For once, the artwork was absolutely perfect for the subject. (With too many graphic novels I find this a sticking point.) JAKe's drawings are angularFor once, the artwork was absolutely perfect for the subject. (With too many graphic novels I find this a sticking point.) JAKe's drawings are angular, scuzzy, thick-lined black and white: they suit the drunken and sometimes chaotic lives of the characters, they give a sense of very strong personalities - personalities from the past, who started their screen careers in the black and white era and who are presented in the story as Christmas Carol style ghosts.
What has stayed with me about this book is an ambivalence about the way it treats its subjects. It's easy to see why an author might want to present an alternative to the lionisation of notorious drunks and still make it kind of fun and laddish. But there were a few too many instances when I felt like I was watching some paper equivalent of a public information film about the dangers of too much booze. (Dunno if Robert Sellers' prose book on this crowd is similar.) There are screeds of internet writing already tearing down such former heroes. And I can't stand the images and memories of the - relatively recently - deceased being used for causes they wouldn't necessarily have agreed with. How many of Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed would have wanted to come back as these ghosts of Christmas teaching a lesson to a thirtysomething dad who likes a bit too much to drink? It's a little embarrassing (in a teenage kinda way) to fall in with the contemporary trend of liking memoirs, but really I would much rather hear people in their own words. I have a bias here due to a couple of favourite exes having been alcoholics - crazy adventures, absolutely; violent, never - who simply gave up as they got older, deciding on their own terms that it was getting in the way of what they wanted to do or was no longer fun, and managing fine without AA etc. Maybe that's not an alcoholic by some people's definitions but the during certainly looked like one. (My experience of people who do a lot of drugs and don't like drink is more negative; I'd much rather be around someone who's hungover than with a person with Tuesday blues.) Perhaps experience means I'm not as into the premise of the book as some might be, but the principle of it means there is a sort of puritan hijacking - nowhere near as bad as Leah Betts, at least - that sticks in the craw.
Which then begs the question why the fuck I gave it 4 stars. I really enjoyed the drawings - the faces, particularly, are great - and the anecdotes - there are plenty between the bouts of occasional didacticism - and the historical detail and the construction of the story. It has a kind of fanfic element - this guy gets to go on a night out with his heroes. A lot of it was funny. Plus, time travel!...more
Double Indemnity was simply so good a film, with dialogue so quickly fired, that I was desperate to see the words again on the page. This one I got because of a new crush on the author*; obviously it goes without saying that Withnail is an excellent film too, but then I couldn't have a crush on someone who wrote less than very well indeed.
You've probably seen Withnail & I more than once, and know perfectly well that it's very funny, but there's more here than just the words from the film itself. A few scenes which didn't make it into the movie. Wonderful descriptions of the characters and their actions, and settings so well realised that the words are almost sensual despite being used of a squalid place; these are especially good in the first half. And an introduction which is one of the best pieces I've read about having difficulty writing the item itself properly and on time. In part because of the opening tone of malaise and angry desperation very funny but deeply, not flippantly felt, and over a few pages it moves through reminiscences and old diary entries about the original Withnail (his former flatmate Vivian MacKerrell), via stream of consciousness to the ache of missing a deceased friend, just as mood does change when you begin to read about then write about a thing which has great meaning to you. But also its structure isn't fully tightened, unlike 90% of such I-can't-write-this-column columns which always rather diminishes the meta-effect.
My only qualm about Withnail & I is fuelled by the minority-awareness - or as some might say political correctness - which is the legacy of work in the public and voluntary sectors for nearly a decade and then reading a bunch of feminist websites. It's not a question I feel qualified to answer myself, but because it's partly about fear of one particular predatory homosexual, do some people feel there's anything generally homophobic about the film? Having read how Uncle Monty was partly inspired by Robinson's memories of being sexually harrassed by Franco Zeffirelli on the set of Romeo & Juliet, it's also a great example of a traumatic experience sublimated to create some legendary comedy.
* Which wouldn't have started if Alex hadn't posted about A Fantastic Fear of Everything (thank you!) which I watched and thought was fantastic, if someone else hadn't told me the film was based on Robinson's story Paranoia In The Launderette and if my Netflix free trial hadn't recommended Still Crazy in which Robinson's character would have utterly melted me anyway, but he was gorgeous too. I'd really needed something like this as rebound....more
There are limitations to reviewing an introductory book when one only has basic knowledge. I can't critique it or comment on its accuracy as would a pThere are limitations to reviewing an introductory book when one only has basic knowledge. I can't critique it or comment on its accuracy as would a person who's seen all of Fellini's films (I've seen three), let alone someone who's written a dissertation on him.
This is as intelligently written as I'd hope a Cahiers du Cinema book would be - it's the first of theirs I've read. It seems like a good, brief academic analysis and has some luscious description befitting its subject. Amarcord and 8½ were made much clearer to me, whilst it merely refreshed my memories of La Dolce Vita rather than adding new understanding, most likely because I first saw that not long after hearing Mark Kermode discuss it on the radio.
