But does reading count as indolence? I'm not sure. Particularly when the authors include Paul Theroux, Michael Blakemore and John Williams. As this is supposed to be a literary blog, I thought I'd recommend the best books I've read recently:
Paul Theroux - The Last Train to Zona Verde
"A tourist doesn't know where they've been. A traveller doesn't know where they're going."
I could go on - everyone seems to have an opinion on the author. But who is Paul Theroux? Even he doesn't seem to be quite sure and wrote two novels - My Secret History and My Other Life - which narrate the alternate histories of a character called Paul Theroux.
However, I liked the Paul Theroux that I met in The Last Train to Zona Verde. Written ten years after his African travel memoir, Dark Star Safari, Theroux is now in his 70s and realises that he is making his last journey on the continent. He has loved Africa since he taught there in the 1960s, but is depressed by the growing corruption and squalor that surrounds him. He asks himself the question that all travellers ask at some point: What am I doing here?
"Suffering has no value, but you have to suffer in order to know that. I never found it easy to travel, yet the difficulty in it made it satisfying because it seemed in a way to resemble the act of writing - a groping in the dark, wandering into the unknown, coming to understand the condition of strangeness."
In a Daily Telegraph review, Kevin Telfer criticises Theroux for writing a book that "feels more like a description of Theroux's inner state than what is around him." This not only seems to be rather missing the point of good travel writing, but is also woefully inaccurate, as one of the strengths of The Last Train to Zona Verde is its vivid accounts of the landscape and people.
If Theroux is 'grumpy' about sub-Saharan Africa, it is because he is comparing the present day reality of the continent with the idealism of the 1960s:
"We have bestowed on Africa just enough of the disposable junk of the modern world to create in African cities a junkyard replica of the West, a mirror image of our own failures. Such places are transit camps filled with people who have been abandoned by their fattened and corrupt governments."
But this is not a relentlessly gloomy book. Time and time again, we meet people who rise above the limitations of their backgrounds to triumph against the odds and Theroux is as keen to tell the stories of others as he is to ask himself what a 70-year-old man is doing on a journey that might end in death.
I enjoyed this armchair journey to somewhere I never intend to visit and would recommend it without reservation.
Michael Blakemore - Stage Blood
Whether you're interested in the early years of the National Theatre or not, Stage Blood is a gripping read in which the octogenrian Michael Blakemore settles an ancient score with Sir Peter Hall. In the hands of a lesser writer, it could have been an unedifying read by an embittered old man, but this memoir sparkles with generosity and wit.
Blakemore's portraits of figures like Olivier and Tynan are immensely entertaining, as is his description of Anthony Hopkins' disastrous, alcohol-fuelled performance of Macbeth. But it is the growing tension with Sir Peter, culminating in a terrible showdown, which rises Stage Blood above the level of an ordinary memoir and gives the reader a vicarious, visceral thrill.
John Williams - Stoner
But Stoner did.
Alexander Lernet-Holenia - I Was Jack Mortimer
One of the best small publishers around is Pushkin Press, who specialise in discovering and translating lost classics, particularly European ones. I discovered them ten years ago, when I read Antal Szerb's wonderful Journey By Moonlight (originally published in Hungarian) and managed to get the book included in an 'Undiscovered Classics' promotion that I organised, across 130 branches of Ottakar's.
I Was Jack Mortimer is an short Austrian novel, published in 1930, that reads like that bastard offspring of Franz Kafka and Raymond Chandler. It also reminded me of Antal Szerb and Jiri Weil, with its highly developed sense of the absurd.
The plot is simple enough: a taxi driver picks up a passenger at a station and is asked to drive to the Bristol Hotel. After a few minutes, the driver asks the passenger to clarify whether he wants the Old Bristol or the New Bristol. There is no reply. He repeats his question and is once again met with silence. When he is finally able to turn round, the driver is horrified to see that his passenger has been killed. But how?
What follows is an enjoyably absurd story that vividly evokes the spirit of Middle Europe between the wars. It only takes a couple of hours to read, so I'd recommend it for a journey.
I've also enjoyed Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? - a great comfort read, full of wit and insight. I'd always regarded Trollope as a bit of an old windbag until I took the plunge a few years ago and read He Knew He Was Right.
Perhaps I'm just getting old, but I find Trollope's novels increasingly appealing.
Finally, I'd also recommend Max Hastings' book Bomber Command - another book about a subject I knew relatively little about. I had no idea that at the beginning of the War, British bombing was woefully inaccurate, with navigation equipment so rudimentary, that pilots were often miles from their targets.
Occasionally, if a magnetic storm affected their compasses, they even flew in the wrong direction and one pilot - a man named Warren - unwittingly bombed an English city (from then on, his colleagues called him Baron von Warren).
If I had to recommend just one book, then it would have to be Stoner, but you've probably already read it.
At some point my wife will stop waiting on me hand and foot and I'll have to resume selling books, but in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy every moment.
Finally, this has nothing to do with books, but I watched The Happiest Days of Your Life with my mother the other day and thought that this scene alone made the whole film worthwhile: