I had a date with Sarah Bridge during her search-for-a-husband-cum-research-for-her-book. She didn't even reply when I thanked her for a lovely eveninI had a date with Sarah Bridge during her search-for-a-husband-cum-research-for-her-book. She didn't even reply when I thanked her for a lovely evening. Even more humiliatingly, I wasn't fascinating or vile enough to warrant a mention in this book, which charts her late-thirties quest for a man to supply gametes for her uterus and farts for her sofa during major sporting events for the next forty years.
I mean, I earn over twice the average salary in London and drive a BMW – both of which I'm sure I mentioned on our date – so what's not to like? So I bought this book in a natural spirit of spite and schadenfreude, hoping her journey ended in misery, degradation and defeat. Oh, and to find out a bit more about Sarah herself, since I was too busy delighting her with stories about myself when we met. She might have said something about herself, but I wasn't really listening. That's how it works.
You've got to admire her stamina as she charts her demented journey through internet dating, speed-dating, holiday romances and single-themed evenings, weekends and holidays. On the way she meets men who vary from the gorgeous to the repulsive, while her quest becomes obsessive to the point of desperation.
Sarah's (yes, we're on first-name terms; do keep up) book is gently humorous, exasperating and perhaps a bit long, but it's still a fascinating insight into the infuriating world of modern partner-hunting (not 'dating' – that's an American thing; we agree on that). Some parts, such as her trip to Greece, are poignant, engaging and funny. Others, such as her womyn's empowerment weekend, where women are supposed to have their confidence strengthened by talking about their yonis and being institutionalised as eternal victims of the patriarchy, are frankly terrifying.
Sarah was one of only two women I met through artificial modern dating methods, and her experiences make me glad I never went further. The self-pity is (hopefully) exaggerated for humorous effect, even if I couldn't help smiling when she complained about men who didn't have the courtesy to say why they refused to return her messages.
And her book is better than mine, in that it's a) finished and b) been published. ...more
It took me more than two decades to realise that Danny Baker isn't a chattering imbecile but is in fact a genius. This revelation came through spendinIt took me more than two decades to realise that Danny Baker isn't a chattering imbecile but is in fact a genius. This revelation came through spending an hour a day listening to the gloriously surreal inventiveness of his BBC London radio show.
Despite being co-founder of the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue and a major writer at New Musical Express in the late 70s and 80s, where conformity to 'correct' opinions was almost Maoist in its intensity, this is a man who has never denied his love for unhip, old music (such as Steely Dan and Anthony Newley) and who was almost lynched when, aged 20, he leapt on stage to berate a punk audience that was cheering at the news that Elvis had just died. More recently he's been railing against the tyranny of 'cool'.
This covers the first 25 years of his life, and what a fascinating life it is. His father was a docker who supplemented his income - as they all did - by taking a cut of Britain's flagging export trade. Baker sold knocked-off records to the Petticoat Lane traders and left school at 15, despite being top of the class, to work in a hip record shop in Soho, where he met all the stars but chucked Queen out for demanding that the shop play their debut album, which he and the manager hated.
Baker's story isn't a tale of triumph in the face of hardship: it's a story of of a happy, trauma-free, working-class upbringing; staying just the right side of poverty by keeping just the wrong side of the law; being happy by spending every penny as it comes; and succeeding by cheek, talent, wit, blarney and outrageous good fortune.
His warmth and utter lack of pretention keeps the book charming, while his comic talent keeps it fun and sometimes hilarious, never more so than in his record-shop days or his japes as receptionist at the NME. He even apologises for calling Kate Bush Chicken Licken.
My only complaint is that, having never given Nick Kent's testicles a moment's thought, I now have an image of them in my mind that can never be erased. ...more
For all the praise it's received, Story Of A Secret State isn't an action-packed read. Karski was more of an administrator in the Polish underground tFor all the praise it's received, Story Of A Secret State isn't an action-packed read. Karski was more of an administrator in the Polish underground than a fighter, so anyone looking for stories about raids, sabotage and armed resistance might be a little disappointed. Also, the book is a reprint of what he wrote in 1943-44, so it lacks the perspective that comes from our fuller knowledge of events that only came to light after the war. Most obviously, he only has the haziest notion of how fortuitous his escape from the Russians was, since most of those who stayed became victims of the Katyn massacre.
But Karski's account is a vital document that reveals just how vigorously the Poles resisted the Nazis - a story that became lost as Poland was subsumed into the Soviet sphere after the war and all stories of non-Communist resistance were suppressed. For sure, his account is coloured by his patriotism, but the story he tells is real enough.
Least engaging are the accounts of how the Polish state reorganised itself into an underground operation, because the details of administration were more interesting to his wartime readers than to us now. The best stories are of his early trials, including his capture by and escape from the Gestapo while trying to reach France via Slovakia, and his account of the Jewish ghetto and an undercover visit to a death camp.
Within that context, Karski's quiet heroism makes for a vital tale of one of the less well-known areas of the war in Europe....more
Shit life so far? You're not doing anything to improve it here, pal. A friend of a friend whose dog goes to the same vet as the chinchilla owned by thShit life so far? You're not doing anything to improve it here, pal. A friend of a friend whose dog goes to the same vet as the chinchilla owned by the ex-girlfriend of someone who once worked at the publisher (oh alright, it was (view spoiler)[NO, I'M NOT BLOODY TELLING YOU (hide spoiler)]) told me that it took a lot of work to get it up to standard. Yeah? God knows what the original manuscript was like.