There is a lovely sense of Fellini's life and times here too (and of course that legendary ego): such energy and inspiration when he was young, surfing then creating waves, and latterly a sense of tiredness, fumbling for ideas, a wish to confront television and its siphoning of cinema audiences, whilst also being frustrated and resigned to this change.
Only about 50 of the 100 pages contain text; the rest are glossy images from films, so it is really a short book and quick to read. It's worthwhile as an introduction if you're slightly interested, but not (yet) quite enough to read a longer book on Fellini - and especially if you can get it cheaply....more
A reasonably interesting guide to 11 films of the period, it is still sighingly obvious at times that this was written as a sixth form textbook. ThereA reasonably interesting guide to 11 films of the period, it is still sighingly obvious at times that this was written as a sixth form textbook. There are those episodes of patronising exposition, but it doesn't assume you're too stupid and it did give me new insights into most of the films. (Though I hadn't seen a few of them since I was younger than Danny Powell's target audience and I've watched none of them more than once.)
It has 20-30 page essay-chapters on: Peeping Tom Saturday Night & Sunday Morning Billy Liar A Hard Day's Night Goldfinger and The Ipcress File (one of those "compare and contrast" jobs) Darling The Knack...and How to Get It Blow Up If... The Italian Job
It's more recent and less tome-y than two other main books on this subject: Hollywood England: The British Film Industry in the Sixties andSixties British Cinema and spends a surprising amount of words on feminist viewpoints. I did want a book that would take account of these but - perhaps to fulfil a syllabus - gender role analyses sometimes take up space at the cost of less obvious or repetitive topics.
Most disappointing essay: Darling: Powell said hardly anything I hadn't thought of whilst watching the film, and never alleviated my frustration with it. I'd describe it as a satire of shallow, self-interested media people; although the fashion and refinement make it far more aesthetically appealing than a Hollywood remake could possibly be, I found none of the characters likeable, or devilishly fascinating, or engaging, though I did sometimes feel sorry for them. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and Julie Christie won Best Actress for it, and it's evidently a good quality film. You know how you guys on Goodreads sometimes get frustrated because you didn't like a book and you feel like it's you not it? I felt a lot like that about Darling. I really really wanted to like it, but it ended up as a 3-star. Powell also annoyed me in his chapter on this film by being oddly puritanical and sneering about a counterculture party which hinted at an orgy (though no flesh was shown, in order to get past ye olde fashioned censors) - but that was the most alive scene in the whole film.
Best insights: 1)Bond as symbol for mainstream, conservative, xenophobic masculine consumerism. James Bond had always irked me slightly, but I couldn't work out what it was (being un-straight enough to like looking at the Bond girls). But when he's implicitly described as a copy of GQ in human form, all gloss, stereotyped to sell an aspirational lifestyle and a world view to an uncreative target market, it falls into place (like so many clothes shed in a 5-star hotel room...) 2)Blow-Up [Careful now with the typos.] A dream-like somewhat surreal film which I'd allowed to drift past my eyes, creating colourful wisps of a time and place: the book put many of my unarticulated impressions into words, including the relative emptiness and routine that may be found even at the heart of the coolest most beautiful scene.
Spoilt: The Italian Job. I like silly action comedies, and analysing the detail of scenes takes the fun out of them. Though the film's reflection of Britain as a waning international power, its role in creating Brit-gangster film iconography and its 90's resurgence as new lad canon all unquestionably deserve a mention.
Made me want to re-watch: The Ipcress File: Harry Palmer as the social-realist, rebellious Bond, who cooks at home like Sam Tyler in Life on Mars. Billy Liar: not seen since school. Billy's frustrations in trying to escape parents who have different horizons, and the dull cosh of an employer hovering over his head. Liz as a freer, less stereotyped woman than characters in many 60's, or indeed recent Hollywood movies. (But was she a proto manic pixie dream girl?) And The Long Blondes' Giddy Stratospheres is supposedly written from a perspective similar to hers on Billy and Helen's relationship, whilst she has greater aspirations - to get out of that small town - aspirations that she can see Billy shares ... and if only he would do something about them.
I could write more, but I want to go to sleep and you probably want to read some other reviews as well as this. Night night....more
I'm mostly away watching films at the moment, and don't much feel like reading. But to keep up the numbers, why not read a short, easy book about filmI'm mostly away watching films at the moment, and don't much feel like reading. But to keep up the numbers, why not read a short, easy book about films? Also a couple of weeks ago this was the only reasonably-priced book about French New Wave on Kindle.
The enterprise began somewhat farcically as I became worried that part of the book was missing: it didn't look like there was enough % left to fit in the rest of the content mentioned in the index ... but in my absent-mindedness I'd been reading an unusually long and generous preview of The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette by James Monaco. (It was more interesting and substantial so I wouldn't mind reading more when I can be bothered with a 300-pager.)
As other reviewers have said, this is a beginners' guide. However, of the Nouvelle Vague films I saw before this year, I watched pretty much all of them on my own and didn't have an opportunity to discuss them until they came up in conversation, sometimes months or years later, by which time I may had forgotten some of the detail. So although the pieces on individual films were very brief, they were still very welcome. And there were enough films mentioned which I haven't yet seen to make it of some value as a prompt.
