As the song says, Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry - but I'm going to do it anyway. I love Stephen Fry. If I too were (to use his phrase from thisAs the song says, Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry - but I'm going to do it anyway. I love Stephen Fry. If I too were (to use his phrase from this book) "not like other boys" then I wouldn't be writing reviews of his books. I'd be out there stalking him. Fortunately for both of us, I'm not.
Fry at 51 is a beautiful man, and deserves credit for being so honest as to show what a smug, selfish, preening, dishonest and downright callous little b-----d he was at 10, 14 and 18. If that sounds harsh, it's nothing compared with how harshly Fry judges himself.
Even as he wrote this book (aged 40) he couldn't help showing off at times, which shows us that part of that insufferable little fellow is still there. Not that we need to be told that one of the best-loved men in Britain is insecure; it's part of his charm.
And although he is harrowingly honest, he occasionally stops short. He half-heartedly tries to put some of the blame for his stealing on his love for "Matthew", even though he has been a shameless thief since before he can remember. And he never seriously tackles what made him so amoral from such an early age.
Nonetheless, it is a beautifully written tale of redemption. One is left feeling that it was a minor miracle that he could save himself after throwing away every opportunity given to him.
It's not perfect. There are errors of English that should never appear in any book, let alone one by Stephen Fry (the worst examples are "baited breath" and "Rolls Royce's"). Regrettably, the present edition comes in a cover seemingly designed by the same people who do Jeremy Clarkson's covers. It's ugly, and nothing by Stephen Fry should be associated with ugliness.
But even with those criticisms, it's highly recommended. Some of the philosophical diversions are enlightening (if rather too adult for the younger reader), and Fry's characteristic humour shines through on every page. There are some glorious metaphors and, even if it is not as flawless as some reviewers suggest, it is still highly recommended. ...more
There are moments of startling absurdist fantasy in Madame Depardieu & The Beautiful Strangers. Unfortunately, most of them are contained in the pThere are moments of startling absurdist fantasy in Madame Depardieu & The Beautiful Strangers. Unfortunately, most of them are contained in the press reviews quoted on the cover, because for the first 80-odd pages this is one of the most tedious books I have read in years. While it does improve later on, it is fundamentally flawed and constantly misfires.
Even Umberto Eco's notoriously boring The Island of the Day Before, with its interminable diversions on heraldry and medieval theology, at least has some intellectual value. Quirke's book is a miserable pageant of male characters seemingly being auditioned (and rejected) for the role of main character in another book. All are held together by the tenuous thread of a leading lady who resembles Bridget Jones only with her personality hollowed out and replaced by a tarnished tin-foil mannequin on whose surface the faces of actors are dimly reflected. And she's left the jokes out.
I'm confused. Is this a novel or an autobiography? I'm not sure Quirke knows herself. If it's the latter, who is Antonia Quirke to merit an entire book about herself? If it's a novel, why choose characters who are so ill-defined and artistically unsatisfying? Take Wilson, a Texan who has fled to London after killing a man for $200. You wouldn't think that anyone could make such a character boring, but Quirke manages it. Wilson shuffles into her life, mumbles a few words, shags her (probably) and then shuffles out again after a few pages, having lapsed from taciturnity into total silence.
When Quirke loses interest in her male characters, which happens every few pages (though not before the reader has), she dribbles off a half-baked essay about some actor or film, as if the book is a depository for her unfinished reviews or pieces that were rejected by Empire, the Sunday Times or the Basingstoke & North Hants Gazette.
Yes, there are moments of poignancy and insight, but one is left with the impression that Quirke felt compelled to write a novel -- for the kudos and the career prospects -- when what she really wanted to write (and should have written) was an encyclopedia of actors.
Quirke is only any good when when she is writing about films, when she's on home ground, when she's safe safe SAFE! Safe, in her comfort zone, where the celebs who praise her on the dust jacket are familiar and comfortable with her writing, where she's their pal Antonia, but she's not your Antonia and she's not My Antonia and nor is her book.
Her fugue on Jeremy Irons' performance in Betrayal is brilliant, but that's what she does for a living and it ain't novel writing and this is supposed to be a novel (or maybe an autobiography).
Antonia Quirke is a brilliant critic and columnist, and the more of her journalism I read the more I like her. But she's not a novelist - not yet anyway.
