“Scottish book of the week”? I like the sound of that…
I also edited the latest edition of Beatdom literary journal, which was published a few days ago. Today I checked Amazon and saw that it was listed as No.1 for Literary Criticism Reference. It’s a small category, but still… I was delighted.
A few days ago, I published an interview with Casey Rae about his forthcoming book on William S. Burroughs. You can read that here. I have reviewed the book for another journal, although I have no idea when that will be published. Probably closer to the actual book’s publication date.
Speaking of Burroughs, my own book has gone through a bit of a resurgence of interest (perhaps the result of being excerpted at Tony Ortega’s website) and is selling very well once again. It got a new review a few days ago from a former Scientologist.
Finally, I was interview by Jon Faia for this website. I mostly talk about the Beat Generation and being a writer.
It’s been more than 5 years since Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ was published. I quickly began looking around for ideas for my next book, and decided to write about Allen Ginsberg, the poet who wrote “Howl” and “Kaddish” and “America”. After a few false starts, I eventually realized that I could write about his extensive travels. Amazingly, Ginsberg travelled to 66 countries, sometimes spending several years on the road. This was before Google Translate, Tripadvisor, and GPS apps…
Initially, I was interested in how and why he travelled, but as my research led me further into Allen’s world, I realized that travel really shaped who he was. In this new book, called World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, I explore how travel shaped his poetry, politics, and personality. The book is broken into 4 sections, each covering a distinct phase of Allen’s travelling life: his first forays into the wider world, his early major journeys, the India trip that changed him forever, and his last journeys.
You can now buy World Citizen on Amazon, or go ask your local bookshop if you prefer.
You can read some related articles I have written about Ginsberg’s travels during my research for the book:
Although this blog has, in the past few years, become mostly a place for me to post photos, it used to be a bit more literary. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, and more than just the disjointed travel stories that now accompany my photography.
Back in 2007, I started Beatdom literary journal, which has since published 18 issues. We’re on a bit of a hiatus for now, but there’s still the occasional essay at www.beatdom.com. For those who don’t know it, Beatdom specializes in the Beat Generation.
I’ve written here about a new book I’m working on, World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. It’s more or less finished, but needs a little more work to get it just right. I expect it to be on sale in 2019.
However, I have kept quiet about a book I published a few months ago. I don’t know why. It didn’t jive with my Beatdom or photography work, and probably wasn’t of much interest to most people reading this.
Since 2010 I have been teaching IELTS, which is an exam for English students. I’ve gotten pretty good at it and in the last two years I’ve run an IELTS preparation website. To accompany the website, I wrote a grammar handbook. It covers the very basics of English grammar in a way that would help both teachers and students. It’s called Grammar for IELTS Writing.
That book is, like most, available as a paperback or Kindle title. However, the next is only on Kindle.
While I was there, and after I got back to China, I wrote my experiences down in a different form to how I usually write here. I had been reading Bill Bryson on my travels and I tried to channel his style of wit. The result was Crossing India the Hard Way.
I recently spent one month travelling the south of India, from Chennai in the east to Varkala in the west. On my journey, I did a lot of reading. Much of it was related to India as I felt it would be a good time to learn about this vast and fascinating country. I’m going to list the books below, along with a short description/review.
Neither Here nor There, by Bill Bryson. Buy. I’ve read a few of Bryson’s books in the past and really enjoyed them, but this was by far the best. I laughed out loud countless times. His was of describing the various places in Europe that he visited was absolutely hilarious, particularly when things start going wrong, which they often do. He can put a funny spin on anything. Consider this rather depressing passage:And to think that this was written in 1991, long before millions of Chinese tourists were unleashed upon the world!
Lonely Planet – South India. Hmm… I can’t seem to find a link for this one. I never buy guidebooks but given the complexities of travelling in India, I picked up a second hand 2014 copy of LP’s guide to South India. It was, to be honest, crap. Total waste of money. Full of silly grammar errors and useless information.
The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux. Buy. I’ve read a couple of Theroux’s books on my travels and immensely enjoyed all of them, but this one was a particular highlight. It details his travels around the world by train, with one chapter for each train journey. Unfortunately, much of the route is no longer viable – can you imagine trying to cross the Middle East on a train these days? His descriptions of the landscape are beautiful and the conversations with other passengers often funny and always engaging. I particularly enjoyed the sections in India.
The Summer of Crud, by Jonathan LaPoma. Buy. A novel about two young men crossing America by car. Sort of an On the Road updated for the 21st century. I didn’t really enjoy it. I reviewed it here.
Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, by Niall Ferguson. Buy. A fantastic book about the incredible British empire that was so vast that it covered a full quarter of the world at its peak. Ferguson explores how an insignificant nation, whose “navy” was just a bunch of pirates, conquered the globe, and how that led to the world we have today – for better or worse. As the most important part of the Empire, India dominates much of this book.
The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, by Michael Krondl. Buy. Did you know the knights of Britain and France would have sat around a table in a castle eating food that tasted more like an Indian takeaway than anything we’d consider British or French today? Spice has long been imported to Europe, and three cities dominated that trade – at least for a while. This great book explores the histories of Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam through the prism of spice. (The author also narrates partly from Kochi, where I visited last week.)
