This is great fun - time after time the authors would throw out an example and I'd think: yep, that one was in book X. Bad characterisation, bad plotThis is great fun - time after time the authors would throw out an example and I'd think: yep, that one was in book X. Bad characterisation, bad plot devices, bad dialogue, even bad query letters - they're all in here. The humour might get a little tedious for some, since it's all a bit over-the-top, but I enjoyed it. Usually I don't read this type of book thoroughly, just skim the best bits, but this one I read from cover to cover. Highly entertaining....more
The subtitle to this is ‘A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective’ which is a fairly melodramatic summing up. All murder is shThe subtitle to this is ‘A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective’ which is a fairly melodramatic summing up. All murder is shocking, in its own way, surely? As for the undoing of the great Victorian detective, he failed to get a conviction, which is hardly the world’s worst offence. But I suppose ‘Case Dismissed for Lack of Evidence’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, and although the detective in question was castigated for supposedly mishandling the case, he was subsequently vindicated. Not much of an undoing.
The murder itself, in 1860, and the events surrounding it, are actually quite a small part of the book. A three year old boy is removed from his cot in the middle of the night, has his throat cut and the body stuffed down an outside privy. The difficulty is that the house was securely locked up, so that only one of the inmates - twelve members of a middle class family and their servants - could have done it. There is a lot of detail given about precisely where everyone was and what they did and at what time, all gleaned from official accounts or other contemporary documents, but this is not an Agatha Christie novel, where everyone has a motive. The local police soon devise a favoured theory and pinpoint a suspect, but there’s a lack of evidence. So a detective is despatched from London to solve the case. He has a different theory and suspect, but again there’s no evidence beyond the circumstantial.
In a work of fiction, a story like this would be filled with a gradually revealed pattern of clues, but real life is not so neat. Instead, the author tells us a great deal of mundane detail about train times and weather and laundry arrangements and the entire life histories of the family members, the servants, the local people and the detective. There are maps and family trees and lists of principal characters and photographs. There are prices for items, and menus, and descriptions of people and places. Undoubtedly a lot of research has been done, but the dry-as-dust presentation and the choppy arrangement of it, hopping about from one character to another, remove any sense of engagement with the characters or the situation. It reads like a poorly organised research paper. There wasn’t much drama, either, despite the inherently sensational nature of the murder itself. The most interesting aspect (for me), the detective’s theory of whodunit (the suspicions of the title) and his reasons for that, are barely mentioned in passing, so that he appears to jump to that conclusion almost by instinct, and not by detective work at all.
The author has made some attempt to draw out significant aspects of social history which are relevant to the case. The policy of training specialised detectives for serious crimes was in its infancy, and this particular murder was a notable failure. There was also a certain amount of disparagement from local worthies and the press about the working class detectives setting out to scrutinise the respectable lives of their betters. Fictionalised detective stories began at about this time, and the country house murder behind locked doors was an inspiration for an entire genre. To my mind, the most shocking information was the family tree. The patriarch had fathered ten children by his first wife, of whom no less than five died in infancy and another as a young man, and a further five by his second wife (formerly the governess), one of whom was the murdered boy. Both wives died young.
In the end, there is a resolution of sorts, although (as with all such high-profile crimes) there continued to be doubts ever after about the exact sequence of events, and where the blame truly lay. The book is not the most well-presented I’ve ever seen, and is too loaded down with dull, irrelevant detail, nor do the characters and their desires and motivations ever really come to life, but perhaps it is in the nature of a factual book like this to scrupulously lay out all the possibilities, rather than over-dramatising the author’s preferred version of events. I found it a quick, easy read, engrossing in parts and mostly enjoyable. Three stars....more
This is a free book that purports to help you become a successful blogger by asking 101 questions; when you have answered them all, you should be ableThis is a free book that purports to help you become a successful blogger by asking 101 questions; when you have answered them all, you should be able to create and build that successful blog. What is a successful blog, you might ask? That's probably question 5, 'What do you hope to gain from your blog?'. So yes, you really do have to provide all the answers yourself. It's aimed squarely at those who want to start blogging in order to make money from it. I'd always thought people start blogging because they have thoughts or events or opinions or wisdom that they want to share with the world, but apparently quite a lot of them just want to get rich. So although the book pays lip-service to those who blog purely for fun or out of generosity, there's a lot of talk about growing and business plans and profits and the like.
