I enjoyed On Writing much more than I expected to, and certainly more than the last couple of King's fiction stories I read (Secret Window, Secret GaI enjoyed On Writing much more than I expected to, and certainly more than the last couple of King's fiction stories I read (Secret Window, Secret Garden and The Library Policeman). I always like his introductions for their conversational tone, and this book was like that throughout. It was hardly reading at all, more sitting down with an old friend as he chatted about his formative years, then doled out some pearls of wisdom.
The first section of the book is a potted autobiography. It's not comprehensive and doesn't try to be, but it's interesting throughout, whether he's recounting wiping himself down with poison ivy as a kid, or facing an intervention for his drug addiction as an adult. Then we get to the writing advice, which is given in the broadest strokes, for which I'm glad. My eyes started to glaze over at the start of the grammar section, but for the most part he leaves out the nitty gritty - there are reference books for that. His tips are fairly standard fare - write with the door closed, edit with it open; avoid adverbs; be truthful with your dialogue; keep things active active active. The only part I strongly disagreed with was when he gave this as an example of being "admirably graphic without resorting to vulgarity":
She straddled him and prepared to make the necessary port connections, male and female adaptors ready, I/O enabled, server/client, master/slave. Just a couple of high-end biological machines, preparing to hot-dock with cable modems and access each other's front-end processors.
I'm sorry, but there's a stinker of a Literary Review Bad Sex Award-winner if ever there was one.
The final part of the book is a recount of the accident that nearly killed him. It would be a sombre place to leave things, but he closes by talking about finding his way back to writing in the aftermath, so it goes out on an optimistic note. As an appendix, he includes an extract from his story "1408", part of the Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales collection - as it was first written, and then edited, with an explanation of his cuts. Although it might seem simplistic, its as good an exercise as I've seen in years, and I'm sure I'll be coming back to it the next time I'm editing.
All-in-all, one I'd happily recommend to budding writers, or just readers interested in King's memoirs....more
This book was a joy to listen to. I'd heard from a lot of people that it's unrelentingly depressing, and I remember my mother having a copy in her bedThis book was a joy to listen to. I'd heard from a lot of people that it's unrelentingly depressing, and I remember my mother having a copy in her bedroom when I was young, which I'd try to avoid because the poor mite on the cover looked so glum! So I was expecting 18 hours of solid bleakness, but that's not how it went at all. If anything, I found it uplifting that the narrator, Frank McCourt, had such a dismal start in life, but was able to look back on it with such a cheerful slant. Yes, the McCourts had a terrible time of it, but they encountered a lot of goodness along the way too.
Many of his anecdotes were outright hilarious. I think the sombre but amusing nature of the book was best encapsulated in one about a school friend who had the other boys pray that his sister would live until at least September, so he could miss school for her funeral. He bribed them with a promise that they could attend her wake for free food and drink, and when he reneged on the deal, McCourt noted with a hint of relish that the boy himself died the following summer, when there was no school to be missed, which served him right.
The "growing up" portion of Frank's life seemed to come about very suddenly, but I suppose that was how it went when you were turfed out of the education system and expected to find full time work at 14. The last 3 or 4 hours did rather linger over his masturbatory habits, which wasn't entirely delightful, but all in all it was easily amongst the 3 or 4 best books I've read this year so far, and the top audiobook I've listened to to date.
Narrated by Frank himself, the tales and songs really came alive, and I was sorry when it all ended. I didn't realise until I was a good way in that the text is quite stylised - almost lyrical. Maybe I missed out by listening instead of reading, but books lacking punctuation for stylistic reasons have driven me barmy in the past, so perhaps not! I may get hold of the follow-up memoirs in time, but whether I do or don't, I'm glad to have read Angela's Ashes....more
I read this for a research project, expecting it to be dull and dry. I'm not really an autobiography person - I'm just not interested in most celebritI read this for a research project, expecting it to be dull and dry. I'm not really an autobiography person - I'm just not interested in most celebrities, though I do make rare exceptions for comedians, like Peter Kay and Frankie Boyle. So I was really pleasantly surprised by 50 Years.
