Blog Archives

A Forgotten Classic: William Melvin Kelley’s A Different Drummer

In this excerpt from his fascinating The Book of Forgotten Authors, Christopher Fowler discusses the neglected William Melvin Kelley, author of the remarkable forgotten classic, A Different Drummer

‘If you’re woke, you dig it.’ Well, that answers the question; the word ‘woke’ first appeared in 1962, after William Melvin Kelley said it in a New York Times article that suggested beatniks had appropriated slang from African-Americans. Kelley was 24 at the time and lived ‘uptown, way uptown.’

He was interested in idiomatic language, and said his grandmother had told him that ‘ofay’, meaning a white man, was pig Latin for ‘foe’, so black idiomatic language was primarily used for secrecy, exclusion and protection. Black slang, awkwardly placed in white mouths, sounds, he said, like white audiences clapping on the wrong jazz beat, first and third instead of two and four. Jazz was analogous to black writing, played first in all-black dancehalls and moving out to the white mainstream, finally reaching a point where La La Land could let Ryan Gosling explain a black artform to us. Read the rest of this entry


Literary Film Review: The Running Man

This week’s classic film review analyses The Running Man, the 1980s dystopian action movie based, and yet also not based, on a Stephen King novel

In J. W. Eagan’s sage words, ‘Never judge a book by its movie.’ The following is part of this new monthly ‘literary film review’ segment on this blog, and as such it’s a review of the film of The Running Man (dir. Paul Michael Glaser – yes, Starsky from Starsky and Hutch – 1987), but it’s important to go back to the – very different – source material for The Running Man: that is, the novel called The Running Man, by Richard Bachman, aka Stephen King.

The 1982 novel The Running Man – which was published under King’s pseudonymous creation Richard Bachman partly to appease his publishers, who were worried about glutting the market with too many new Stephen King titles at once – is a tense, gripping thriller set in a futuristic dystopian city, known as Co-Op City, in the year 2025. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Alex Johnson, A Book of Book Lists

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle delves into a range of fascinating literary lists courtesy of Alex Johnson’s new book

There is something comforting in a list. The human mind craves order amidst chaos: the inventor of the modern thesaurus (and the one who first gave a book of synonyms that name), Peter Mark Roget, began to compile the book that is now synonymous with his name as a way of coping with depression and personal tragedy. Lists can also offer guidance, of course. It was John Aikin who said, ‘To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list.’ And book lists can be of great service to the bibliophile.

I’m not talking so much about chart lists such as the New York Times Bestseller List or the Amazon charts, but something more timeless and enduring. Which is why Alex Johnson’s A Book of Book Lists: A Bibliophile’s Compendium (British Library) makes for such informative and enjoyable reading. As he announces in his brief introduction, A Book of Book Lists is not a ‘1,001 Books You MUST Read Before You’re 40’ kind of book. Instead, Read the rest of this entry