I'm not exactly the target audience for this book. Although I have a blog, it exists solely so that I have somewhere to dump all my Goodreads reviews so I can easily access them. I don't do anything to advertise it, apart from putting the url on my profile page, and just once linking from a book review to a series review that was only on the blog. It's a constant source of amazement to me that people manage to find it and read it and post comments on it and even tweet about it, it seems. I check my stats every day and admire the (very small) numbers. But I'm not interested in 'growing' it, and I'm certainly not interested in making money from it.
Nevertheless, I thought this book might be interesting to me as a (sort of) blogger. First problem is that on Kindle for PC, the ink is green. Seriously. It's OK on the Android app, so I don't know what that's all about. Second problem is that there just isn't much content. Each page (or question) is just a few lines long, and really, it's not exactly earth shattering. Here's question 21, for example, 'What preparation does your ideal reader go through before they purchase?':
'What kinds of research does your ideal reader do before they purchase big-ticket items? 'Do they read Consumer Reports, other blogs, Amazon reviews, or ask their spouse? Do they have enough disposable income to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it? 'Answering this question can give you a few insights: 'It can help you understand your future readers better 'It can help you offer products that they need and want 'It can give you an idea of places to promote your website and blog'
And that's it, in its entirety. And then, towards the end of the book, there's an 'inspiration from other bloggers' section, where they say - pretty much the same things. Now, I can imagine that all this might just possibly be helpful to a few folks without any idea where to start, by focusing them on what matters to them and pointing out a few pitfalls. There are also a few tips about technical stuff which are slightly informative. There's nothing you couldn't find out from a couple of hours on Google (and reading a few blogs!), but it's free, so it just about scrapes two stars. But really, don't pay for this. ...more
This is a fairly lightweight and easy to read discussion of the history of the four main rooms of the house: living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitcheThis is a fairly lightweight and easy to read discussion of the history of the four main rooms of the house: living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Starting with the medieval manor house with its single large room, the author describes the origins of each separate room, how they were used in the centuries since and what that says about the society of the time. This could have been very dull and dry, but actually it's a lively read, filled with anecdotes and stories of the people of the time, gleaned from contemporary writings. Occasionally the author resorts to the more speculative 'could have been', and if I have my suspicions that some of this is perpetuating popular myths, it's none the less entertaining, for all that.
For anyone interested in the medieval period, there's a lot of material here that doesn't usually find its way into history books. Most interesting to me are the fixed beliefs that people of earlier centuries held which affected not just their lifestyles but also their health and (ultimately) their life expectancy. And yet there was a curious logic to it. Not eating raw fruit and vegetables? Dangerous in the age before clean piped water. And almost anything might be feared without the knowledge of how diseases could be spread. Even today, when we have more scientists at work than ever before, there's still mystique surrounding what we should eat and drink, and how best to live our lives.
Anyone looking for the raw research data won't find it here, although there's a detailed bibliography. It's also got a very English feel to it. The rest of the UK gets an occasional mention, the rest of the world or recorded history before medieval times, hardly a word. This is a gentle overview of the subject, not inaccurate but sugar-coated and pre-formed for easy digestibility. It's also short; fully a third of the book on my Kindle is taken up with the bibliography, index and a whole series of pictures which should more properly have been in the body of the text, but presumably wouldn't fit. But as light background reading, it's useful enough and quite enjoyable. Three stars. ...more
Self-publishing is very much the flavour of the month, but the whole industry is awash with rumour and speculation, with very few hard facts. This booSelf-publishing is very much the flavour of the month, but the whole industry is awash with rumour and speculation, with very few hard facts. This book attempts to fill the gap a little, if not with hard facts, then at least with a few statistics. In February 2012, the authors sent questionnaires to 1,007 self-publishing authors and this rather slim volume is the result: an assessment of what works and what doesn't for authors publishing and marketing their own books.
Of course, a certain amount of caution is in order. The respondents were self-selected, for one thing, although it's hard to know how else to choose - randomly pulling names from Amazon, perhaps. But it's possible that these particular authors were willing to participate because they were more successful, or simply more vocal or more committed to self-publishing.
For new authors looking to this survey for reassurance, it's not easy to find. Successful authors were more likely to be women, more likely to have a degree, had been writing for longer, wrote more per day, had more books for sale. None of these are things an individual can do much about. Romance was the most successful genre, but again, a committed fantasy writer is hardly likely to switch. But looking at the figures more closely shows just how misleading statistics can be. Almost half of romance writers in the survey had previously had a traditional publishing contract; in other words, they were professional writers with an established fan-base who simply switched to self-publishing to make more money (and perhaps to have more control over their writing).