Okay, let's be positive. For all his deliberate odiousness (although I'm told that's just a front. In real life he's even worse, according to (view spoiler)[Look, I said I'm not telling you! Just read the bloody review, alright? (hide spoiler)]), Boyle is a talented comedian. There are a good few laughing moments here and I got my fair share of chuckles while reading it, so it's definitely worth two stars.
But even fans will be disappointed. Boyle doesn't really know how to write an autobiography and he's not a talented enough writer to break the rules. Rather than narrative, we get a set of anecdotes that are only tenuously linked, if at all. They're a bit like stand-up jokes, except most of them don't have punchlines.
When was he born? I'm guessing about 1970, but there are precious few clues. Why did he and his wife split up? Why did they get together in the first place? What's her name? And the woman who's borne him two children probably has a name too and might even have done something significant in her life (getting christened, for example) other than shagging Frankie Boyle. And look at the pictures: crappy polaroids of people who mostly don't appear in the book and were clearly ripped out of a family album at the last moment.
Towards the end, by which time Boyle is clearly losing interest and so are we, the book degenerates into a series of sketches that weren't good enough for telly. So, why do you think they're good enough for book buyers, Frank? On TV or in a theatre, they're here, gone and forgotten. In a book, they sit on my bookshelf like a WMD dossier (yeah, I read the bit about your political consciousness) or a dead mouse behind the bookshelf, giving off a whiff of putrefaction. For the second edition, put them into appendices: the first labelled "Appendix 1: I gave up booze because it made me write cack like this" and the second: "Appendix 2: I gave up drugs because they made me write cack like this". ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Collette's last book (I think) is a lyrical reflection on the past, ranging from the recent Nazi occupation to her early days as a writer and her frieCollette's last book (I think) is a lyrical reflection on the past, ranging from the recent Nazi occupation to her early days as a writer and her friends on the Paris literary scene in the early 20th Century. The lyricism is luxurious at times, but it's not a 5-star work because it's deeply personal without being especially revealing. As such, it won't make much sense to any reader who is not familiar with Collette's life and work.
One of my favourite moments – and a good example of the tone of the book – comes in the discussion of old love letters, and the memory of a friend who had destroyed all hers except one, which she knew by heart:
She let her gaze, not devoid of majesty, wander over her well-kept gardens, her overflowing kitchen-gardens, her luminous sheets of water, and recited: "The key will be hanging behind the shutter." "What's next?" "That's all." She paused before adding: "Believe me, it was enough."
'The Evening Star' isn't a perfect necklace, but it has some beautiful pearls. ...more
This book won't do anything to tarnish Alan Bennett's reputation as one of Britain's best writers, but it is only this reputation that allows him andThis book won't do anything to tarnish Alan Bennett's reputation as one of Britain's best writers, but it is only this reputation that allows him and his publisher to get away with such a lazy offering.
Bennett thought he was dying of cancer, and this was his way of rounding up his best unpublished work. However, at the time of writing this review Alan Bennett is very much alive, so the reason for rushing this book to press in this format no longer applies. You've got time now Alan. Go back and do the job properly.
The writing, of course, is excellent. The autobiography (or, more accurately, the biography of the Bennett/Peel families) that takes up the first third of the book is fascinating, warm, touching, funny and poignant. But it stops rather abruptly, leaving Bennett set for a dull career in higher education. And yet, a few years later, he is on Broadway. How did that happen?
And in a story that is so closely focused on Bennett's family, his brother Gordon is mentioned so fleetingly that he seems like Trotsky to Alan's Stalin. Was there a family falling-out?
Then the book lurches into an interminable section of diaries. Friends who read it all tell me there is some good stuff in there, but there was just too much. Yes, I know Bennett is a master at making the banal fun, but there's a limit. Hire an editor, Alan.
And then there are the lit crits and presentations. They are mostly good, but they miss something when shorn of their contexts. So the pieces on 'The Lady In The Van' or 'The History Boys' don't mean much if you haven't seen the shows. Again, some explanation (or an editor) is required.
The same sloppy approach mars the photos. Several people appear with no explanation of who they are, and they don't appear in the text. Maybe George Fenton and Lyn Wagenknecht are so famous that they don't need any introduction. They certainly don't get any. Yet other characters are described in great detail in the stories, and their appearance is deemed important - so why not show their pictures? Bizarrely, there is a picture of an empty chair in a back garden, labelled simply 'Yorkshire'.
This is not so much one book of untold stories as three incomplete books. Bennett didn't think he would have the time to complete them. Now he has, so he should....more
Adie's autobiography is an interesting though unsurprising walk through her career, but she keeps her life at arm's length. She leaves you with the imAdie's autobiography is an interesting though unsurprising walk through her career, but she keeps her life at arm's length. She leaves you with the impression of a talented, focused journalist (which we knew already) with a sharp mind and rigorous principles.
So far, so admirable. But Kate as a person? We don't even get close. Relationships? She lets on that she has had some but nothing more. It's almost chilling the way we learn about how she met her real mother at last. The emotions all come out for a page or two; then they are switched off completely and the woman and her family are never mentioned again. Her emotional control almost never slips.
This isn't an autobiography but more a memoir. Adie shows us round her career, but we walk behind her, not beside her. Adie the journalist is revealed in wonderful detail. Kate the woman is as much a stranger when you've finished the book as when you started.
Note: Make sure you look up the word 'diffident' before you start reading. It's Adie's favourite word and she likes to use it. A lot. ...more