It would have been easier to have this as a paperback, so that the lists could be consulted more easily, and so that it could perhaps be given, lent or sold on once I'd seen more of them or got a more substantial book on the subject....more
A highly competent and interesting book about an album I have little passion for.
I started reading the 33 1/3 books in order - the ones about albums IA highly competent and interesting book about an album I have little passion for.
I started reading the 33 1/3 books in order - the ones about albums I know, any road. Looked back at the list, and I'd missed out Harvest. It beigeness makes it easy to overlook ... an album I listened to a lot at a barren time in my life, 2002-05, and which feels relatively unconnected to my friends or the aesthetic world I favour/ed when younger and older. As several reviewers mention, Inglis likes, but doesn't absolutely love the record; for me it was easier to get on with this book than it would have been if it had been written by a fan who was head-over-heels with Harvest.
The author appears to have a wide-ranging knowledge of Neil Young's career; I certainly don't. Over the years I know I've heard plenty of his songs, but aside from this album, I can only remember 'Harvest Moon'. Perhaps I should investigate further, but my heart isn't in it. (I just want to hear lots more Kinks records after reading The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society). And in male singers my preferences are for a deep voice, clever cultural allusion and wordplay ... that's 0 out of 3 then Neil ... sorry mate.
Though I do have a weakness for steel guitars; that must have been it. (It's a pretty big weakness; busk near me with a steel guitar when I have coins in pockets, and you will get money.)
The other appeal of Harvest is that it's good, but not stretching, singing practice for my contralto-of-limited-range. (I mean, have you tried singing along to many of these deeper-voiced female vocalists? Their voice gymnastics can be very hard work to keep up with, and sometimes just plain impossible, Amy.) But with a small range of notes, it's not easy getting depth of feeling into lyrics that really need it, like 'The Needle and the Damage Done', which increases my respect for Young as a singer, even if he's not exactly my favourite voice to listen to.
The most interesting bits of the book for me are the ones that aren't about Neil Young - about the differences in recording techniques in 60's and 70's Nashville, compared with London, New York and L.A., and the tightly-controlled world of country music, a sizeable island apart from the rest of the popular music business. Inglis seems like a guy who knows his stuff, even if his lack of enthusiasm for Harvest may make this book a bit frustrating for the album's biggest fans....more
An album with the strange familiarity of music fallen asleep to dozens of times, but when, or where, with who (or none) I cannot remember. And in theAn album with the strange familiarity of music fallen asleep to dozens of times, but when, or where, with who (or none) I cannot remember. And in the past couple of weeks in appropriately semi-mystical fashion I've been pointed back toward this record on seeing that three otherwise unconnected friends - who usually listen to little pre-1990 - have been playing this on Spotify.
I listened intently on repeat to 'Alone Again Or' after (re?) discovering it in 2009 in the uniquely unlikely source of a piece of Severus Snape fanfiction. [Not something I've ever been in the habit of reading except for one brief phase. Srsly man.] Of the other songs I know the sound but not all the lyrics, perhaps never having listened through headphones. The psychedelic guitars meander and roll outside time and space, transporting me to a mood not unlike The Stone Roses eponymous effort. But wherever Forever Changes stirs from the trip to look out of the window into the troubled political world it feels jaded fear and slips it under your skin so subtly you can't be sure it wasn't there before, mingled as it is with the otherworldly comfort of the melodies. Brown and Squires would stick their heads out, yelling in cheek and anger to encourage the (Poll Tax) rioters, and with considerably less lyrical and sonic richness than Arthur Lee & co.
Both albums have on the surface a sense of being out of time, but contain some songs suffused with the political and social mood of their eras. And it's the west coast Sixties going sour which this book is about, Arthur Lee's reclusion foreshadowing the more widespread retreats that would follow the Manson murders and Altamont. Here I confess to parochialism: I'd love to hear more about the late sixties in Britain and Europe but as far as the USA goes, I'm still all Tom Wolfed and Hunter Thompsoned out from my late teens and early twenties; more than a page on the dodgy realities of the Haight Ashbury dream and I'm snoozing like a hippie chick who's been spiked. At least, though, we get a couple of pages on Performance*
The tricky thing about 33 1/3 books seems, as a British reader, that so many of them are by American music journalists with whom we don't have any existing rapport. It's not as easy to warm to their personal relationship with the music as it would be with someone who you've read on and off since NME and Melody Maker at 14. But Hultkrans manages it; he mentions identification with the music and the artists but not at great length, and perhaps because of the particular themes of depression and eccentric retreat from the world, ones I know a little from myself, but more so from more definitively introverted friends and lovers, I found it easy to feel at home.
His ten-page digression tenuously relating the album to the gnostic gospels - perhaps a personal interest - I could have done without, however. He admits that he can't be sure Lee read them, and as a previous reviewer also stated, the linked themes are just as easily found in Buddhism and occultism which were more surely in vogue at the time.
And I am grateful for the author's copious quotes from On Illness by Virginia Woolf and from A rebours which point me back to texts I mean to read and finish.