You shouldn't necessarily be put off. Quirke knows how to stick words together in a pleasing way, and if you are immersed in the world of film stars and celebrity - but with enough discernment to see the ridiculous side of it all - then this book might be your favourite book of the year. But if you can't understand why people read OK magazine, then you'd best leave this book on the cutting room floor....more
I have a confession to make: I don't really remember Sleeper, so I read this book with a song by Echobelly running through my head. Sorry Lou.
But I'mI have a confession to make: I don't really remember Sleeper, so I read this book with a song by Echobelly running through my head. Sorry Lou.
But I'm actually paying her a compliment here, if not as a rock star then as a writer. You don't need to be a fan of Sleeper or even of Brit-pop in general to enjoy Wener's honest and humorous account of the way to the top for a gawky suburban girl. And while it deals with the struggles, the boredom and the dislocated insanity of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, much of the book deals with growing up in the 1980s and the influences that created one of the era's more interesting rock stars out of some pretty unpromising adolescent ingredients.
Different For Girls is not so much a narrative as a chronologically arranged collection of essays (some of which have been published in The Times) centred on various incidents in Wener's journey to within reaching distance of the top. Her very un-rock'n'roll failure to spend her brief years of fame spaced out on booze or drugs have left her with a sharp memory of incidents and characters, and her generally ego-free account makes this a likeable and funny book.
After finishing it, I looked up Sleeper's big hit Inbetweener. Now I've heard it, I do remember it. Cracking little tune. Thanks Lou....more
First things first: if you like the Elevators and want to know more, then buy this book. I did, and I'm not sorry, but it isn't a very good book for aFirst things first: if you like the Elevators and want to know more, then buy this book. I did, and I'm not sorry, but it isn't a very good book for all that. It's rather ironic that the band could have been enormous, but were let down by unprofessional management, sloppy recordings and a slapdash approach that meant they were cooling their heels on bail in Texas while their moment came and went in California. Ironic because the book that documents their career is itself slapdash and unprofessional.
Sure, Drummond has gathered a huge amount of data and images, and he throws everything in willy nilly. Every image he could find is printed with regardless of quality; whole pages are given over to rambling transcripts of interviews instead of short, telling quotes; and the layout looks like it was done cheaply at home. Just like the recording of the first album, in fact.
It's all readable enough I suppose, but I felt like I was reading the author's notes - albeit tidied up a bit - instead of an actual story....more
A furious, bilious rant against the smugness of bourgeois 50s and 60s Swiss society and the emotional suffocation that created the author's twisted chA furious, bilious rant against the smugness of bourgeois 50s and 60s Swiss society and the emotional suffocation that created the author's twisted character and led (he insists) to the cancer that he knew was killing him.
The pseudonym Zorn means "anger", and that is the dominant emotion of this spitefully enjoyable book - enjoyable in the sense that he hits his targets with such accuracy.
NB - take care that you buy it in the right language. The original was in German, and reviews sometimes appear under more than one edition. ...more
Is this the worst business book ever published? I could write all night and still not find enough insults to throw at it, and every one of them justifIs this the worst business book ever published? I could write all night and still not find enough insults to throw at it, and every one of them justified. It's terrible.
This quivering slab of moist platitudes reminds me of the sort of patronising, vapid nonsense peddled on daytime TV, usually in the name of self-improvement. The glibness and shallowness are astounding, such that I had to stop reading every few paragraphs to scratch my head and marvel that such drivel could ever have got published. The Harvard Business Press won't have much of a reputation if it keeps printing garbage like this.
This is a very 21st Century book: nicely designed, with big print and not too long; full of warm, fuzzy feelings while being devoid of any facts or analysis that might add a grain of grit to the woolly, comfy snugness of starstruck academics nuzzling the egos of preening, self-important executives. Oh yes, you don't think they TALKED to any of the 'clevers' described, do you? That would be too much like hard work. It's like writing a book about life in the trenches and only talking to Lord Kitchener.
Goffee and Jones write like mediocre journeyman journalists. There is nothing incisive in this book; just a bland travelogue of interviews with industry big shots. Their style is, "And then we went to see John Doe who is, like, THE BEST CEO EVER! and he said [insert cliché here] and then we went to see Jim Doe who is, like, THE BRILLIANTEST CEO EVERRR!!! and he said..." etc. I used to be editor of a weekly business title - only 4000 subscribers and paying 180p/1000 words, so we're not talking The Economist here - and this pair aren't good enough to write for that magazine.
