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 bed...moreThis 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.(less)
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 Ga...moreI 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.(less)
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 celebrit...moreI 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.(less)