Super Bowl LII vs Megan Dunn’s Tinderbox. No contest.
Right now a bunch of superbly muscled oafs are waiting at half time somewhere in Minneapolis to get on with the game that is more Stop-Go than the roadworks up at Kaikōura. Me, I’m sitting here writing an appreciation of an obscure memoir they will never hear of, probably. Almost definitely. Obscure to them, of course, not to me. It’s 22-12 right now to the Eagles, who I somehow hope will kick Patriot ass (US spelling), but really, I don’t care. If I remember on the way, I’ll update the score, or as the witty author of the book I’m going to rabbit on about might write, “The timer went off”.
Yes, it’s about writing to order by word count and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Borders Bookstores and City Lit Adult Ed (both London) and the University of East Anglia Creative Writing Programme (Norwich) and eventually, the IIML in Wellington, c2013 (previously on Lost, The Manhire School). Yes, and Harry Ricketts – a genius tutor – and finally, some proofreading needed. That’s what Kim Hill said too. But then again, who cares? The Press which I read everyday for The Little Things strip and the death notices has a very laissez faire attitude to the way letters come together and separate these days, so I guess it’s in the water.
It’s still 22-12 to the Eagles in Minnesota. One thing I really loved about this brilliant memoir – which, it seems, rose like a memoir out of the ashes of a failed novel strangled at birth by the copyright powers of I believe, Bradbury’s family (I refuse to use the Phoenix metaphor, as I don’t believe Megan Dunn would approve) – is the way she slips from scene to scene, changing the narrative from gritty winter commuter life in London’s streets and tubes, to disquisitions of Truffaut’s failed film of the Bradbury book and something approaching hero worship of his coiffed leading lady, Julie Christie.
And the sharp, droll way she can send up film and LitCrit while at the same time showing you she’s well read, as well as hopeful: “Insdorf pronounced the film Truffaut’s passionate homage to literature, to the written word. Ditto. My homage to Fahrenheit 451 was going to be a searing feminist rewrite of Bradbury’s classic, like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, only blonder”. Knowing what Jean Rhys rewrote is helpful here, but my attention was on the flip blonde joke; the book is full of seriously funny send-ups in which the writer does not take herself so seriously, that she ends up making another misery memoir out of her OE adventures in love, bookselling and writing classes.
One reason I liked it so much was that it covered ground I’ve been tramping over myself for the past eighteen months in a memoir of my own, and if that’s tad narcissistic for a piece of literary criticism, well let me tell you, (1) this is fan mail here, not the LRB or the NYRB, or even the Pantograph Punch (which can do just that) and, (2) lots of reviews are deeply self-involved and self-promoting, so let’s be real here. Eagles 29, Patriots 19.
It’s just such a great read, I want to share my happiness: the fact that I worked in Waterstones, did courses at City Lit in London and came home in 1997 from ten years in the UK, six on the front line in Charing Cross Road, to wind up doing a creative writing course in poetry here at Canterbury, is icing on my cake, that’s all. You might have none of that to add to the mix as a reader, but it doesn’t matter, when the writing is so funny, and bold and precise, in capturing the human heart at work and play, trying to set free what this creative human being really wants to do with her life (writing), while distracted by the terrible need to pay bills, and cruelly, having to do that by selling the work of other writers (a realization finally drove me out of the Big W ranch, and back home for a late run at the line).
So I guess this is three cheers for Tinderbox, and a thank you to the author for writing so well about what this journey means; an encouragement to listen to what our dreams are saying, and crack the odd good joke along the way when you tell your story (Spoiler Alert: fans of Jodi Picoult might get pissed off with some sections). Anyone who has had to dress up to flog stuff off (booksellers, Harry Potter launches); any poet who has looked for their book, any book of verse in Whitcoulls, poor fools (“The poetry section in Wellington was skimpier than a g-string”); any writer or other creative soul who sees their years of effort turn to sand and trickle away can still take heart from this writer’s courage and chutzpah – when the rubber meets the road and what confronts one is a huge STOP sign.
“I filed the hard copy of the letter from the (Bradbury) estate in my underwear drawer where it remains with pairs of nylon pants that no longer fit”. Snap! She bests here old Kipling’s “triumph and disaster” image from “If”, with lingerie and a touch of carpe diem. My next rejection letter is going in the drawer with my 1995 Bob Dylan T-shirt (ok, I gave it away long ago, but if I still had it, it wouldn’t fit me, either). Eagles 32, Patriots 32. Sic transit gloria mundi. Somethings are funnier than Super Bowls. This book is way out in front.
Well, the Eagles won. Tom Brady fumbled at the death. Let’s see if he can get up again and make something good out of it all, like Megan Dunn did when her F451 crashed and burned. 41-33, if you care.