I don't have many heroes. I don't idolise footballers - the ones that play for
Watford have a tendency to follow a moment of brilliance with a season of constipation;
the ones that play in the Premiership get paid too much (delivering magic for
forty grand a week isn't heroic). Otherwise, most of my idols have let me down, have
gone out of their way to prove their fallibility.
But not all of them. I was wasting time in a Brighton record shop on Saturday morning,
desperately trying to avoid spending any money, when my eyes wandered and locked in on the
spoken word CDs. I was looking at the words 'Hubert Selby Jr'. My mate Gareth and I used to
describe the moment in terms of a certain tightening of the throat muscles as the realisation hits home
that you're staring at a piece of plastic that's so important you'll pay anything. I didn't
watch the England match that evening.
So, an hour-long series of readings by the greatest living (or dead, if I'm really
honest about this) writer. If some of it is mildly disappointing - 'A Little Respect', a tirade
against the domination of television, plays to the crowd a little too much - then
the best moments are just devastating. Like all his best work, 'Tomorrow', a lengthy
piece about childhood, leaves me wrecked and choked - no writer has ever managed such
a potent mix of idealism and realism. Selby deals with things that I'll spend the
rest of my life coming to terms with.
If you have no interest in the human soul, and the heavy sadness that seems to lurk
away at the bottom of it, then I wish you a very happy, shallow life. If you want to know, you must
read Selby. Read Requiem For A Dream, his shattering portrayal of disappointment in
Western society. Or read The Room, a book so intense I suspect that I'll
never be able to face it a second time. Or read Song Of The Silent Snow, his collection
of short stories that ends with one of the most beautiful sections of prose I have ever
He is an impossibly brave writer. His prose burns and sighs and weeps and
screams. His voice, appropriately, sounds like an apple that someone's taken a
bite out of - it yearns for completeness, it yearns for answers.
Sometimes I'm frustated by my inability to find enough time for everything I want to
read and everything I want to hear. That applies a hundred times over when it comes to
Selby. Here is an author who deserves every spare second of your life - every day-dreamed
thought, every moment of reflection, every hour of need. He's out there, if you want him...