernardo said...

I can't think of a more alien subject to me than financial stuff.

Rory said...

You have mentioned the DTP before - 'viciously clever' is exactly right. In part because of your prompting, mostly because of a propitious visit to a second hand bookstore, I just read it, and I have to agree - Humbert Humbert with some sort of freudian transferance. http://paperpools.blogspot.com/2007/12/cdo-to-pleasure.html

Rory said...

PS. He's back at it in this week's New Yorker, a much more straight forward book review, but, being Lanchester, the virtues are still manifest and multifarious. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/06/01/090601crbo_books_lanchester?printable=true

Anonymous said...

Well, I think your premise is wrong. I love him, and I just discovered him. But please, continue to explore what you think we know, you always invite new things I am unable to find on my own.

Languagehat said...

Well, you've just inspired me to look for his book, so your departure from standard operating procedure has not been in vain.

SnowLeopard said...

For what it's worth, prospective commenters are often plagued with the same affliction. I too, though, will now be looking for Lanchester's book.

Anonymous said...

Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive (nihongo):


Diamond Jim said...

I do watch out for Lanchester, and I was particularly impressed by that article, but you're being unduly modest. You know many things I don't know (and vice versa, by the way), and I check in here frequently. So blog more often.

If you haven't, you should read MR. PHILLIPS--a criminally underrated book, which bears the same relation to ULYSSES as DTP does to LOLITA.