Throw Ed Reardon from the Train

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s books about writers. William Golding’s The Paper Men, Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson – my god, excrutiating stuff.

If there’s one thing I LOVE, however, it’s comedy about writers. I haven’t come across much, but what I have stumbled upon has been hilarious.

I used to have quite a big commute to work and I used to listen to Radio 4 on the way home so I could catch up with the news for the day. At half 6 they always had some comedy on and Ed Reardon’s Week was one of the things they played. I thought it was brilliant. For those uninitiated with it, each episode is essentially a day in the life of a pretentious, slightly egoistical, and generally overlooked writer. He spends a lot of his time compulsively checking his Amazon sales rankings and moaning about his overlooked genius, then usually attempts some sort of self promotion or new highbrow project which ultimately fails and results in him getting drunk. It kind of strikes a chord with me really, because checking Amazon every 45 minutes and getting drunk when self promotion just starts to seem like a fool’s errand are two of the realities I’m facing these days.

I initially saw Throw Momma from the Train when I was a teenager (and in the middle of a serious Billy Crystal phase), but there are bits of this film I still love. I’ve tried to insert the writing class scene in below, but you may have to click the link to watch it directly on Youtube (unfortunately).
I like a bit of satire – as the promo thread I swear I’m never going to mention again after today attests – and I think it’s healthy to have a bit of a laugh at yourself from time to time. I’d like to think I’m a bit more well adjusted than Ed Reardon, and I’d like to think I can come up with better book ideas than 100 Girls I’d Like to Pork, but ultimately there is always a vestige of taking yourself too seriously when it comes to writing. A tutor I had at university once floated the idea that “writing is intrinsically pretentious”. I say she floated the idea as she’d heard it somewhere else and wasn’t sure whether she agreed with the statement or not. I do agree with it. I don’t have a problem with it, but I do believe that in order to produce anything that requires a sustained effort you have to be a bit self-delusional and have to buy into the worthiness of it all. There are very few writers (if any) who have changed the world for the better. As far as I know there aren’t any instances where a work of fiction has saved someone’s life.
I’ve just done an interview – it’s due out tomorrow – and I had great fun in pondering my answers in my best authoritative tone. It was the textual version of those author photos where the subject puts their thumb on their chin and stares longingly off into the middle distance. But ultimately it’s all nonsense isn’t it? I read because it broadens my horizons a little bit, it makes me take on board different perspectives and opinions and makes me a more rounded person (I’d like to think anyway). I write because it helps me rationalise those ideas and concepts that have been sparked off by the things I’ve read, and then by extension the things I’ve experienced. Which is all noble enough, but seriously, who else should care about me wanting to do that? It doesn’t make me a better person than the bloke next door who watches reality TV, plays on his x-box 12 hours a day and doesn’t give much of a thought about anything other than his own entertainment. It just makes me a different person.
I’ll be honest, I do get annoyed when people deride my interest in literature or further education or arty subjects because I never deride their lack of interest in them. To take an analogy, I was vegetarian for about 5 years. Not for any real moral reason, just because I’ve never eaten a lot of meat as I don’t like it so much. Every time I went for a meal with people I had the same discussion, and it always went along the lines of them asking, no DEMANDING, to know why I didn’t eat meat, did I think they were inferior to me for eating meat, was I morally outraged by their choice, why are vegetarians so up themselves with their superiority complexes? Remember, I never commented on any of these things, I just ordered the mushroom risotto and then suddenly found myself faced with an argument that wasn’t even there. It reminds me of the line by Bill Hicks where he’s reading a novel in a diner and the waitress asks “why are you reading?” Not WHAT are you reading, WHY are you reading?
I’ve wandered off the topic of satire a bit haven’t I? Well, maybe not. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that it’s good to laugh at the stereotypes because there’s more than a grain of truth in them, and perhaps recognising that will stop people assuming I think I’m better than they are. I don’t. If I could play more than six chords on my guitar I’d probably be into music more than literature. If I could kick a ball in a straight line I’d probably be more into playing football than I am into writing stuff. We have the capacities we have and the interests we’re inclined to, that’s all. Now shut up and leave me alone. I have a novel to write about a submarine. Dive, DIVE it’s called. “So the man who makes it dive pressed a button, or something, and it dove, and the enemy was foiled again.” 😀

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