Dan Rhodes Recommends
Once upon a time, Rhodes wrote us a list of reading recommendations. Many years have passed since that day, but we are keeping them on the site because they are all still good books and stories. Maybe he will contact us at some point with updated recommendations. We hope so, but we’re not holding our breath.
In the meantime, please do not read anything else until you have read Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards. Rhodes will not countenance requests for recommendations from people who haven’t read it.
Short, abnormal books
People regularly ask Rhodes when he’s going to publish another book. Sometimes he replies by dramatically announcing that he will never publish again, sometimes he’ll give an evasive as-and-when kind of answer, and other times he won’t say a word, wryly raising an eyebrow as if to suggest to his interrogator that there’s something they aren’t being let in on. People rarely find any of these responses to be satisfactory.
On the assumption that these inquisitors are impatient to read more short and unusual books, Rhodes’ stock in trade, he has generously compiled a list of ten titles which he invites people to read before giving him earache about when he’s going to do another one. None of them are particularly long and all of them are in some way abnormal.
1. My Elvis Blackout by Simon Crump. This is one of the most abnormal books of all time, and also one of the best. Eagle-eyed readers will spot that Rhodes has blurbed the paperback edition. However, as he is one of Britain’s least popular writers his endorsement has failed to send My Elvis Blackout into the bestseller lists. No home is complete without this magnificent book.
2. Misadventures by Sylvia Smith. This brilliant memoir is known to leave Rhodes paralysed with pity for the legions of people who don’t get it. Sylvia Smith has written a masterpiece, and her other books are great too.
3. The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills. This is one of Rhodes’ favourite novels, but the problem with recommending it is that it is published by HarperCollins – every right-thinking person’s least favourite publisher. Reluctant to encourage people to put even more money into Rupert Murdoch’s already over-stuffed pockets he suggests the following two-step method of buying the book. 1) Find a second hand copy going cheap, either in a conventional shop or on the Internet. 2) Send the author fifty pence through the post. This way readers will be supporting Mills without giving the living scrotum Rupert Murdoch a single bean.
4. Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton. People may be wondering how a 500-pager managed to worm its way on to a list of short books. This is for two reasons. 1) Rhodes loves this book to distraction and uses every opportunity to bore people rigid by going on about it. 2) It is in fact three short books collected under a single title. All three are fantastic. It’s a brilliant and excruciating read, and has just been republished with an uncredited quote by Rhodes on the back cover.
5. The Road To Los Angeles by John Fante. This is the first of Fante’s Arturo Bandini books. It’s slightly inconsistent with the others, but every bit as excellent. This will inevitably lead readers on to Wait Until Spring, Bandini, and Ask The Dust, both short and neither normal.
6. The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers. A joyous one-sitting read. And just think – if it hadn’t been for this book, the band who stormed the hit parade in 1979 with Every Day Hurts would almost certainly have been called something else. Unfortunately Tony Parsons, everyone’s least favourite writer, is said to have been dropping McCullers’ name into his books in a vain attempt to make himself appear more ‘literary’. Please don’t let this put you off her.
7. The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A cracking book from 1774 about a German moody-chops who gets all upset over a pretty girl.
8. Pobby And Dingan by Ben Rice. Another joyous one-sitting read. An unashamed weepie by a masterful storyteller.
9. Zazie In The Metro by Raymond Queneau. This is a lovable Parisian romp, first published in 1959. The gloriously foul-mouthed young Zazie dreams of travelling on the Metro – find out if she gets to or not…
10. Candide by Voltaire. One of the cornerstones of short and unusual fiction, published 200 years to the day before Zazie In The Metro. It remains one of the funniest books out there, unlike its execrable shameless-cash-in of a sequel, Candide II, or whatever it was called, which doesn’t contain a single sentence of any worth, and only serves to undermine the magnificence of the original.
