Currently reading...

Of late, I've been attempting to read three books at once; one in the bedroom, one in the dining room and one in the lounge. Don't ask me why I've started doing anything as crazy as that...short attention span I guess! Anyway, it's all in the interest of intellectual stimulation and somesuch, so I'll keep at it until I burn out... Just in case you're curious (you certainly look a bit odd...), I'm often banished to the dining room when the kiddies (bless 'em) are watching B**ney...


Bedroom

"Ghosts" by John Banville

Started - 1 December, 1996/Abandoned - 18 January, 1997

Sorry, John. I just couldn't stick it! Just too, TOO, deliberately difficult for my taste. I might try it again some other time. Or then again I mightn't (I'm funny like that...).

"Twentieth-Century Ireland - Nation and State" by Dermot Keogh

Started - 18 January, 1997/Finished - 3 March, 1997

Covering the period from the Treaty to 1992. An excellent read, and very enlightening (for me) about the origins of our two main political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It skipped rather quickly through the 70's and 80's, which was a disappointment for me, as there are large wodges of that time period which I actually still remember (in spite of my best efforts). Very detailed information from the 20's and 30's. On the whole, an excellent book, giving a broad overview of modern Irish history. Highly recommended.

"Around the World in Eighty Days" by Michael Palin

Started - 8 March, 1997/Finished - 30 March, 1997

Very pleasant read, in an English cream-tea-eccentric sort of way. It must be great to have such an understanding wife and family that would let one off for 3 months or so, indulging in one's fantasies. OK, so he got paid for his endeavours. Of course, a lot of things have changed since the book came out originally in 1988. Anyone see where I left the Soviet Union, guys? The follow-up to this book, POLE TO POLE is one my forthcoming reading list.

"The Wimbledon Poisoner" by Nigel Williams

Started - 30 March, 1997/Finished - 4 July, 1997

Well, I finally finished it. Mildly amusing, bordering on mildly boring. More middle-aged, middle-class Englishmen fantasising about the disposal of their spouses. Rather predictable, I'm afraid; the type of book I'd write myself, probably. Oh, and if you ask me nicely, I'll tell you who the poisoner is...

"The Making of Jazz - A Comprehensive History" by James Lincoln Collier

Started - 4 July, 1997/Finished - 18 July, 1997

A fascinating book, cataloguing (you guessed it...) the history of jazz from it's infancy up to the 1970's. Rather heavy on the musical technical jargon for my taste, and the textual descriptions of trumpet solos is a bit freaky for this avowed non-musician, but the tales of lives of jazz musicians makes fascinating reading. Joplin, Beiderbecke, Armstrong, Ellington, Parker (my personal favourite) and Coltrane all come under the microscope. Did you know that the average jazz player's life seems to run like this?:-

Sounds a lot like last weekend in Nenagh, if you ask me. But I joke. This is an excellent book if you want to get a good overview of the history of jazz. Highly recommended (but don't forget to brush up on your musical jargon).

"The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe

Started - 18 July, 1997/Finished - 29 August, 1997

Mea culpa! I hadn't realised that I hadn't written up a review of this book. What a silly sausage I am! I was born too early to get madly caught up in the Space Race, although I do have memories of the first Lunar landing (those memories centre around the fact that I couldn't make out what the hell was going on on our TV screen), and I remember saying prayers for the astronauts on Apollo 13...if I'd known then that Tom Bloody Hanks wold have portrayed one of the astronauts, I wouldn't have bothered my barney. THE RIGHT STUFF catalogues the early history of the Space Race, right from the time Chuck Yeager (no relation to Karen Yeager; I asked her...) broke the sound barrier in good ol' Bell X-1. It's a fascinating story, told in a manner which delves into the personalities of the pioneers of space travel and their families. Well recommended!


Dining Room

"Ulysses" by James Joyce

Started - God knows when.../Finished - God knows when... Originally read all those years ago in order to prove (to whom?) that I'm not one of those pseuds who pontificate about Ulysses without having read the damn thing. I've read it umpteen times, and I still haven't pontificated about it, but then again, I'm not the Pope! What more can one say about Ulysses other than if you ever come into a lot of money, try and buy the RTE sound recording of the book (all 30-odd hours of it...)