In the detail of the report is quite a lot of meat about what might actually help to sell self-published books. Getting professional help with editing, proof-reading and cover art, for one thing, and also the fairly obvious one - get plenty of reviews (although paid reviews are not effective). Getting the word out, whether by blog or Twitter or via email, is also important. There are some useful ideas here, and although there's nothing wildly original, it's good to see some numbers rather than speculation or anecdote.
This is a very short book but for serious self-publishers it's a must read. There's a mass of useful information, and although some of it is discouraging (half the respondents earned less than $500 in the previous year), there are plenty of helpful tips, and the underlying message is simple: keep writing, be professional, build your fan base and you can earn money from your books. I would have liked more graphs and charts, and more raw data instead of analysis, and perhaps a lower price for such a modest volume. However, for those squinting at the graphs on a Kindle, they are all available in an easier-to-read format on the authors' website. Three stars. ...more
I was a bit nervous about reading this book - not another tract on evolutionary psychology, and how humans are all just bonobos at heart! Fortunately,I was a bit nervous about reading this book - not another tract on evolutionary psychology, and how humans are all just bonobos at heart! Fortunately, it’s much more than that, and the authors dissect evolutionary psychology with such surgical precision that I was mentally cheering at several points. They still take the view that modern humans carry the scars of our evolutionary history with us, but they don’t buy into the whole enchilada.
The basic premise is that humans are not evolved for lifetime monogamy, a thesis the authors support by physical, anthropological and comparative evidence. I found many of these arguments quite compelling, especially where they dismantle the research of some of the big names in the field. It’s clear that evo-psych makes far too many assumptions about what the evolutionary environment was like, and that too much dependence has been placed on research into models of hunter-gatherer societies which are based on surviving groups who have been affected by contact with modern lifestyles, or are not true foragers at all. However, not all the authors’ own conclusions are rock solid, either.
Where the book fails, perhaps, is in determining just what kind of arrangement humans might have had in hunter-gatherer days. They convincingly argue against monogamy, but what else was viable for early humans? Full-on promiscuity? Pair-bonding with plenty of playing away? Serial monogamy? Long-term multi-mate groupings? They look at all of these, but make no conclusive case for any one in particular. Perhaps they preferred to leave that open, but still it would have been interesting to know which of them they thought our ancestors might have enjoyed, and why. Serial monogamy is the only one widely tried in modern society, with limited success. The others are very minority states. They also fail, I think, to take sufficient account of the economic benefits of monogamy - it’s an arrangement that works well in a property-owning society, on the whole. It may have weaknesses, but it’s survived more or less intact in the vast majority of cultures for millennia. Until our economic and social systems change, I don’t see much likelihood of any movement away from it.
This is an interesting book, written in a relaxed and readable style, with plenty of humour. It’s not going to revolutionise society, and some of the arguments are over-stated, perhaps, but if it causes even one couple to think twice before sending for the divorce lawyers, it will have achieved something worthwhile. Four stars....more
I read a lot of fantasy novels, many of which are set in a gloomy created world not unlike the European middle ages. This book was my attempt to see wI read a lot of fantasy novels, many of which are set in a gloomy created world not unlike the European middle ages. This book was my attempt to see whether the truly dismal picture painted therein has any truth in it.
The book discusses the life of women in the thousand years or so from around 600AD to 1600AD, illustrated by a detailed look at the lives of a few specific women of whom accurate records exist. It's fairly dry, academic stuff, but there is a great deal of information in there.
How accurate are the fantasies? It's true that women's lives were very hard, and few below the level of royalty were able to sit around waited on by servants while they embroidered. Childbirth was risky, children routinely died before maturity, and adults, too, were often carried off prematurely by illness or accident. Medical knowledge was rudimentary, at best. Wealthier families had to fight to maintain and improve their position in society (sometimes literally) while peasants struggled to find enough to eat and pay their rents.
It's true, too, that women were regarded as subservient to men - their fathers, brothers, husbands and local lords (but men were also subservient to their masters and lords). Nevertheless, they could and did work and run businesses on their own account, they could inherit property and land, they could resort to law to defend their rights. Widows in particular could take over the rights of their dead husband, carrying on his business or craft, training apprentices and so on. And although marriage was an economic, not romantic, proposition for all ranks, wives were an essential adjunct to the partnership and (royalty apart) not just there to produce children. So although inequality was enshrined in law, the practical application was very different....more
This 'exposé' of the IPCC, the UN body which assesses the climate change science, has polarised its readership exactly as climate change does - you arThis 'exposé' of the IPCC, the UN body which assesses the climate change science, has polarised its readership exactly as climate change does - you are either for or against, it seems. So the reviews are either glowing 4/5 star affairs, or outraged 1 stars. Well, my middle name has always been awkward, so I'm going to put this firmly in the three star box - it's a lightweight little effort, fluffing a small amount of actual data into a book-length diatribe.