* You can watch it here. After having it on my list for over 15 years, I saw it this spring and the ensuing years had not been kind. Rather than a masterpiece of late-sixties decadence, in 2012 it can look like a Guy Ritchie parody starring Noel Fielding. (And if you'd ever thought Fielding was original, you won't after seeing Performance)...more
Recommended by a relative who's a journalist in the Middle East, this free Kindle essay is an involving account of the fall of Egypt's President MubarRecommended by a relative who's a journalist in the Middle East, this free Kindle essay is an involving account of the fall of Egypt's President Mubarak.
These days I follow very little news and off the top of my head I could only recall that there were many demonstrations in Tahrir Square and that Mubarak had gone, probably some time last year.
From this standpoint The Last Pharaoh* is a useful and readable report with a brief history of modern Egyptian politics and detail about the internal machinations of government as Mubarak fell in early 2011. (As the author says at the end, the protestors' side has been covered comprehensively elsewhere.)
For the aficionado, the essay has the attraction of several scoop interviews with former Mubarak ministers and aides, whose accounts are the buttresses of the story.
Whilst it often has that journalistic tone of overblown spine-tingling fatedness that may as well have the Star Wars theme playing in the background, this is part of the momentum of Bradley Hope's piece, which makes it a very easy read even for those who find many political stories a chore. He may not be as original a writer as Michael Lewis, but Hope has a similar talent for creating excitement about a subject frequently regarded as dry and impenetrable.
At the beginning it's suggested to Mubarak that he could face the same fate as Ceaucescu if he doesn't implement some change himself; remembering the Eastern European communist governments falling like skittles in those late-80's days of chaos and hope makes it easier to understand the apparently naive optimism attached to some commentary on the Arab Spring. I look with wary cynical eyes at a description of Mubarak as "the last pharaoh" - after all we didn't think the likes of Putin and Lukashenko would be ruling as they do in 2012. But of course some countries have made a pretty good go of things, 20+ years after overthrowing dictatorships.
* Pharaoh is quite tricky to spell, and I don’t think I’ve attempted it since school. It still feels like the second a and the o should be the other way round. [O and A and A and O, Cantemus in choro ...]...more
Transcendent and universal, yet without a happy ending: there could be no other title. And it's not like Christopher Hitchens would have authored yetTranscendent and universal, yet without a happy ending: there could be no other title. And it's not like Christopher Hitchens would have authored yet another celebrity cancer memoir, is it?
He writes from "Tumortown" but beyond, there is a vast less-explored interior, where the likes of me hang out, those with the thousands, millions of different more-or-less sickly Cinderella illnesses. Though they comprehend the city's size and very serious troubles, they are sometimes resentful and bewildered at all the attention and money the metropolis receives. Mortality, though, is affecting wherever you are.
"He didn't want to be defined by it. He wanted to think and write in a sphere apart from sickness." Me too. And perhaps because of this, because I don't spend much time looking at such things, I've never read an account of illness which captured anywhere near so many of my own feelings. Whether a condition is acute and much funded like his, or chronic / intermittent with-recent-worsening and obscure as is mine, his personal account resonates with the general struggle to have some life, against a significant medical problem.
Sometimes I highlighted whole pages. I have an (even-more) EP version of this review in which I recount long paragraphs of personal experience, much of it using his words.
This book is about the battle of the sense of self against something eating it up from inside; about the sharpening that occurs when you've no idea how long will be left to do what you want to do (whether that's because of likely physical death or the living death in debility)... and the frustration that you are already too unwell to do some of it; about being someone who has so much life in them that some friends say they can't comprehend how anything could really beat you down - yet you know that's not always how it works, for some illnesses are no respector of personality.
He still has the strength to hang, draw and quarter the bloody nonsense "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger", whilst comprehensively dissing its parental origins. It deserves it. The illogic of this statement if globally applied - and the cruel lack of empathy inherent in so many of its utterances - should be apparent to everyone, yet still it has persisted this long.
Hitchens was known as a loudmouth, and of course the vicious irony of his particular cancer does not escape him. But as I read more of his work this past month, his compassion - a fierce, knight-errant compassion - became evident. This time, on the subject of how we talk to people who are unwell, he is fighting for himself at least as much as for others: the fear, vulnerability and weariness show. "...nor do I walk around sporting a huge lapel button that says ASK ME ABOUT [STAGE FOUR METASTASIZED OESOPHEGEAL CANCER], AND ONLY ABOUT THAT" Insert disease name as applicable. If everyone who reads this book remembers that in conversations with those they don't know well, the world will be a bit more tolerable for a lot of people who already have more than enough to tolerate.
How ironically well he articulates the loss of power and personality in being unable to speak (and at a time when this was actually, hideously permanent for him), the dark dread of "the loss of transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking" - and, unexpectedly, how careful medical staff should be in their communication so as not to induce psychological trauma. It is astounding that one so bullish is an ally in this.
Though he gives it a lesser name, Hitchens appears to have been afflicted by PTSD after his investigation into waterboarding. "I have the ... right, if not duty, to be ... ashamed of the official policy of torture adoped by a government whose citizenship papers I had only recently taken out", he wisely concedes.
