What I’m Reading This Week (29/10/16)

Another week, another batch of books (although most have only been part read).

Last week I wrote a bit about Flann O’Brien; I had started rereading The Hard Life and was reminiscing about a long-ago holiday in Ireland. Well, I finished the book, enjoyed it and, as is my wont, immediately looked for something else to read. I did what I generally tend to do when looking for something to read – scroll through the books on my Kobo to see what strikes my fancy.

I started several books but, at first, couldn’t find anything that I wanted to spend a day or two reading; My Booky Wook by  Russell Brand (might be fun but not what I was looking for), Wounds to Bind by Jerry Burgan (about the birth of folk-rock in the US, focusing on the group that Burgan was in, We Five, who I’ve never heard of. Interesting but, again, not quite what was needed), The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (the first novel about Inspector Montalbano. My wife and I enjoyed watching these on TV and the novel seems promising but, again, not just now).

Then I came across a book that seemed as though it would satisfy my needs, Selling the Sixties: the pirates and pop music radio by Robert Chapman. 

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I remember the pirates. When I was at school, Morecambe Grammar in the early to mid-sixties, I used to listen to Radio Caroline on a transistor radio while on my way to school on the bus. There was little else to listen to, the BBC was rubbish if you wanted to hear pop music, and Radio Luxembourg was better but the reception was lousy. So Radio Caroline was the answer to a prayer. It started broadcasting from Ramsey Bay in the Isle of Man on 6th July 1964, a year before I finished school.

I can remember some of the music that was played; Tobacco Road by The Nashville Teens was definitely one, and a song I still think is fantastic, The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams, an Irish singer-songwriter who, I believe, should have been better known.

All in all an fascinating book, but probably only to those who have an interest in the pirates. Continue reading

What I’m Reading This Week (22/10/16)

K has been given a short sabbatical to ponder the error of his ways. That gives me a chance to write about some of the things I have been reading over the past week. In fact I’ll try to make this a weekly entry.

I finished reading Harriet Says by Beryl Bainbridge a few days ago and, as is my wont, I then started scrolling through the titles on my Kobo to see what struck my fancy (a fancy which is sometimes difficult to strike). I spent a few minutes reading the first few pages of The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter Thompson but, no, it was fiction I wanted.

A bit more scrolling and I came across a book by Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I’ve read one novel by Tartt, The Little Friend, which I loved. It’s the story of a murder, of a little boy found hanging in a tree, and of his sister’s efforts to unmask the murderer. Now it’s a few years since I read it but I remember being struck by its richness and depth and, like many of the books I love, I’ll read it again at some point. I did start one of her other books, The Secret History, but struggled to get into it. That doesn’t mean I won’t read it eventually; I remember starting Catch 22 a number of times before it clicked. So, The Goldfinch? I’ve read about 50 pages (it’s a longish book), and it’s gripping. But I realised that, after Beryl Bainbridge, I wanted something more familiar, something nearer to home.

So I’m rereading The Hard Life by Flann O’Brien. If you’ve never heard of him, he was an Irish author who wrote some of the strangest, funniest, most post-modern novels you could wish to read. The Hard Life is funny, but it’s more conventional; it’s the story of two boys growing up in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s very Irish and very funny and pokes fun at the Irish society of the time. Influenced by James Joyce, it is semi-autobiographical, taking place in parts of Dublin which O’Brien (or to give him his real name Brian O’Nolan) , knew well, with characters in the book based on real people (Mr. Collopy, for example, is based on his former master in the civil service, Sean MacEntee). O’Brien himself believed that The Hard Life was “a very important book and very funny. Its apparently pedestrian style is delusive”. It’s many years since I last read any of his books and I think, now that I’ve started, I’ll reread the rest.

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Google Doodle for 5th October 2012 celebrating what would have been O’Brien’s 101st birthday

Thinking about O’Brien, about thirty years ago my wife and I were on a camping holiday in Ireland and, one day, we decided to drive up into the hills somewhere between Dublin and the West Coast (I can’t be any more precise because it’s a long time ago and my memory only holds shadows and glimpses before about Thursday last). We were in a borrowed minivan and broke down at the top of a hill near a café and gift shop. Stranded there, waiting for a breakdown lorry, we went to look round the gift shop. They had some books, and in amongst them I found Flann O’Brien: an illustrated biography by Peter Costello and Peter van de Kamp (I just looked on Amazon and you can get a copy for 1p).

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Its well worth getting hold of if you are interested in O’Brien, especially because of the many photos, drawings etc. (there’s even a copy of his application for a place at University College, Dublin in 1929).

James Joyce said of O’Brien, with reference to At Swim Two Birds, “That’s a real writer with a true comic spirit,” and who could argue with that?