Slam-Prose takes the Prize. Again.

American writer, Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty is a 54 year old African American from Los Angeles and the first American to win the Man-Booker Prize (2016) since American writers were included in 2014. He has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College and an MA in psychology from Boston University. In 1990 he became the first ever Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe which garnered him a book deal. Two volumes of poetry Big Bank Take Little Bank (1991), Joker, Joker, Deuce (1994) and three novels , White Boy Suffle (1996), Tuff (2000), and Slumberland (2008) followed.  The Sellout was also awarded the 2015 National Book Critics Award for fiction.

Rappers and slam poets are never stuck for words

… And on hot 104-degree San Fernando Valley days, when we’re carrying their groceries to their cars or stuffing their mailboxes with bills, they turn and say, “Too many Mexicans,” a tacit agreement between aggrieved strangers that it’s neither the heat nor the humidity, but that the blame lies with our little brown brothers to the south and the north and next door, and at the Grove, and everywhere else in Califas;

they begin a collocated list and then subvert the last item

… Charisma flung back her long straight black hair from her face and took a hit that illuminated the mysteries of the internet, Ulysses, and the American fascination with cooking shows;

foster a slick line in similes

and comforts you like a lover making your bed while you’re still in it;

manufacture an artistic range of compound adjectives

My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, cafe-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown! How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids? Why aren’t there any yoghurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books? That’s why black literature sucks!;

add a touch of ethnic colour

… If I was lucky, I’d catch a glimpse of Marpessa, Charisma, and their homegirls holding court at the rear gate, sassy as a brass big band, hula-hooping their hips, chanting Ah beep beep, walking down street, ten times a week …”Ungawa! Ungawa!” That means black power! … I’m soul sister number nine, sock it to me one more time…;

and toss in a joke or ten

If New York is the City That Never Sleeps then Los Angeles is the City That’s Always Passed Out On The Couch. 

“I hate the act [of writing], definitely,” said Paul Beatty. “I mean, I don’t write much. One book every seven years or so. But it’s slow. When I’m doing it, it does give me a satisfaction. But it’s hard. It’s like how do you string together enough of these little moments where something is happening? That’s a pain in the a—.”

This is odd, or clever, because reading this book impels you to read it as fast as you can as if it was written while standing bare-foot on hot coals. But, then that, I suppose, is what slam-prose is all about.

In an age where a song lyric is suddenly, and some say at-long-last, recognised as literature – thanks to the Nobel Academy, The Sellout finally brings slam prose into the mainstream, and how? By out slam-prosing last year’s slam-prose Booker winner, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings by showing James how it’s really done. Where A Brief History … was a literary wank sprukin’ how boring seven pages of no-punctuation thought-stream can really be, The Sellout, o-n-l-y  j-u-s-t makes it over the literary line by having something to say. And no wonder publishing house after publishing house turned it down (What? A book about reinstating slavery? Are you kiddin’ me?!) until finally Farrar, Straus, & Giroux hyperventilated and agreed to take a punt.

If you like a novel to have ‘nice characters’ and a ‘good story’ stay away from The Sellout. If you like clever word-play, African-American street-speak, stand-up with balls, if you’re a book judge or a literary critic, or you like a book you can keep on the coffee table and dip in to when you’re feeling low you’ll lerve this one.

You can download the paper or ebook version here or from Amazon here.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby


British novelist and screenwriter, Nick Hornby.

High Fidelity (1995) is about an English self-pitying dead-sh*t and pop music tragic called Rob Fleming, (sorry about the coy symbols but I suspect my blog master has a ‘language’ filter) who runs a second-hand record (as in vinyl) shop stocking music that no-one, well only 3 people actually, wants to listen to and treats sex with women as doses of analgesic for his bouts of self-loathing depression. I suspect that Hornby created Rob as a way to get real a*sehole straight hopeless pr*cks to read books. Considering Hornby’s success I might be right. So what is a 60-something gay man living on a tropical island doing reading old English popular fiction, lad-lit, about straight a*sehole losers? Hornby-curious. He’s successful and was recently Oscar-nominated for his screen adaptation of my literary hero, Colm Tobin’s novel, Brooklyn. He did a good job although it wasn’t Oscar material. Besides, I found it in a pile of books someone else was throwing away.

And if you haven’t heard of Nick Hornby you might just be back from 35 years on Mars.

In an attempt to find out why his life is so meaningless and lonely Rob Fleming embarks on a quest to find his five most devastating and sadistic dumpers (He’s into lists), Alison, Penny, Jackie, Charlie (no, a girl), and Sarah to ask them why they did it – he’s always the dumpee; oh, and why does he want to do this? Because his latest live-in, Laura, has just dumped him (See!) for his neighbour, Ray, he of the loud and long upstairs orgasms, and he’s worried a pattern is forming. “Doh!” as another straight, and also fictional, but animated, a*sehole loser would probably say. Yes, if Homer Simpson had a back story it would be a little bit like Rob Fleming’s, only funnier.

But Hornby did made me laugh, several times, but he confirmed my view of 30-something single straight men who navel-gaze without a clue what they’re looking at, as deserving to remain single and f*cked-up since the women they want are exactly the women who are sensible enough, or should be sensible enough, to avoid them.