11. A Crackup At The Race Riots by Harmony Korine. This wildly unpopular book takes the list up to eleven, which wasn’t really the idea but never mind. With the Patrick Hamilton counting as three, the two extra John Fante books and this, people will now have to read fifteen short and unusual books before being qualified to badger Rhodes about whether or not he’s going to write another one. And now Daren King’s phenomenal Jim Giraffe is taking bookshops by storm, that makes sixteen. And this list is just the tip of the iceberg – there are plenty more short, abnormal books out there. Anyway, Harmony Korine is the writer and director of Gummo (that rarest of things – a good film). This book is a sprawling shambles – but in a really good way. Rhodes is believed to be one of only six people in the world who enjoyed reading it.
Most people are distrustful of stories, and prefer to read novels, believing the novel to be a fundamentally superior form. It isn’t. It is time for the short story to rise again… Dan Rhodes has kindly provided us with a list of ten very good stories.
1. In The Gully by Anton Chekhov. Rumoured to be Rhodes’s favourite writer, Chekhov wrote many astonishing stories. As good a starting point as any, In The Gully can be found in various collections, including The Kiss and other stories. It’s a shocker.
2. The Surprise by Barry Yourgrau. This is from his book A Man Jumps Out Of An Airplane. A hugely entertaining and inventive writer, Yourgrau is badly underappreciated, at least in Britain. Rhodes is believed to be interested in selecting a Best Of Barry compilation in an attempt to introduce him to new readers over here. However, it is not known whether he has had the foresight to contact the author, or indeed anyone in the business, about this plan.
3. Physics by Tama Janowitz. One of many cracking stories from her legendary and essential collection, Slaves Of New York. Janowitz is the only writer on this list to have modelled for the cover of Modern Ferret magazine.
4. The Enduring Chill by Flannery O’Connor. About as black as O’Connor’s comedy gets. Rhodes is believed to have written a particularly half-arsed essay on this story several years ago. This is from her superb collection Everything That Rises Must Converge. Flannery O’Connor kept peacocks – like ferrets they are magnificent and destructive pets.
5. Feathers by Raymond Carver. This could have been any Carver story, really. He’s the boss, after all. He’s an obvious choice, but never mind. This story includes a peacock.
6. The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol. A sad and good story from Russia about a man who gets a new coat and who owns neither a peacock nor a ferret.
7. For Esmé – With Love And Squalor by J.D. Salinger. Rhodes grew up in Devon. Roaming the streets of Tiverton as a lad he had no idea he was walking in the footsteps of grumpy J.D., who started to write The Catcher In The Rye while stationed there during WWII. This story is set in Tiverton, where Ben Rice (see above) grew up. Rhodes and Rice were not acquainted as youths, and are only slightly acquainted now.
8. A Country House by Dorothy Edwards. In 1934, when she was thirty-one, the Welsh writer Dorothy Edwards threw herself under a train. She left just two books – a novel (Winter Sonata) and a stupendous collection of stories (Rhapsody, home of A Country House). Both are criminally out of print, but findable second hand. (***UPDATE – Rhapsody is now back in print, with two bonus stories – it’s a must buy***) Like every other story in this collection, A Country House is beautifully creepy, and a lesson in how to write both well and slowly.
9. On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami. This is from Murakami’s collection The Elephant Vanishes, which Rhodes lent to somebody a few years ago and never got back. He can’t remember who it was. (***UPDATE – Rhodes has since married someone who had this story in her collection, so it’s now back in his life***)
10. Henry And Eliza by Jane Austen. Although in fact a novel (Jane Austen says so, and who are we to argue?) Henry And Eliza is only six pages long so it’s included here. It’s from Volume The First, which she wrote when she was a fully-functioning comic genius of 12 to 15 years old. Strangely little read, even among supposed Austen nuts, her juvenilia stands up as some of the funniest writing of all time.
11. The South by Jorge Luis Borges. Once again, in his enthusiasm Rhodes has failed to stick to just ten items. He has also inexplicably omitted several stories that he is known to love (Why no R.K. Narayan? Why no Maupassant, no Sylvie by Gerard de Nerval and nothing from Patricia Highsmith’s wonderful Little Tales Of Misogyny? That he hasn’t included a single story by Katherine Mansfield suggests that Rhodes wrote this list in a hurry). Anyway, The South is from Borges’ collection Fictions, in the foreword of which the author says, “It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books – setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related in five minutes.” Quite. Most books are overlong – up with short stuff.