Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late

How Late It Was How Late
James Kelman

When I was twenty, I lived in Berkeley California and worked as a tele-fundraiser for a number of large nonprofits. Yes, I was the guy calling to ask you to donate to the Sierra Club. My co-workers were an incredibly eclectic mix of punks, artists, ex-cons, and weirdos. One of these co-workers was a guy working his way through a phd program (in literature? I forget). He also did the whole book scout thing on the side, picking up books from thrift stores and discount markets and then reselling them to the higher end used bookshops. He opened my eyes to an enormous amount of literature and I wish I knew whatever happened to him.

Anyway, among the literature he opened my eye to was this novel of a man struck blind, wandering a bleak sad Edinburg, written almost entirely in a Scottish dialect.

“You know that Walden books in downtown Oakland?” He said
“Yes” I replied
“They have a stack of remaindered copies of How Late It Was, How Late”
“Its up for the Booker prize, I went down there and found two American firsts in the pile, you should pick one up.”

So I did, even though I was a kid, and didn’t know what the Booker Prize was or even what a remaindered book meant. I read it, and it made me work, in those first fifty pages, parsing the language, figuring out what the hell was going on, and then I loved it, ever dark, sad, bleak Scottish page of it, and without a random co-worker at a shit job, I’d have never know it existed. .

I still have that copy by the way. American first edition.


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