Every "insight" is shallow or obvious and teaches us nothing we don't already know about business or management. One is left with the impression of two naïve CEO-groupies who travelled the world and never saw any deeper than the rich pile of the carpet in the CEO's office and never got closer to the coalface than the expensive restaurant where they yearningly stroked the priapism of the executive's ego.
At one end of the spectrum is the rambling Will Wright, inventor of The Sims, who dribbles on like this:
"I'm more like the champion of the design vision. In some senses I'm carrying that flag. Occasionally somebody will come in and say that the flag should be a different color, and we'll have an animated discussion and maybe we will choose to change the color or not. But I'm still the one holding the flag, and when somebody wants to come up and ask about the flag, I'm always the one who knows the current status and I'll be..." OH PLEASE SHUT UP YOU BORING BORING MAN!
Wright, we are told, shifts in his seat but not through discomfort. No? I'd be uncomfortable if the authors had their noses there. The sycophancy is nauseating.
Others, like Sir Martin Sorrell, receive the authors' simpering adulation for such brief, garbled clichés as: "The only reason for this company to exist is to leverage economies of knowledge." No, don't laugh. Alright, go on, laugh. I did. People started giving me funny looks on the train.
When it comes to analysis, we are fobbed off with anecdotes like "the marketing director of a major British brewing company and a great example of a leader with complementary skills". You see, he didn't know much about brewing but he could remember the sales figures off the top of his head, so people took him seriously. "And?" I hear you ask. And nothing. That really is all. I'm not joking and nor (unfortunately) are Goffee and Jones.
This is the sort of twaddle that, far from inspiring clever people ("clevers", as the authors patronisingly call them), has them sniggering behind their hands and playing Buzzword Bingo while the "leader" delivers his webcast about "optimising customer delight" or "leveraging strategic solutions to issues going forward" from his penthouse on one of the moons of Uranus where he has relocated head office for tax reasons.
So what's my qualification for flinging such abuse, however richly deserved?
Well, I did learn a bit about academic research at university and I don't see any here. More importantly, I have been in business for over 20 years and I'm now a publishing director (not in competition with the authors or their publisher) so I know trash when I read it and this is trash. Having been a leader of teams in viciously competitive industries (shipping and publishing) as well as having been (before I grew up a bit) the awkward "clever" about whom this book is written, I can promise you that the authors have no idea about how to handle them/us.
I offer you my guarantee: if you have worked in business for more than six months then you will learn nothing new from this book. Stick with Peter Drucker, whose style the authors sought to copy while forgetting about content....more
'31 Songs' isn't as profound as it thinks it is; it's a fun, quick read and rather enjoyable for the most part. But I still don't get why Hornby's mus'31 Songs' isn't as profound as it thinks it is; it's a fun, quick read and rather enjoyable for the most part. But I still don't get why Hornby's musical taste is any more interesting to read about than mine (or yours), apart from the fact that he's a 'name' author. I reckon I could have written something just as interesting, but (probably like Hornby) I've found that my views on music are a great way to scare girls away.
I would have given this 3 stars, but I've just started reading Lester Bangs and realised just how far Hornby falls short. He is desperately trying to find another angle to enable him to keep writing amiable, blokey books, and this one struggles. Sure, he's got a few interesting insights and arguments, but this is so utterly self-regarding that it's hard to care.
True, it's about how music touches us rather than the music itself, but those references need to be familiar. And even though he seems to be listening to the same genres I used to, he's managed to find 21 songs I've never even heard.
He finishes by telling us where to find the songs, but with Bruce Springsteen he smugly and insultingly says, "You know where to get this." Apparently we need guidance for The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, but not 'The Boss'. Maybe he's forgotten he's British, or that some of his readers are.
Or maybe I'm just disappointed that the film of High Fidelity cites the wonderful Capt Beefheart and The 13th Floor Elevators, but Hornby didn't think them worthy to include in his book. I can be petty like that. ...more
This book is a miserable, humourless grumble about things that are perhaps moderately irritating in the unlikely event you stop to think about them. IThis book is a miserable, humourless grumble about things that are perhaps moderately irritating in the unlikely event you stop to think about them. It failed to interest the 15-year old it was bought for, though it was certainly not above her intellectual level.