"The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay me is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed." Not only addressed, but strengthened and given voice. Job done. Have ten stars, Mr H. ...more
From deadly serious discussion of political martyrdom and suicide bombers ... to blowjobs: I honestly cannot think of another single non-fiction bookFrom deadly serious discussion of political martyrdom and suicide bombers ... to blowjobs: I honestly cannot think of another single non-fiction book I've encountered in all my days that contains such a range of sacred and profane, triviality and gravity as one human mind often does.
The full-scale electronic edition is almost as infuriating as Hitchens' views on Iraq; it's 750 pages of unindexed text, and the table of contents is impossible to scroll. (Or that might just be my [Kindle] Touch.)
Whilst a reasonably-priced - or indeed any - paperback is not yet available, plenty of these articles are to be found online.
Hitchens' article entitled 'Why Women Aren't Funny' actually concedes that plenty of them are, although the funniest ones may be fat, Jewish or lesbian. (I hope we're far enough along to consider that this sort of daft statement isn't worth the effort of getting riled about.) His premise that women don't need to be funny because men will be attracted to them anyway doesn't really work if applied to men under about 50. Younger than that - or so I get the impression after a decade and a half of adulthood - funny people pretty much consistently want funny partners, if it's anything more than a one night stand.
A great chunk of Arguably is about the USA. I've not read many of those pieces yet, but having noticed his refrains harking back to Jefferson et al, I get the feeling that Hitchens' love for America is based on its past and its original theoretical concepts - not the present reality. Very much like some of the Labour members I know who are in near-permanent disagreement with the parliamentary party, yet remain stubbornly, perplexingly loyal retainers.
For some reasons - wit and style and fervour and how damn good they are when I agree on the topic, I think - I still want to read more despite the above silliness....more
Does nothing whatsoever to despoil the idea that cricket is a white, upper-middle-class, fusty, amusing, English SteEver so friendly and easy to read.
Does nothing whatsoever to despoil the idea that cricket is a white, upper-middle-class, fusty, amusing, English Stephen-Fryish concern. But that's mostly what people want in a book on cricket, isn't it? A bit of atmosphere and escapism. This family even says 'elevenses' for real.
I taught myself to understand cricket at roughly the same time as the author, but using only the empty summer holidays, the OED and an eight year old portable television with peeling casing. (I was stuck in a remarkably barren world where the only male figures were the statues of Jesus and St Anthony in the school chapel, and they wouldn't have looked any good in whites, let alone boasted to girls about their batting average.) The similarity in age and timing means that the opening litany of Botham, Atherton, Gower and Hick is intimately familiar, and makes me feel at home, although I'm only a casual cricket fan who misses the rhythms of a test-match on terrestrial TV across the room as one of the rightful sounds of summer - and has made no effort to replace it with Sky or Radio 4 LBW.
People who weren't interested in cricket wouldn't be awfully likely to read a 300 page humourous book about it, really, would they? But this is so far sufficiently engaging, and containing of enough other life-story to be interesting to them. Victoria Coren's For Richer For Poorer was similarly readable, despite compromising little on the jargon - although my knowledge of poker went only from zero to marginal during the course of the book.
Here comes the namedropping bit. Reviewing books written by people with whom you are slightly acquainted should, to my mind, be accompanied by a mild peril warning. (Presumably this is lifted if one has proper press experience and it becomes routine.) Thus it's something I've avoided on GR until just now. Actually, it's even stranger if the younger self of someone you know better, whose Facebook you comment on several times a week, is a character in one of said books.
I'll try and ignore the weirdness and remember how cute it is when a friend's child says "You worked with Archie the Inventor?" and lets their imagination run riot, as yet innocent of the concept of call-centres, even small, friendly, mildly shambolic ones 50% staffed by resting actors and musicians that would actually make rather a good basis for a sitcom. Child-me is momentarily smug, remembering how I used to think that if you were really really good, you could go and live inside the telly. I'm sure that idea is still going, but these days being "really really good" isn't about trying hard to be nice, it means you've worked out how best to please Simon Cowell. ...more
May 2013 I don't know if I'm ever going to finish this - I read most of it last August and still keep picking it up every now and again, reading 5 pageMay 2013 I don't know if I'm ever going to finish this - I read most of it last August and still keep picking it up every now and again, reading 5 pages or so and deciding something else would be more interesting. So, half-way through the book, I'm going to write a response to it anyway (and general reflection and rant about related issues).
In many ways I agree with my friend Patrick's review. After the first few chapters, this isn't the side of Hitchens I find interesting: for the most part he isn't extemporising on issues I care about; he's just telling anecdotes about crowds I'm not very interested in. (I could never just dismiss it as name-dropping, because I love that stuff when it's about scenes I like.)
And as I said in one of these page-updates last year, the book frequently reminds me why I became so bored of studying Politics at university. (I really wish now that I had done French as my second subject instead.) Aside from a) issues I feel strongly about and b) the entertaining personalities of twentieth-century British politics (especially 1945-97) I have little love for the subject in general - though I'm still familiar enough with terms like "bicameral" to fool people that I know and care more than I do, should I want to. And - as I've found having some friends and relatives who are highly political animals - I really don't like all the behind-the-scenes chuntering about minutiae that goes on at party and activist-group social gatherings. Though I can see it's a necessary part of the process, part of me is always thinking "why don't you actually do something?"... such illogical irritation being a sure sign of a thing simply being 'not for me'.