Much of the supposed scandal is, to be honest, not very dramatic. So some of the authors of the IPCC's reports are students and mere graduates? A science graduate is still a scientist, and the quality (or otherwise) of the science is all that really matters. So some of the authors are also publishing their own research, which they then quote? I would expect a climate scientist worthy of inclusion in IPCC to be conducting research and publishing it, in fact, it would be more of a worry if they weren't (they are supposed to be experts on the subject, after all). So the head honcho makes glib statements not borne out by the facts? This happens in any big organisation.
And shock horror - the IPCC is a political organisation. Of course it is, it's part of the UN, a wholly political body, funded by national governments to create an entire extra layer of bureaucracy. Like any parasitic bureaucracy, it has no actual political power, but it has great influence, and is self-serving, self-perpetuating and effectively accountable to no one.
The author does a useful job pulling together some of the biggest outrages perpetrated by the IPCC. It put forward the view that climate change was making hurricanes more frequent and more severe. It proposed that natural disasters cost more because of climate change. It warned that malaria would spread because of warming. It suggested that the Himalayan glaciers were melting faster than expected. All of these contradicted the consensus views of experts, and were not supported by hard evidence.
Then there is the infamous hockey stick graph, showing temperatures flat for a thousand years and a sharp recent rise, thereby ignoring the well-known Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. It's worth quoting the reaction of geologist Don Easterbrook on this: "If you look in GeoRef, which is the bibliography for publications in geology, you will find 485 papers on the Medieval Warm Period and you'll find 1,413 on the Little Ice Age. So the total number of papers in the geologic literature is 1,900. And we're expected to believe that one curve [based on] tree rings is going to overturn all of those 1,900 papers? I don't think so." Several people have devoted a lot of time and effort to working out just where the hockey stick graph came from and finding the flaws in the data and analysis behind it, and the IPCC has quietly dropped it from its latest publication, but it was hugely influential at the time.
There have been many books published over the years about climate change (on both sides of the debate) and the argument has become increasingly acrimonious. This book looks closely at the organisation most responsible for bringing the issues to public attention, and persuading governments to do something about it. Given the high stakes and costs involved, and the implications for those impacted by government action, it was time for an investigation of the IPCC. This book questions the process it uses, its standards and methods, and even its motivations. There is nothing terribly profound or surprising in here, but it needed to be said. Three stars. ...more
I knew nothing about Jackie Kay before opening this book, so it was a bit of a leap in the dark. She writes poetry, it turns out, and has obviously atI knew nothing about Jackie Kay before opening this book, so it was a bit of a leap in the dark. She writes poetry, it turns out, and has obviously attracted some attention with it because she has an MBE. But this book is not about her writing, it's about how she was adopted and came to find her natural parents. Not that there's much to say about that - they never really become three dimensional, glimpsed in rather fraught occasional meetings in their old age. But if the central focus of the book is a little hazy, the decorative curlicues around the edges, the snippets of life with her adoptive parents, are what bring the story to vivid life, rich with humour and deep affection.
To be honest, I often wonder with a book of this type just why the author decided to write it. Fiction and poetry I can understand - there's a desire to tell a story, to create something new and original, to say something. But a memoir? Why would an author think these little vignettes from an ordinary life, however well written, would be interesting? Is it catharsis? It's clear that meeting her birth parents was a traumatic experience, on both sides, so maybe Kay felt the need for some kind of release, a kind of blood-letting, or perhaps a way of packaging it all up neatly into something small and manageable like a book, so it can be tidily shelved away. But what exactly do all her friends and relations (long-standing or newly discovered) feel to be written about in this tell-all way - the family's secrets spread out in the open for people like me to maul and comment on and make judgments about.
Maybe the author intended it partly as a celebration of her adoptive parents. Certainly the contrast with her birth parents could hardly be more stark, and makes their own eccentricities (they were active socialists and atheists) seem trivial and positively benign by comparison. It is also clear that, whatever the emotional ups and downs and physial difficulties involved in meeting her birth family, and however great her euphoria when things went well, it was always her adoptive parents who grounded her, and formed the solid bedrock of her life.