Bill Roache doesn't go into much detail on his family life or the pre-Coronation Street years, but I'm willing to bet that it's Corrie most readers are interested in. What unfolds is a warm, affectionate memoir, told by the one man best placed to chronicle the Street. There's not much in the way of salacious gossip or on-set scandal, but honestly, I don't know that I'd be too keen on reading this man's dirty secrets, when he's clearly ashamed of and repentant for his mistakes in the 1960s. The closest to real drama is probably when he recounts how Pat Phoenix stopped speaking to him for two years over a scripting dispute. Blimey!
There are also tragic interludes - the death of his daughter at just 18 months old, and later the loss of his beloved second wife. I really felt for him. Though he does repeat himself from time to time, there's plenty to hold interest. I'm probably a touch too young to remember the time he sued The Sun for libel, but what an interesting story that made! For those more interested in his personal life and spiritual beliefs, he also wrote a 2008 autobiography, Soul on the Street. I have a copy of that, too, but I think this was the tome for me.
I got some funny looks from my family while reading this, but honestly, I really did enjoy it. Quite delightful. 8/10....more
I remember watching Pop Idol and Pop Stars when I was still in high school, and being swept along in Will Young vs. Gareth Gates and the formation ofI remember watching Pop Idol and Pop Stars when I was still in high school, and being swept along in Will Young vs. Gareth Gates and the formation of the long since defunct Hear'Say. I suppose I probably followed the first series of X Factor, although I don't remember it with any real clarity. Since then, I've never been a regular viewer and have long since taken to actively avoiding it. Bland artists, manufactured drama, contrived and repeated scenarios year on year just don't hold any interest for me, so when I saw that first X Factor winner Steve Brookstein had a tell-all autobiography on Kindle for £1, well, it was something interesting to page through while the rest of the house watched the 2014 finale.
I wouldn't say this is necessarily eye-opening, because it's long been obvious that the X Factor is far from the once-in-a-lifetime, star-making opportunity it was set up to be. Winners are casually tossed aside and discarded, and appalling novelty acts get far more than their fifteen minutes of fame. But reading such an honest and open recollection of the experiences of someone so close to the show was definitely very interesting. None of the original judges - Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and especially Sharon Osbourne - are painted in a pleasant light. It's obvious that Brookstein was exploited by TPTB and essentially thrown under the bus when they'd had their use out of him. His account of the following years, during which the media turned on him and delighted in his every downfall, really make you feel for him and wish he could have caught a break.
This was ghost-written in seemingly quite a short space of time, and it does show in the writing. The earlier sections seem as though they were written after reviewing the tapes of each week's shows, and so are written with a familiarity few will recall of a decade-past talent show. Sections later in the book seem pieced together from Brookstein's email correspondence, and there's quite a lot of repetition when it comes to his final dealings with his record label, his motivations and expectations. The writing is why I've given it 3 stars, but in terms of how well it held my interest, how much I unexpectedly found myself looking forward to diving back into it over a few day period, it's closer to 4....more
The Aquariums of Pyongyang is an autobiographical account of a decade spent in a North Korean concentration camp by author Kang Chol-hwan, who was impThe Aquariums of Pyongyang is an autobiographical account of a decade spent in a North Korean concentration camp by author Kang Chol-hwan, who was imprisoned alongside his family at the age of nine. My first real introduction to the North Korean situation came via Barbara Demick's excellent account Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea in 2011. By habit I don't read a great deal of non-fiction, but I was so shocked and moved by Demick's book that I also purchased Escape from Camp 14 and The Aquariums of Pyongyang as further reading. This was the first I've turned to.
The events documented here are brutal, bleak, and make for distressing reading. Kang Chol-hwan had a fairly privileged childhood by North Korean standards. As the son of migrants from Japan, he grew up in relative austerity - prizing above all else his aquarium of exotic fish. But his life changed instantly beyond all recognition when his grandfather was arrested and sent to a hard labour camp. Per North Korean custom, much of the family - Chol-hwan's grandmother, father, uncle and sister - were also arrested, and as potentially redeemable relatives of a criminal, were sent to Yodok, a remote concentration camp.