Something that has become clearer to me since I read most of Hitch-22 (a period during which I watched c.450 films) is that for the most part, I really don't like American culture. This is stronger as regards books and films than with music (though, still, in the past few years I'd liked less American music made in my own lifetime). I still get disappointed how many people who are into serious films and books spend huge chunks of their time on American stuff ... it's something I see even more on here than I did on the film site Letterboxd, where making an effort to explore other cultures through the medium was one of the more "intellectualised" aspects of it.
I'm always glad not to have been American, for so many reasons, and to just indirectly benefit from some of the country's more positive contributions to world culture, and to be able to ignore at least some of the dross. Hitchens, of course, loved America so much he put a great deal of effort into becoming a citizen. I can see what his arguments were - and reading some of them I cannot but frown. They remind me of Tony Benn's - to my mind absurd - continued passionate adherence to the Labour Party as an idea even in the days of Blair: much of it based on founding ideals and a more radical past rather than what was really happening at the time. And given the increasing paranoia and right-wing restrictions in, and elsewhere inspired by, the US since 2001, reading Hitchens' 1980's reflections now seems even more ridiculous - it's not as if these developments weren't based on pre-existing tendencies. (But then that's something I tend to think about a lot, just as the Blair government's more Big Brotherish proposals seemed quite predictable from the "Millbank tendency" and the concept of "on message" that made me not vote for them in 1997.)
I've been finding this autobiography less interesting because so much of it is about the public political stage and because much of it is not personal enough. Yet whilst that may be making it a less enjoyable read for some - despite the author's reliably relentless wit - I can't help but respect this because he reveals very little personal information about others, potentially embarrassing ex-partners or friends - and he still created a decent memoir regardless (albeit one that's perhaps most entertaining to the politics geek).
November 2014 Finished. Found his chapters of personal reflection most interesting ('Something of Myself' - a sort of riff on a meme-like questionnaire; 'Thinking Thrice About the Jewish Question' - in which he discovers his Breslau-Jewish ancestry - and the closing chapter). Though there was still something to take away from the rest, especially as it stopped feeling like a dry politics lecture: the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime; the fact that Olivia Newton John was granddaughter of a Nobel physicist and daughter of an Enigma codebreaker; Edward Said as a gifted fashion stylist (perhaps stranger because I always get images of him and E. de Bono mixed up).
Having a whole chapter about Said was a bit much though - it was like hearing someone offload about the pros and cons of their friend you barely know: better in private than on the printed page. (It's a shame Hitchens didn't take a little more of his style advice; several of the 90s / 2000s photos look as if he turned up to important symposia in old pyjama shirts, detracting somewhat from his presence.)
I got the impression that Hitchens regarded the Iraq war, equally with intervention in conflicts such as Bosnia and Rwanda, as a paternalist project compatible with the left. He found himself as part of the right because that's who his views on Iraq aligned with - but personally didn't affiliate with one side or another wholeheartedly as he got older.
The certainty with which he speaks and writes seems ridiculously audacious thinking of the contemporary internet. Even in the 3-4 years since his illness and death, things have changes considerably and the famous appear to be constantly answerable to the Twitter mob, apologising, modifying, hesitating. (And it's not a form of feedback that encourages careful thought. There are inconsistencies based on personal feeling in his thought (e.g. issues on which he trusted gut instinct rather than "Hitchens' razor" and was later - sometimes years later - proven right); it would just be nice to have seen him have a bit more self-awareness on that. Which doesn't mean becoming Mr. Spock - the emotional dimension to his arguments made him more appealing than Dawkins. Seeing himself as one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism, alongside such ultra-rationalist scientism, made him neglect this side - which seems to hold such potential for greater understanding of others. Whilst he has a way with words, and did some important campaigning journalism, his lack of self-scrutiny at that level means I can't consider him quite as great a thinker as some did (including himself).
A couple of things I am left wondering about. As when I read a book on Morrissey mostly because of someone who was a great fan - do people choose heroes who share some of their faults and traits? And/ or do they perhaps foreground those faults and traits more than they otherwise may have done, being inspired by and feeling connection with said heroes. Very interesting to hear an account by someone with concealed Jewish ancestry who found out about it relatively late in life - having good reason to wonder this myself. The sense of its having being a curious absence when growing up, of simply not having being told anything about Judaism, a lacuna or elision that paradoxically stands out, quite differently from negativity, is there. (Especially when you've heard strong opinions on every other people of Eastern Europe.) Oh, and I couldn't work out why he wasn't vegetarian, given the way he talked of farm animals.
I'd read something in the last few weeks saying that Hitchens didn't value the opinions of women - yet in these chapters he did cite a number of women, not only Susan Sontag, and his wife's opinion on political issues evidently mattered. He mentioned he wasn't keen on drunk women, but I don't see the point making a fuss about occasional dinosauring from older people. (Conversely, I can't see Hitch having different standards for someone of 60 and someone of 30 - he was definitely interested in imposing opinions more than observing the great variety of people in a semi-anthropological way.)