I don't give one star lightly, and I usually try to inject a bit of humour into reviews. But this time I've written in in the style of the book I'm reviewing. So, if you enjoyed this review and would like to read a couple of hundred pages of similar mithering, then buy the book. You're welcome to it.
This isn't exactly an autobiography, more an account of Callow's life illustrated by pieces he has written for newspapers and magazines (now do you geThis isn't exactly an autobiography, more an account of Callow's life illustrated by pieces he has written for newspapers and magazines (now do you get the joke in the title?). You could say that it's an innovative way to republish his journalism, or you might think it's a lazy way to knock out an autobiography. And you'd be right. Either way.
Callow's prose isn't quite fussy, but there is a sense of correctness in his style and worthiness in his treatment of his subjects. Still, I doubt that he is being dishonest: he loves the theatre and the people in it, and he has some amazing insights. He can be critical, but without sacrificing the affection and admiration he genuinely seems to feel for those he has met and worked with. His writing is good enough that you forgive the formality that makes some pieces - usually those on less interesting subjects - rather hard work.
My Life In Pieces will mostly appeal to theatre lovers, but even they might find it a bit long. Even so, there are some glorious moments and I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf. In the end, it's less of an autobiography and more like a professional memoir. Take that as a criticism or a recommendation, whichever works for you. ...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
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
This book vividly reports on the unforgiving and brutal forces - both natural and man-made - to which those who take to the sea are exposed. It explorThis book vividly reports on the unforgiving and brutal forces - both natural and man-made - to which those who take to the sea are exposed. It explores the murky politics of the world's oceans and brings us gripping, often tragic human stories from the sea. It takes in an extraordinary event of sophisticated piracy in the Strait of Malacca, reports on the appalling conditions of India's ship recycling trade and gives a minute-by-minute account of the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia in 1994, with the loss of 852 lives.
It is well written, providing a gripping account of disasters and attacks that alarm as much as they inform. It also humanises the issues by relating specific events through the eyes of surviving witnesses and stories about some of those who died.
These stories are compellingly told and deserve to be widely read, but the subsequent analysis and conclusions are glib and shallow.
Langewiesche dismisses the entire body of maritime regulation as "a fantasy floating free of the realities at sea". This makes great rhetoric, but is devoid of any factual basis. Worse, he claims that ship registries are "rarely based in the countries whose names they carry", a ridiculous claim that is demonstrably false. If you want to speak to the man in charge of the UK register, his office is in Southampton. Panama, by far the world's largest register, is run from Panama City. The same is true for almost every register in the world, with only a handful of exceptions (Liberia and the Marshall Islands being the most notable).
He also claims, without presenting a shred of evidence, that the flag of convenience system is responsible for the return of piracy (a ludicrous suggestion) and for "the maritime form of the new, stateless terrorism" (which simply doesn't exist). Even that long-discredited tabloid fantasy, the `al-Qaeda navy', is taken seriously.
In short, Langewiesche's analysis is characterised by a complete lack of serious research, and he almost always opts for lurid, shock-horror hyperbole when the facts are less sensational. For example, oil spills from tankers, which averaged 400,000 tonnes a year in the late 1970s, averaged 27,000 tonnes a year in the decade to 2005 (when the book was published) - a reduction of over 93%. So how can anti-pollution laws have been "ineffectual", as one Amazon reviewer was led to believe?
The Outlaw Sea has much to recommend it for its stories of human interest, and anyone who reads that part will learn much about the lives of the people who make globalisation possible. In fact, anyone wanting a brief introduction to the human side of the industry might not find anything better. But the subsequent analysis is hysterical, naïve and often plain wrong. With that huge caveat, I would still cautiously recommend it to readers who are prepared to keep their sense of scepticism close to hand. ...more
Larkin collates all the serious lists of 'top albums' and makes a master list. In that sense it's an objective list, but the write-ups of the recordsLarkin collates all the serious lists of 'top albums' and makes a master list. In that sense it's an objective list, but the write-ups of the records themselves are opinionated, as they should be. That said, he's got something good to say about everything, and he can't like them all. Such encyclopedic knowledge is impressive, and the reviews contain enough warmth and humour, even the bad ones (definition of a bad review: one I disagree with).
Take the list with a pinch of salt (the best five albums of all time are shared between the Beatles and Radiohead), but the positions don't matter. It's a list of 1000 great albums with enough to get you interested in finding something new. That's the real point....more