Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Busman’s Holiday Reading

Three weeks now without an iPod. It changes a man, especially one who is accustomed to listening to stuff on the bus. As threatened, I’ve been reading books instead, waiting for the day when an iPod will once again be mine (date undisclosed), and I’ve actually been enjoying it! Chiefest of my accomplishments is the tackling and sometimes finishing off of books I’d started ages ago and never finished or, in some cases, been gifted but never started. For shame. Here’s the tally so far:

Popcorn by Ben Elton
[A birthday present in 1997 from my future sister-in-law. Never started - sorry]
Well this I didn’t like. Really didn’t like. Preachy (it’s Ben and his big righteous hammer so where are all those them nails then?) and unlikeable characters - and those are the two main issue I had with what is otherwise a pretty tense and interesting story. Mind you, they are big issues to me. Oh it’s a spoof? Yeah, I still hated it. The violent excesses of Tarantinos movies are beyond parody, really, and to shoehorn an argument about violent cultures inspiring violent people through the medium of another obvious Tarantino pastiche? Spare me. Moving right along...

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
[A birthday present in 2000 from an old Uni friend. Started but stalled ¾ through]
Brilliant. A devastating and penetrating account of one's loss of faith and the consequential moral torpor that follows as a Catholic police officer of impeccable and otherwise unremarkable scruples slowly loses everything on the Ivory Coast for so very little. Greene gets under the skin of his fallen protagonist more than any author I’ve read (although Maurice Gee’s Plumb comes close, I think), and I was quite affected by this. Not one I’ll return to in a hurry, but a rewarding read.

54 by Wu Ming
[Loaned to me by a workmate in 2011. Stalled after three pages]
Long and over-stocked to distraction with extraneous characters and historical detail (the writing committee that are Wu Ming clearly had a lot of political history to get off their chests], but once it gets going hugely entertaining and in places quite hilarious. It's also something of a shaggy dog tale, and if its focal point takes a while to find itself, then at least here's some interesting modern history along the way. Cary Grant, Italian communists, American cultural invasion, the birth of the global heroin trade, and the mad adventures of a sentient TV called McGuffin. What’s not to like?

Howling at the Moon by Walter Yetnikoff
[Given to me by a friend in 2012. Kept for a rainy day (Monday past)]
The autobiography of CBS’s wild man president of the 70s and 80s is a hell of a story from a self-confessed prick, really, charting his childhood in Brooklyn through to his mogul status, inevitable fall from glory and beyond. There’s a seam of self-effacing Jewish humour that undercuts a lot of pretty bullish and sometimes downright nasty corporate skulduggery in a rapidly changing entertainment landscape; Yetnikoff’s voice also makes him an appealing character despite his appalling behaviour and he’s smart enough not to paint his story as one of total redemption. And yet, it's an American story, and at the end there's the sense of a classic character arc being played out - albeit one crafted in the telling by its protagonist. The rock star anecdotes are cool, too – Springsteen, James Taylor, Streisand, Billy Joel, Jackson (Michael), Simon (Paul), Jagger, McCartney, Geffen, Motolla – what a cast!

There's more in the list to come: the possibility of some actual Gee, Julius Vogel's Sci-Fi novel, a Charlie Higson outing and some collected Washington Irving. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I might know where our old iRiver is. Hmm, I wonder...?

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