Interesting to see that he (and his brother) also had a defining moment when a parent stood up for, and with, them against censorship of a children's book. I found it powerful enough as it was, simply confronting the school and winning - they corresponded with a publisher.
At times - even though this book can be dry - it still has that stirring tone of his which can fire a similar forthrightness regardless of whether you agree with him on everything or not. And as far as Hitchens is concerned, it would be missing the point to agree with absolutely everything he said. He didn't want to inspire parrots. I feel like giving Hitch 22 four stars now, but can't really given that some of the middle chapters were a slog....more
(view spoiler)[My intermttent swooning over Will Self's journalism and radio and TV appearances began nearly two decades ago, and I tingled with antic(view spoiler)[My intermttent swooning over Will Self's journalism and radio and TV appearances began nearly two decades ago, and I tingled with anticipation the first time, some time in the early 2000's, when I got my hands on a real whole fiction work of his. But it was as if the brain-fizzing, knicker-dampening, sonorous-voiced arrogant wanker had sent his rather less sexy, sparky and interesting twin brother along on the date instead, Sweet Valley High style. Just enough in the vocabulary and subject matter was similar for a common upbringing to be apparent, but it was just not the same and I left early, comprehensively disillusioned.
And it's been the same every damn time I've read his fiction, hoping that it might somehow turn out different on this occasion. At least with Kindle samples, there's no need to commit to many hours of a whole book if disappointment seems likely to ensue. So when Mr WS's article on modernism set me a-flutter all over again, here was the means to instant, gratis, gratification of that same old sceptical curiosity.
Oh dear. Already on the first page are Joycean slightly scatological stream of consciousness snippets which leave me with the same ennui as Will has just said he feels towards most conventional English prose fiction. Deja-vu ensues as Zack Busner again encounters more of his psychiatric-ward patients again. Whilst Self's ego in the Guardian piece rails against the cosy routines of mainstream eng lit, I suspect his subconscious of trying its best to force out a nice little mental-health based series of the James Herriot / Gervase Phinn school. Also, oh how I would love to see him write something which had nothing to do with London; I understand the immersive allure of the city, really I do, but there are a lot of other places out here. And the old childhood scenes, whilst not bad, seem so very much like My Mother Said I Never Should. So once more, nothing in that depressing category "modern British literary fiction" feels new to read; for a few minutes yet again I thought Will Self might have the antidote, but it was just more of his seductive snake oil. I don't know how to create the real stuff myself, so I may as well bugger off and continue to read non-fiction and foreign stories.
But wait. Whilst there aren't the fireworks of his non-fiction prose here, it's not entirely valueless. Anyone who's familiar with doctors as family members or friends (or colleagues) will recognise the way they contradict one another's professional approaches. He makes me look up three words I'd forgotten: it's not the shock of the new ... a teensy splash in a puddle, perhaps, but it helps. And sometimes the narrative flows in tune with real stream of consciousness (not as forced and stylised as Joyce), projecting images and feelings more than extracting laboured thoughts; this is pleasing.
It's sort-of tempting to read the whole book in the next few days and write one of the first proper online reviews (this specious privilege would cost £11). But tonight, it's heavy stuff. I don't think I can read it at a time when I'm worried in case someone I care about ends up in a place like this. And elderly hospitalised Audrey makes me think too much of the last months of my late grandmother. There are times for stirring up ghosts, having a chat with them and a spot of gentle part-exorcism over the tea leaves. But right now I have a bad headache and a house full of material clutter to continue clearing, so this isn't it. (hide spoiler)] (Spoiler tag to hide waffle posted in August 2012.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A children's story which was in print during my childhood, but which I'm reading for the first time in an adulthood: having been one of those kids whoA children's story which was in print during my childhood, but which I'm reading for the first time in an adulthood: having been one of those kids who pretty much finished the children's section in the library, this is a rare bird indeed.
I mostly, reflexively, find myself reading in the same way as I did when I was a child: with open minded acceptance of the peculiarities of this little world I'm now immersed in, and a hint of detachment. I know fairies aren't real, but this is how they do things here and that's fair enough. (And no-one's persistently making me pretend I think they are real, not like with Father Christmas.) People did things differently and thought and said differently in the past and that's okay too.
Uninterested in suppressed-pederasty theories about the author which just seem irrelevant to my reading experience. And out of the corner of my eye it's apparent that there probably are things that could be written about Barrie's portrayal of women, but quite frankly, everyone in this story is a bit odd and the most relevant otherness here is child/adult, not male/female.
Reading, it strikes me that most children's stories are about escape. Escape from control by adults into a world where you have responsibility for getting into and out of your own scrapes. (Is that what all children want? Or just a subset of us?)
But in an era where it would be normal and incidental to mention that "When they came up to whip Maimie [who had been a little noisy after lights out] they usually found her sleeping tranquilly" escape would seem especially justified for all ... That sentence slashes violent red through the curious flower-bordered world of much of the rest of this short story.