This is not a particularly original book, in many ways. There are many other works written by people tracing their roots and finding out surprising things about themselves and their families. There are many other works about the experience of being black or lesbian or adopted. Some of them are far more profound or moving than this one. Kay had, after all, a fairly sheltered upbringing in a loving family. Nevertheless, however lightweight the subject matter, Kay's writing skills shine through, and there's enough humour and charm here to make the book an interesting, if not compelling, read. ...more
I found this very hard to get into. It's a dry-as-dust history of the author's family, based around a surviving fragment of their at one time vast artI found this very hard to get into. It's a dry-as-dust history of the author's family, based around a surviving fragment of their at one time vast art collection. The academic style and lengthy descriptions of architectural features plus the use of words and expressions unknown to my dictionary made it heavy going. Occasionally there would be a shaft of light - a picture of one of the people talked about, or talk of a lover - which brought these long dead characters to life somewhat.
Gradually, however, as the decades pass and the author reaches a generation he knew personally, people who left diaries and postcards and letters and word of mouth descriptions, the book becomes a little less heavy-footed. Even then, even when the tragedy of the First World War rolls over the family and flattens them, it is hard to sympathise over much. Yes, they lost a lot of money, and the footmen were all called up, there was no fuel to run the car and it was impossible to get to the country house or visit the cousins, but still, they all survived, they had enough to eat (unlike millions of others), they still lived in their vast Palais in the centre of Vienna with all its paintings and books and sculptures intact.
Eventually, we reach the moment which has been inevitable from page 1. For this particular family is Jewish, living right in the centre of the maelstrom of Hitler's Europe, and it was impossible for them to emerge unscathed. This part of the story is deeply moving, as all such stories are, and the author underscores the tragedy by the contrast between the life they lived before the war, with its endless round of social occasions, the arrays of costumes necessary, the lavish food and drink, the minutiae of the wealthy bourgeois daily and yearly round, and the transition to modest suburban life, virtually all their possessions lost, extended family scattered around the globe or dead.
The final part of the book takes the collection of 'netsuke' (carved toggles designed to be hung on kimono sashes) back to their origins in Japan, and this is a more upbeat read. Despite all that has happened, there is still the same acquisitive purchasing of art going on, the same moving through a landscape of social functions and mingling with the great and good of the art world which has characterised the family since the netsuke were first purchased in Paris close to a century earlier. This is not a family which is sliding into obscurity, despite its trials.
On the whole, I found the snippets of family life more interesting than the endless catalogue of furniture, architecture, art works and decoration. As an insight into the treatment of Jews, it probably does not add much to the canon, although the snapshot of a certain way of life has its interest. The book would be enjoyed best by those more knowledgeable about art and history than I am. Three stars. ...more
This is a collection of short stories set either in the author's native Ireland, or else in England, his later home, with one set in France. He is regThis is a collection of short stories set either in the author's native Ireland, or else in England, his later home, with one set in France. He is regarded as a master of the short story, and it's true that each is a little masterpiece of prose, with a skillfully drawn set of characters, an intriguing scenario gradually revealed and a little twist at the end. Each one is a perfect vignette of lives at a moment in time. The stories themselves are often full of pathos, with enough subtleties and undercurrents to intrigue. Some are quite hauntingly memorable, and the Irish ones in particularly have a wonderful resonance of time and place.
And yet... It's not that I disliked these stories, I didn't at all. But a short story is, somehow, a peculiarly artificial form of prose. The twist at the end is, after all, the whole point, so the story is entirely constructed around it, with the aim being to deceive and then, triumphantly, reveal it. It's intended to be clever rather than to tell a story, and personally I would rather have had more depth and development and less cleverness. I can't help feeling: if the author didn't care enough about these characters to give them the space to grow, why should I care about them either?
It's all too easy to see them as disposable products - read, enjoy in the moment and then throw away. But some of them really deserved a broader canvas. 'The Virgin's Gift', for instance, raised more questions than it answered. Readers will have their own views on the nature of the visions of the Virgin Mary, but what exactly was the gift? Was it simply the obvious one, of returning a son to his home? Or did the author intend the more subtle irony of giving back something which had been taken away in the first place? And what would become of the main character after that? And 'The Hill Bachelors' could easily have made a full length novel, or a film. It seems a shame to criticise a short story for being too short, yet several of them felt that way - too much detail crammed in, cluttering up the simplicity of the picture. And occasionally it felt clunky, as if the author was determined to shoehorn in a particular piece of information, relevant or not. Nevertheless, these are superb examples of the art of the short story, for those who enjoy the genre. ...more
This was one of those accidental finds on Amazon, the online equivalent of wandering aimlessly around a bookstore. I searched for something quite diffThis was one of those accidental finds on Amazon, the online equivalent of wandering aimlessly around a bookstore. I searched for something quite different, and was tossed a ragbag of unrelated stuff. One was quite interesting, but the reviews mentioned that McLuhan's book was much better. It was cheaper, too, and that was that.
