Skip to main content

3rd November 2013

American Smoke and intellectual osmosis

Kate Pleydell manages to enjoy Ian Sinclair’s discussion of his new book American Smoke despite having a pint split on her

As part of the acclaimed Manchester Literature festival, a gaggle of celebrations of all things literary, Iain Sinclair, a contemporary psychogeographer, presented his new book, American Smoke.

Gracing the beautifully exposed brick walls of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, on a vain level I thoroughly enjoyed the location of the event. A tasteful interior and impressive array of modernist fiction gives the former mill an aura of scholarly opportunity, as if any essay I worked on in this location would gain a first due to intellectual osmosis.

However, my dreams of intellectual success were dampened, literally, when a man spilt his pint on me. After swiftly moving to my seat, in a pathetic attempt to dry my saturated clothing, Sinclair was warmly welcomed by the University of Manchester’s very own Jerome De Groot. Formalities aside, Sinclair began to explain his attempts to ‘build up an argument with place’, describing his absorption with Hackney in his youth, a setting of many of his novels. However, despite this geographical setting, Sinclair mused about his utter absorption with the United States of America, and how this culminates in his forthcoming novel American Smoke. He described the novel as a walk in the footsteps of Kerouac and Olsen, among others, stitching together fictional memories and awakening these literary masters.

His readings were very enjoyable to listen to, featuring lively writing and contemporary references, such as Boris Johnson. However, I do have a complaint. In one reading he references both Middlesbrough and Hull as dystopian microcosms. Heightening my swell of annoyance due to the lingering smell of beer, I could not ignore this insulting allusion to the two cities near which I grew up. Admittedly, they are not the most pleasant of places, but this blind remark reminded me somewhat of Lord Howell’s idiotic definition of the North as ‘desolate’.

Anyway, other than this remark, the writing and content was somewhat charming and full of quips, and the experience was enjoyable (other than the beer and geographical discrimination).

More Coverage

The best short books you can read in one sitting

If you’re looking to get back into reading during the busyness of term time, here are some recommendations for brilliant short books you could finish in one sitting

Paddington Bear: Celebrating 65 years of Britain’s favourite bear

65 years since ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ first hit the shelves, Paddington Bear has become a national treasure. But why does he mean so much to Brits?

Dystopian hope and the art of feminist retelling: What does Julia hide?

How about “laugh, love, live in a totalitarian state”? Discussing Julia, the promising new feminist retelling of 1984 by Sandra Newman

Demystifying today’s politics: Must-read books

What you should be reading to keep informed on today’s political sphere