This time - at least 25 years after I perhaps should have first read this - my own escape is almost real, reading with no one to interrupt me or shout or try to discourage me from reading at the table even though it was the only way to keep things calm. Then someone came to the door to talk about a tree in the back garden that the neighbours want to prune. Though I don't have to do it myself, just let them in: false alarm, almost.
How lovely it must have been to read this as a small child who visited central London parks, and go looking for fairies "within the circle of the seven Spanish chestnuts", as I looked for Wombles on Wimbledon Common at the start of the 80's, and countless other children have explored book-locations on the offchance that they might somehow really stumble into another world.
But occasionally grown-up reality intrudes and I think how a park in that metropolis of 8 million seething souls could never be so enchantedlyquiet as it was in Edwardian days. And mention of the lights seen from afar at night in the park makes me giggle sadly for a second and wonder if they're really (anachronistically) cruisers. At the less inevitably-sordid end of the relational spectrum, I'm also reminded how accursedly simple it is being in love in children's literature: perhaps the least-escapist, most cynic-making aspect of reading it as a modern adult.
It's not only the escape-from-the-world aspect which makes me understand why some people still love the Peter Pan stories so much as grown-ups, but Peter's existence as a "Betwixt-and-Between": of, and not of, more than one world, neither one thing nor t'other; having chosen on a whim, for a while, to be apart, then finding that it has become his lot....more
All The Madmen is billed as an exploration of the influence of mental illness - and to a lesser extent, drugs - onGreat idea; shame about the writer.
All The Madmen is billed as an exploration of the influence of mental illness - and to a lesser extent, drugs - on the British music scene c.1968-75. Though in practice, what we get is an entwined biography of the musicians mentioned in the sub-title, with an emphasis on nervous breakdowns, plus a few digressions about R.D. Laing and a couple of short chapters on the history of madness in England at the end.
As he's a very experienced rock biographer, I would tend to assume that Clinton Heylin has mostly got his facts right, and so I did learn a bit from this book. (And also spent longer reading about Fleetwood Mac and The Who than I ever thought I would in my life.) What I will mostly take away from it is the understanding that Ray Davies had his fair share of demons, which wasn't terribly obvious from the lovely pop tunes of The Kinks; how serious and frightening Nick Drake's near-catatonic depressive state evidently was, when you read about it as an adult, not a naive 15-year-old with a stack of music papers; and what a bastard Roger Waters was. According to some, still is. I'd long found the classic 70's Pink Floyd albums to be rather chilly, detached and alien; and knowing that their guiding force was this cold-blooded, unempathic, exploitative man, it seems to make so much sense now. *shiver*
Heylin drives the narrative like a competent Mojo reporter. Or "journo"; his overuse of the latter word set my teeth on edge. He enjoys his alliterative stylistic flourishes, but half the time they turn into pratfalls. I cringed plenty of times, in the same way as I often do in looking at a review or blog post I wrote a few days earlier; it sounded potentially clever at the time, but it's actually just bad and embarrassing and needs to be edited. Given the number of typos in the book, style isn't the only thing which could have done with better subbing.
He clearly likes the music itself, but doesn't have a lot of praise for many of the people involved, which makes for an uninspiring read; surely a book like this should fill you with fascination and enthusiasm. There's quite a bit of subtle denigration of the states musicians got themselves into with drugs, for the ways their mental health issues made them a bit annoying. He too-rarely looks into what they were suffering and why, whether it's from an emotional point of view - or the reductive pathologising stance; but perhaps we should be glad he doesn't dehumanise his subjects further by labelling.
I know a few people who are passionate and knowledgeable both about the music of this era and about mental health. I expected to be recommending this book to them, but I shan't embarrass myself or bore them because they are better writers than Heylin and would have a wiser and more sympathetic approach to the psychological topics.
Rightly or wrongly, I get a whiff of stale-bedsheets laziness about this book. It's like the reasonably competent end-of-term essay dashed off overnight for a low 2:1 when more effort - or simply a different student - could have produced something of far higher, shinier quality. So frustrating because there must be people out there who could write an amazing book about this. Heylin seems to rest on the laurels of his classic rock knowledge whilst not doing anywhere enough research and thinking about psychology and mental health. He probably thought this was a clever idea for a twentieth book to churn out to his publishers, without it being a topic for which he feels deep affinity.
His brief history of madness in England alludes repeatedly to an archaic idea (mooted especially in the eighteenth century) that "too much" political liberty leads to a greater incidence of mental health problems in the population. In implying we should be glad to have put the libertine excesses of the 60's and early 70's behind us - also stopping off to criticise the excesses of punk - and that drugs were too freely available and destroyed or impeded a lot of talented musicians, he seems to be essentially agreeing with this ancient thesis without thorough and sensible discussion. Whilst I have a bit of a libertarian slant politically, I am definitely no fan of drugs on a personal level and have seen how they can mess up great people; I don't think you should write a 400 page book on a topic like this and conclude it without nuance and qualification though. Rock, as it ages, too often seems to become conservative and almost opposed to its spirit of origin, and the author of this book seems to be a case in point. More sympathetic understanding of human complexity is needed here; it shouldn't have been just another mildly snarky rock bio. ...more