The Stranger in the Woods: The extraordinary story of the last true hermit by Michael Finkel

The Stranger In The Woods

I discovered the existence of this book through a newspaper review a little while back now. I was intrigued by the idea of being a hermit because it appeals to my Solitarian lifestyle, I had high hopes but it left me feeling quite empty. It gave me a true dose of reality.

I think the view of a hermit is always rather a romantic notion. In reality, it may be different and in the case of The Stranger in the Woods – this proved true.

Romantically, in my mind, the hermit lives in a little cottage in the middle of the woods, no one bothers them and they are either writers, poets or artists. For them, the idea of society and its so-called progression is an utter joke so an escape is inevitable.

This book, although wonderfully written got me thinking about the true identity of a hermit. My imagination flourished through tales of people being self-sufficient on the land but the reality of this particular hermit was supported by theft and burglary. He lived a stone’s throw away from his family and the idea of him having to “survive” was hardly a Tom Hanks Castaway scenario.

This is a book that will interest those who may seek the hermit lifestyle or may fantasize about leaving this world behind them. Christopher Knight left the modern world in the 1980’s and had no inclination to rejoin it but he was in for a surprise when he was brought back to the present-day in handcuffs

This is an enjoyable read that is full of compassion yet it left me feeling a little sad after reading about the hurt and terror it caused some of his victims – their lives felt threatened by someone who also felt threatened in the real world – quite the ironic situation, don’t you think?

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

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This is probably one of the most poignant and important books I have read in quite some time. I crawled through it as I just didn’t want it to end; I sucked up every page, took in every word and constantly re-read paragraphs and digested them with care.

Part memoir, part essay, part history lesson; this is a book packed full of observations that will make you understand yourself and others around you. This is a love letter to loneliness, a place where you are surrounded by people, they push past you, they bombard you via social media yet you still feel isolated. She has taken this very sensitive subject and used art to understand urban isolation; she runs analysis on people like Andy Warhol and other eccentrics. This helps us to understand the relationship between the human psyche and art, what loneliness is and how it can be used artistically.

This book is fabulously written as she weaves her way between memoir and art history. We do not feel that we are simply picking up and reading a text book on the world of art, we are beside Olivia as she explores loneliness herself and the relationship within the art world. It is a comforting, familiar and a beautifully lyrical read.

Burrito Deluxe: A Novel By Joseph Ridgwell

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Putting together the Charles Bukowski tribute zine has been amazing so far. Along the way, Joseph Ridgwell and I bumped into each other and he gave me his book Burrito Deluxe to read. He wasn’t fishing for a review but I was compelled to write about it.

Sex, drugs and burritos. It sounds like a Mexican heavy metal backstage party, it’s not; it is the East End version of a Jack Kerouac novel. Joseph Ridgewell’s novel Burrito Deluxe is a compelling story of two friends who decide to quit the crap of London life and go on a road trip to Mexico. Filled full of Señoritas, beer, burritos, psychedelic visions and drug fuelled adventures. It rejects the norm and embraces the free spirit in all of us. The young adolescent that doesn’t want to commit and just wants to run free.

It has the pace of Kerouac but the narrative and language qualities of Bukowski. I am not attempting to compare but this is why I fell in love with the novel. It is simple, beautiful, harsh, truthful and despite the flaws of the characters you still want to buy them a beer.

Fan of the Beats and Charles Bukowski should buy this book from: leamingtonbooks.co.uk

The Self-Devoted Friend by Marvin Cohen

The Self Devoted friend

Originally published in 1967, Marvin Cohen’s debut The Self-Devoted Friend has had a rebirth. Tough Poets Press has resurrected a now, out-of-print gem of the literary world with a new introduction from the author himself.

The Self-Devoted Friend is a totally original book. Drifting from normality to abnormality; it is funny, warm, surreal, beautifully absurd and totally dysfunctional in the best way possible.

It is a series of dialogues between the author and his friend; the latter being his “other self”, constantly chattering on every subject imaginable. It is a fantastically entertaining read, it allows the reader to languish in the linguistic feats that Marvin Cohen cooks up for us.

The book can be purchased on Amazon

For other titles check out the Tough Poet Press site.

Gwil Vs Machine: Selected Poems by Gwil James Thomas

Gwil Vs Machine

Published by: Paper and Ink (paperandinkzine.co.uk)

Gwil Vs Machine is a collection of nineteen poems written between 2013 and 2016 by Bristolian born poet Gwil James Thomas. The collection is observational, confessional and pulls memories from the past into a freeform, conversational tone that makes you feel you are having a chat with Gwil. This very unique voice gives traditional poetry the boot, this makes you feel something; a little bit of an autobiographical poet, he writes in an honest, cutting and sometimes tender tone. It is a wonderful collection.

This particular poetry anthology has now sold out but you can find his work right here

The Strange Case of Edward Gorey by Alexander Theroux

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Edward Gorey has always been quite the mystery to me. Apart from an array of books and snippets on the internet I don’t feel I have ever got close to knowing more about him. I stumbled across this book and hoped for some answers and a glimpse into this wonderful bohemian life.

Theroux’s book does give some insight into the world of Gorey, however, it does leave me feeling a little empty. I don’t know him as much as I would like to. This was the feeling I had as I lingered over its final pages. Alexander Theroux, a friend of Gorey’s recounts some rather amusing anecdotes and facts about the avid collector, genius artist, solitary man and lover of cats and tea. He sounds like the person I want him to be yet the author seems to talk about other people similar to Gorey rather than the man himself. He is comparing him to others rather than talking about Gorey as a single subject. If you are interested in knowing more about him then this book will give you little hints, other than that he will remain a mystery but that is very much something he would’ve preferred. I am sure of that.

Little Book of Maudism by Lucy Coleman Talbot

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In a world that is dominated by death, it appears many people forget about living. Those that lose loved ones mourn their loss yet forget to celebrate the light they had inside them and what it was that made them special. The words – death positive sound like a paradox but the simple fact that we die is always on our minds but if we choose to understand it, embrace it and live our life to its full potential then it won’t seem so daunting.

Lucy Coleman Talbot has written a wonderful book based on the philosophy of Maud from the novel Harold and Maud by Colin Higgins. It is an unconventional love story concerning an aging eccentric named Maud, who sees the beauty in life and a young man, Harold, who is rather obsessed with death.  Maud teaches Harold how to embrace every day and face up to the simple fact that everything dies. It is a beautiful story. The essence of this tale has been brought to life yet again (it was made into a film) with Lucy’s book. Each chapter is a life lesson, it teaches us how to be human. Sounds very simple but it is an amazing read that will inspire you to step back and look at your life (and your death).

You can buy your copy here