The Good Father, by Noah Hawley. Buy. I can’t get enough of Noah Hawley’s books. Or his TV shows. He’s the guy who wrote Fargo (not the movie). Two years ago, I read his novel, Before the Fall, and was very impressed. This book is just as good. It’s about a man who finds out his son assassinated the man who was all but certain to become president of the United States. He’s determined to prove him innocent, but the son claims to be guilty.
I mostly use this blog for travel and photography, but I’m sure that my followers know I also do a spot of literary work. Over at www.beatdom.com, you’ll find me musing the Beat Generation. Beatdom is a literary journal that mostly publishes essays about the Beats (and related artists) but also runs the occasional poem or short story.
Last month, Beatdom turned ten years old. We celebrated by publishing our eighteenth issue. I can hardly believe that it’s been a full decade… for a small literary journal, that’s a hell of an achievement.
In 2010, I think, we grew from just publishing the literary journal into being a publishing company that puts out books about the Beats. At the beginning of May, we released Beat Transnationalism by John Tytell, and we have another two books set for release this year. (I’m also working on a book about Allen Ginsberg, which I expect to finish in 2018.)
Yesterday I took the bus back to downtown Chiang Mai to further explore this tranquil little city. Last week I went to Wat Phra Singh and wandered a few other places, but I wanted to see more. After all, next weekend I’ll be leaving and I doubt I’ll be back here for a long time.
What I found were a number of fantastic little bookstores tucked away on Chiang Mai’s winding streets. I’m a literature graduate and an obsessive reader, and so having spent years in Asia, where English-language bookstores are naturally few and far between, I was very excited to find that Chiang Mai has several great shops to browse.
The first shop I discovered was The Lost Book Shop, which drew me in because right outside there was a special Hunter S. Thompson display! Thompson has been one of my favourite writers (perhaps my absolute favourite) since I was 18 yrs old, and this was the first time in Asia that I’d seen so many of his books collected together. I restrained myself from buying dozens of books and only purchased George Orwell’s Bumese Days and Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt.
Next I found a bookstore with a great Beat name – On the Road Books – which is run by a nice English man, and sits across the road from the U.N. Irish Pub (which I also highly recommend).
Here there was no dedicated Beat or Gonzo section, but there was a number of Beat books scattered throughout, including The Beat Book by Anne Waldman. I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler.
Finally, I found the mother of all Asian bookstores – and indeed one of the best bookstores I’ve visited in my life – Backstreet Books.
I’d heard from a few friends that this was the bookstore to visit, but I didn’t actively look for it. I just sort of stumbled upon it, and I’m glad I did. Inside there are posters and photos from City Lights (the only other bookstore I can think of off the top of my head that is better than Backstreet). At the back of the store there is a Beat section, where they’ve collected dozens of books by or about Hunter S. Thompson (not actually a Beat writer, of course, but still…), Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
At this stage I was aware that although I wanted to buy dozens of books, I realistically could only buy one more, and it was a tough choice. I picked Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals because I actually bought it last year and had it shipped to China, but it never arrived. I believe the Chinese government, in all their censorious wisdom, objected to a book that is so sympathetic to the Tibetan cause.
After that, I retired to the U.N. Irish Pub with my purchases to have a Guinness before making the long trek back to International House, out in the countryside to the south of the city.
If you’d like to find these great bookstores for yourself, you can find them on Google Maps. I don’t know how to embed the map, so I’ll just screenshot it below:
It is now the end of week three in my CELTA course at International House, Chiang Mai. These first three weeks have been tiring, although perhaps not as tiring or difficult as I had anticipated. Certainly, the cumulative effect of three weeks’ hard studying is palpable. I’m counting the days until I’m free.
I only have two more teaching practice lessons and one more assignment to do. In week four there is lots of free time and on Friday there is only a party to attend. The finish line is now in sight, and I’m beginning to look beyond CELTA, to my travels in August.
I still don’t know what I will do but I need to be in Cambodia in early August and my Thai visa expires on August 1st, so that helps shape things. I plan to cross the border into Laos and perhaps travel down through the southern part of the country, crossing into Cambodia after a few days. In Cambodia I’ll catch up with some friends before somehow going to Malaysia. I’ve wanted to see the Perhentian Islands for some time, and now seems like a good time to visit. After that I plan on going to Lombok in Indonesia, and perhaps to Komodo.
I’m torn between finding someplace nice to sit and relax for a month, and going out to explore the region a little bit. As you can tell from the last paragraph, I’m leaning towards the latter.
For the moment, though, I’m hoping for a few free hours this weekend to further explore Chiang Mai, which does seem like quite a cool city. Last weekend I explored a few temples and a wonderful little bookshop, called Lost Books.
To date, all the posts on this website have been travel-related. This one bucks that trend in that it’s about a journal which I recently published. For nine years I’ve been editing Beatdom literary journal and we just put out our seventeenth issue last week. It is, as always, about the men and women of the Beat Generation (this time around it’s more focused on the women) and the theme for this issue is politics – meaning that all the essays relate in some way to both Beat literature and political thought.
Here’s the cover:
This cool cover was designed by Waylon Bacon, who has drawn many of our previous covers. Check out his website here. You can find Beatdom #17 on Amazon as a regular printed book and also on Kindle.
Below you can see the covers of all our previous issues. Most of these titles can be found on Amazon. A few of them, however, have sadly been lost over the years and only occasionally pop up on eBay and elsewhere.