Thursday, 17 June 2010

I play the drums in a band called okay

by Toby Litt

okay. Just like that, lower case, italics.

You know you have that friend who tells really great anecdotes? And you always think they could write a great book just by putting the anecdotes together in some kind of order? That's where the anecdotal novel comes from.

You get funny anecdotes, and you get weirdly esoteric anecdotes, but you also get general life anecdotes. Your friend who's in a band mostly tells stories about being in a band -- especially if he's the drummer -- and they can still be the basis of a novel.

This book is that book. It's also the book I hoped Bono talking about himself might have been. But he's not a drummer, he's a lead singer; so he has what I will (kindly) call thoughtful anecdotes.

How good are band anecdotes? typically pretty shit. But how good is Litt's writing? exceptional. This is the second of his I have read, and it is vastly different from the first. Different, but it does share two things in common with it:

1. It is brilliant.

2. It is flawed.

The flaw in this case is the flaw you always flirt with in an anecdotal novel. It's a bit too anecdote, not enough novel. To put it another way, the stories don't quite come together to form a single narrative.

The attraction of the anecdotal style is that you can wander off from the novel arc, and you don't need to serve the overall novel too religiously/unrealistically. But it's easy to go too far, and have no overall experience given by the book.

Because Litt is funny and clever and moving and imaginative and absolutely kills on voice, he gets away with it, but because of those same things, it's also a bit frustrating.

Twice Litt has impressed me, and twice I've been left wishing he'd done things differently. The nearly-great is a more frustrating problem than the actually-mediocre, but it's also a more pleasurable problem. And a more successful career model: I won't think twice about buying the next Litt book I see around.

Either way, I'll be picking up another of his as soon as possible.


I haven't blogged for a week or two, due to being in Denmark (AWESOME) and other summer stuff. Summer stuff will be continuing for a while, so I might be blogging erratically.


Despite the possible erraticism (real word), I will be kicking off another L2R Challenge in the vein of May's Photo Month. For the next 6 books at least, I will be reading authors I've never read before.

It's a chance to check out new authors, discover new favourites (like I did with Litt), etc. It's easy to buy a book by an untried author, but even easier to leave them on your shelf when there's tried and tested authors on there as well.

I will be spending my summer in the company of authors, old and young, who I have never spent time with before. I shall call it... The Summer Of Strangers. SOS.


  1. Denmark sounds exciting! Photos?

    And I'm looking forward to your SOS!

  2. i think i'll do a post (or two) about the Denmark trip, with as many photos as i can fit on it.

  3. SOS sounds fun.

    Sounds like Litt is a real "good but..." author.

    I think the annecdotal novel is similar to collections of articles with the non-cohesive narrative thing.