This book is a discussion, not about the paranormal itself, but rather about the determined sceptics who devote their time and energy to debunking it. McLuhan admits that he started off as a sceptic himself, although surely a healthy disbelief in such seeming absurdities as poltergeists, reincarnation, ghostly hallucinations, psychic mediums and the like would be the default position for anyone with a rational mind. At first, he accepted that the evidence for paranormal activity must be flawed, and believed the categorical statements of the debunkers that it was all invented or (at best) misinterpreted.
But when he began to delve more deeply he discovered that there was a vast database of evidence, much of it consistent and surprisingly robust. The debunkers, by contrast, used a variety of methods to undermine its credibility. They quibbled over statistics and methodology, proposed that those experiencing paranormal events were rogues and charlatans, were scathing about serious researchers, and occasionally invoked explanations for some incidents that were even less plausible than the paranormal.
None of this will convince a sceptic that paranormal powers actually exist, nor will believers be deterred. Even those who are initially open minded will probably not be induced to settle on one side or the other by this book. If anything, it suggests that there is bad science and irrational behaviour on both sides of the argument. There are weaknesses in McLuhan's argument, too - debunking the debunkers, however satisfying, does not make paranormality any more plausible. He also fails to enquire too deeply about the cultural differences in paranormal experiences (although he does address the issue as regards reincarnation).
But what this book really underscores is the great unease we feel when faced with apparently inexplicable events. Far from being credulous and gullible, most people are deeply uncomfortable about such things, keeping their own experiences secret sometimes for years, and this allows the sceptics to prevail, while believers and even honest, open minded researchers are seen as crackpots.
I have no idea whether 'psi' (paranormal power) really exists, or whether human consciousness can survive death. Perhaps we will never be able to prove these things one way or the other. But this thoughtful book is happily free of the hyperbole which often accompanies the subject. It sets itself a fairly narrow target, but it addresses it in painstaking detail, in a clear, calm and readable style. ...more
I loved this book. The first third of it is autobiographical - King's childhood, and how he began writing, up to the point where he started making serI loved this book. The first third of it is autobiographical - King's childhood, and how he began writing, up to the point where he started making serious money from it (and his description of hearing that the paperback rights for 'Carrie' went for $400,000 is very funny: "The strength ran out of my legs. I didn't fall, exactly, but I kind of whooshed down to a sitting position..."). Then there's the meat of the book - his thoughts on writing (how to, where to, how much to and a great deal more besides). Then there's a whole list of post scripts, of various kinds. It sounds like a dog's dinner, but it's all hugely readable, and as relaxed as if you were just sitting in a bar with King and he was simply talking.
Yes, it's aggressively opinionated, it's all about him, and I'm not sure why being a best-selling author necessarily entitles King to instruct others on how to write. Much of the advice is trite: avoid adverbs and the passive voice is very much 'How to write 101'. He's totally scathing about some techniques beginning writers use (like creative writing workshops), and insistent that his own ways work best - have your own space for writing, write a set amount each day no matter what, write with the door closed, edit with it open. Well, I can imagine lots of aspiring writers sighing at this, and saying: "It's OK for you, mate - chance'd be a fine thing".
But it's funny, and I can forgive a book almost anything if it makes me laugh out loud. It's sharp too - of creative writing seminars, he says: "It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." And it's very down to earth - when he talks about editing, he shows you a few pages of a first draft, and then the same pages with his changes scrawled all over them, and he tells you exactly why he made every single change. So there is a certain amount of useful advice in there, although wrapped up in an awful lot of rambling (if amusing) Stephen King reminiscence.
So if you can accept the book for what it is - a very entertaining autobiographical piece, with a few nuggets of writing guidance - rather than a handbook to set beginning writers on the path to fame, fortune or the Booker prize, it's a fun and enjoyable read, from start to finish. And his bottom line is a gem - anyone who wants to be a writer should read a lot and write a lot. You can't fault that. ...more