That children as young as Kang Chol-hwan and his sister Mi-ho - then just nine and seven - could be imprisoned like this, with no information about the length of their sentence or whether they might ever see their mother again, was just the first instance in a frank account of appalling brutality. Events inside the camp aren't necessarily described in a linear fashion, so come across more as whatever subject was on Chol-hwan's mind at the time, but they certainly come together well enough to paint an image of a camp where prisoners were desperately malnourished and mistreated beyond endurance. They were given clothes that turned to rags within weeks and lived in two-room huts with no amenities, but all had a special pair of clean shoes to wear in the room dedicated to the Great Leader, whose portraits were kept lit and heated at all times. The whole thing is so absurd and shocking that at times I had to remind myself that this was an autobiographical account, and not dystopian fiction.
The section of the book set after the family's release is thinner on details - the siblings do eventually reunite with their mother, but Chol-hwan touches only briefly on his mixed emotions - and indeed the life he begins to build for himself before fleeing the border to escape potentially being returned to Yodok. While his courage and endurance are admirable, and this is absolutely a reality that needs wider acknowledgement, it's hard going knowing that telling his tale almost certainly resulted in surviving family members being returned to Yodok. The Aquariums of Pyongyang is truly eye-opening, and what it lacks in Demick's flair with words, it makes up for in first-hand experience....more
I've never seen much of Sarah Silverman's comedy, but I loved her on Monk and have always enjoyed the little I have seen - so when The Bedwetter showeI've never seen much of Sarah Silverman's comedy, but I loved her on Monk and have always enjoyed the little I have seen - so when The Bedwetter showed up as a Kindle Daily Deal, I figured why not? It was a very quick read, and for the most part told with an amusing, self-deprecating and engaging air. It's not in-depth or hugely insightful as memoirs go (from the family photos at the end it seems she has a third sister who I don't recall being mentioned at all), and it loses traction post-adolescence, but on the whole I definitely enjoyed it. The later parts of the book seem to give undue focus and weight to events that aren't especially interesting - Silverman being slated for targeting Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, using a controversial racial epithet on live TV, and, for pages and pages, explaining how and why she came to wear a particular dress at the 2009 Emmys. It felt like there were brief periods of notoriety Silverman has been looking for a platform to explain away, but also like the only person who still remembers/cares about said periods is, well, her. But on the whole it's a fun and breezy read that I sailed through and that made me a little more interested in her work....more
I'm a bit sad to only give this three stars. I'd been looking forward to it for ages, and the anticipation was high when it finally fell through my leI'm a bit sad to only give this three stars. I'd been looking forward to it for ages, and the anticipation was high when it finally fell through my letterbox. It just wasn't really what I was expecting - it wasn't very funny. There are plenty of humorous asides, and it definitely raised a few chuckles, but I'm not sure Yes Please really knew what it wanted it be. It certainly wasn't an in-depth autobiography. Poehler starts out by writing an entire introduction about how hard writing is. She reminds us at multiple points during the book that writing is super-hard-no-fun-boo. We get a little bit of background on her family life growing up (one thing I found particularly odd is that Poehler draws attention to how lucky she was to have such a stable and loving family, but also seems determined to draw attention to the fact that her father hit her once as a teenager. Is that laundry that really needs airing all these years later?) She talks a lot about the various improv groups she worked with and the venues they moved between, but we never really get more than surface details on anything. She point-blank refrains from discussing her marriage, which is entirely her prerogative, but then gives a lot of what feels like undue weight to an incident where she once made an offensive joke on SNL. Oddly, there are a lot of sections that feel more like a self-help guide than anything. Poehler's tone is warm throughout, and radiates positivity and kindness. Those are things I love about her public persona. But the book ends up a strange sort of mish-mash, and is ultimately, sadly, disappointing....more