Rob also thinks he’s a typical (and therefore acceptable) bloke because he doesn’t remember anyone’s birthday, except his own, and is so self-deluded that he imagines his most recent ex-lover, the sensible but messy Laura, getting together with his parents to organise a massive surprise birthday party and then literally gets upset that they didn’t tell him.

Hornby made me re-think the oft repeated, and usual female line (why is that?) that ‘you can’t like a book if you don’t like the characters.’ Rob Fleming isn’t nice. I would ‘run a mile’ if I found Rod Fleming sitting at my lunch table: I’d certainly seat him at the other end of it. Yet, Hornby, makes him self-deprecating enough and helpless enough to make you wish he would find some sort of redemption, some one to take him on, someone to pay his bills, and someone to wipe his nose and tell him that everything will be all right in the end.

And when he finally gets “a shag” with an American B-grade country-rock singer that people have actually heard of, no less, he worries all through the deed if he is doing it right: no-one ever told him about G-spots, nor those ‘tad-pole things’, and what ‘good in bed’ means … and then he worries about worrying. He’s f*ck’d!

Eventually he manages to get one of his dumpers on the phone.

“Have you got, you know, kids and stuff, like everybody else?”

“I could’ve had them if I’d wanted them. I’m too young, and they’re too …”


“Well, yes, young, obviously,” – she laughs nervously, as if I’m an idiot, which maybe I am, but not in the way she thinks – “but too … I don’t know, time-consuming, I guess is the expression I’m looking for.”

I’m not making this up. This is how she talks …

Well, Mr. Hornby, you are making this up, but giving the narrator, Rob, this to say is a little cute novelistic trick to make novelistic truth (verisimilitude) feel like real truth; the kind of truth that tickles and stimulates the reader’s suspension of disbelief so you laugh or cry at exactly the moment that the author wants you to. You may have also picked up the tone, a kind of skatz that makes you feel that all this must be true since it’s so ‘conversational’ and ‘who would make up stuff like this anyway?’ and, besides, he tells you everything! He makes you feel like you’re his best mate, so, therefore you have to like, and believe him; which is exactly what skatz is meant to do.

Does it all work? Yes! By the time he gets around to the proposal (and I won’t be mean enough to tell you which dumper gets it) I was with him all the way. It’s not the down-on-one-knee proposal (he’s never been that kind of guy, and if he was that kind of guy and found himself kneeling before her he wouldn’t be thinking of proposing, he’s be thinking of oral sex – and why not, while I’m down here) but it’s funny, cute, dorky, sweet, cringe-making, charming, and well-written, as is her reply, er, replies. Yes, it’s kind of a romance for blokes; and as the final scene unfolds, a bit like in a movie, you’ll be smiling all the way to the last page. Cue music, “Got to Get You Off my Mind” by Solomon Burke, as the ex-dumper smiles across a bopping music crowd at the ex-dumpee. A-a-h! Fade to black. The End.










Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Mary Norris, the New Yorker’s Comma Queen

Punctuation may not be the most riveting of reading matter but for those of us who ‘get off’ on grammar, it’s a small diversion. Marry Norris has been working at The New Yorker since 1978 and her revelations of how the magazine works, and the characters who work there, are fascination enough. However with chapters called “Comma Comma Comma Comma, Chameleon” and “A Dash, A Semicolon, and a Colon Walk into a Bar” you know that her tongue is firmly in her cheek. However I do note that in her few pages on ‘the serial comma’ (some call it the Oxford comma, named by them who decreed it should be used, but it is used more by the Americans than the British), that’s the one before the ‘and’ in a series (or list), she is rather snobbish about its use:

Chances are that if you use the Oxford comma you brush the crumbs off your shirtfront before going out. The British get to have it both ways: they deride us Americans for our allegiances to a comma that they named and then rejected as pretentious.”

If you don’t use the Oxford comma you run the risk of the following, “This book is dedicated to my parents, Alan Jones and God.”

I didn’t “laugh out loud” as the jacket cover said I would (although you might in her chapter on symbols, F*ck This Sh*t), but I certainly had a constant smile on my face; except when it came to the hyphen.

I use these rarely except in a compound word (a made up word) like in the phrase ‘a comma-bashing critic.’

A bird-watcher is a watcher of birds; a bird watcher would be a bird that keeps an eye on things.”

As for the dash, a long hyphen, I never use it and never see the need to; commas will do very nicely.

I did enjoy finding out about something new: the diaeresis (pronounced ‘die heiresses’), also spelt dieresis. It is those two little dots over the vowel to denote the beginning of another syllable; for example, naïve, Charlotte Brontë, and coöperation (see Mary, I use the Oxford comma). Not to be confused with the German umlaut which denotes a change in the vowel’s pronunciation.

It is often said that texting will be the death of punctuation, if not spelling; but I don’t think so as long as there are people who punctuate their texts.

Punctuation was invented to facilitate reading aloud: from the pulpit originally. However we do this rarely these days and so the use of punctuation can often be individualistic; and if so all that Mary asks is that you be consistent.

Anyway the bottom line is that punctuation to prose is like music to film: it should never overpower that which it is there to enliven.