What I’m Reading This Week (5/11/16)

Another week of flitting between books trying to find something to hold me.

coverI finished reading The Ginger Man and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Oh it’s very well written and gives an evocative sense of Dublin at the time (the late 1940s), but I had a real problem with the hero, Sebastian Dangerfield. Although he is an American he comes across as very Irish. I had to keep reminding myself of his nationality. Then there is his behaviour and attitudes. I know he’s a fictional character and that even unpleasant characters can be likeable. But, in the end, I just found him to be someone I didn’t want to spend any more time with. I finished the book, but I had to push myself to do so.

So then I was looking for something else to read. I was browsing one or two blogs when I came across a review of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which you can read here. coverThis was another book I had read many years before and had thought about starting again. So after reading the review I started reading it. I had forgotten what a great stylist Bradbury was. Like The Ginger Man it’s very evocative of time and place, this time (I think) 1950s small town America. Anyway, I’ve read about a quarter of the book, am enjoying it and will be reading the rest over the next few days.

I started several other books this week (as usual) but haven’t stuck with any of them except the one I’ve just almost finished, Late Call by Angus Wilson. coverThis is set in an English new town in the early 1960s and is the story of a retired hotel manager, Sylvia Calvert who, with her husband, goes to live with their son, a headmaster, in Carshall New Town. What’s interesting, apart from Sylvia’s internal life, are the undercurrents and tensions running between all the main characters – Sylvia and her husband and son, her husband and various people, her son and his children – and the various problems and challenges of living in a new town. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more of Wilson’s books.

 

 

After I’ve finished Late Call, and have read the rest of the Bradbury, I’m tempted to reread another book I haven’t read for many years, Dune by Frank Herbert. I’ll let you know how that goes next week, same time, same station.cover

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?

Scenes From a Misunderstood Life (Part 1)

Scene: A 3-storey Victorian terraced house in Lancaster, in the North West of England, looking towards Lancaster Castle and with the hills of the Lake District visible in the distance to the North.

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Lancaster Castle with the Lake District behind

Our hero (why not?), balding, slim, spectacled (Aldi £2.49) sits at a pineish dining table in the living room, fingers poised over a tiny netbook. Sitting on an old Ikea bentwood chair to the side of him is the interviewer. Taking a notebook and pen from a large and serious-looking leather bag the interviewer turns towards our hero and says:

Interviewer: So, tell me Kevin, what are you reading at the moment?

Our Hero: (turning and removing spectacles) Well, Michael, I’ve just finished reading …..

Interviewer: Let me stop you there, Kevin. You just called me Michael.

OH: That’s right, Michael.

I: But my name isn’t Michael.

OH: (Puzzled) Sorry. I thought all interviewers were called Michael.

I: Not this one.

OH: So what is your name? Continue reading

What About Books?

“But what about books?” I hear you ask. After all it does say at the top of this blog “A lifetime of music, books, addiction and recovery”. So where are the books?

Well they’re here, on my desk and on my bookshelves and, most of all, on my Kobo, my e-reader. I read addictively, which is to say I start another book as soon as I have finished the one I am reading and I always want more books, even though I have far more than I could read if I live to be a hundred.

At the moment I’m reading The Restless Generation by Pete Frame, about the birth of rock music in Britain in the 1950s. It’s fascinating, and Frame goes into great detail about the trad jazz movement, the birth of skiffle and its eventual mutation into rock-and-roll. Being quite old I remember a lot of the performers and songs – Mary Wilde, Billy Fury, Skeeter Davis and many others. Pete Frame, if you don’t already know his work, is the originator of the Rock Family Tree Continue reading