Lounge

"First World War" by Martin Gilbert

Started - God knows when.../Finished - 26 December, 1996 A fascinating book; very well written with plenty of insight into the lives and suffering of troops on all sides of the conflict. Admittedly, the last 200 pages or so were a bit of a trial to read, particularly over the Christmas period with all the usual distractions. But it was all worthwhile (the book that is, not WW1). "What a senseless waste of human life", as John Cleese might have said. The scale of suffering endured by humanity as a result of the conflict is mind-blowing. Essential reading for anyone who thinks that war is a glorious thing. "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" my arse...

"Instinct" by Ian C. Stewart

Started - 27 December, 1996/Finished - 5 January, 1997

"It's time to set yourself apart. Turn on the lawnmower. Take off your shoes. Turn the mower on its back. Dive in." One of the opening salvoes which sets the tone for the contents of this self-published book by Ian Stewart, musician, writer, poet, graphic artist, human dynamo and demon photocopier. Ian is in his early twenties, and much of the material in INSTINCT reflects the anxieties and attitudes of that difficult time of one's life. Much of INSTINCT is taken up with fragments of poems or lyrics, many of which concern themselves with love, sex, violence, suicide and the drudgery of life. I have this vision of Ian's apartment being covered from floor to ceiling with Post-Its, each containing the vital record of passing thoughts. You either like poetry or you don't. Me. I'm not ad-verse to it, but I prefer mine to be a tad more uplifting. Ian also reviews music in his fanzine "autoreverse". Having been the recipient of one of his reviews myself, I can only say that I find his critiques fair and even-handed. The only problem with reviews is that you have to be familiar with the subject matter of the review. If you don't, you're really only getting half the story. Ian does a neat line in macabre, black humour (what other kind is there?), particularly with the running gags (if you excuse the pun) about foot collectors. I also found his "Random Romance" tale very reminiscent (but not derivative) of O. Henry's "The Green Door". Read it and you'll see why. Ian shares my love for the group XTC, but I have to disagree with him in one respect; Colin Moulding's three best songs are:-

Oh, and I forgot to mention masturbation. Ian is obviously a man who needs to get to grips with his sexuality (feeble joke, I know, but if you get your hands on INSTINCT, you'll know what I'm talking about). So, is INSTINCT any good? Well, yes it is. It is a very well produced, well written publication; a printed record of Ian's concerns and state of mind in the early 90's. But he'll do better in the future. And I hope his life gives him the subject matter for material which will make less depressing reading. Life does get better, Ian, believe me...

"Where I'm Calling From" by Raymond Carver

Started - 7 January, 1997/Finished - 4 July, 1997

Mary warned me, so she did. "Don't attempt to read a collection of short stories from cover to cover". And she was right, you know. Carver is an interesting author, but in very, very short doses. A collection of tales about the fag-end (and I use that term in the European sense, by the way) of American "decent" society. The unresolved endings, while attractive when reading the first few stories, tends to jade the palate after a while. Ever hear a guitarist using a flanger for every song? Same idea. I'll probably go back and read individual stories again at some stage. But I'll never read it from cover to cover...

"The Secret Pilgrim" by John Le Carre

Started - 18 July, 1997/Finished - 10 August, 1997

What do authors of spy stories do now that the Cold War is over, and all the old certainties about who WE were and who THEY were have disappeared? Why, they write fictional reminiscences of old spymasters of course. Recycle the past, even in fictional form. This is quite a good novel really. The only othe le Carre book I'd ever read was THE SPY WHO CAME FROM THE COLD, which was quite a gripping read as I recall. I'm not much of a reader of genre fiction (e.g. horror, crime, espionage, westerns etc.) and the only author that I can measure le Carre's work against is Len Deighton, whose GAME/SET/MATCH/HOOK/LINE/SINKER series I'd enjoyed. Racy, pacy stuff. Le Carre is a bit more sedate and cerebral by comparison, but enjoyable nonetheless. THE SECRET PILGRIM is a worthwhile read and fans of George Smiley will be delighted that he appears prominently. That's about it really...

"The Pillars of Hercules" by Paul Theroux

Started - 10 August, 1997/Finished - God knows when...

Did I just say that I don't read genre books? I lied... I love reading travel books. This book catalogues Thereoux's travel around the Mediterranean. I'll send you a postcard.


Travel

"Downsize This" by Michael Moore

Started - 5 March, 1998/Finished - 9 March, 1998

I've been a fan of Michael Moore ever since I saw his famous documentary "Roger and Me". Moore tackles a large number of American Holy Cows (big business being subsidised by Government funds/ultra-right wing American politicians) head-on and comes out on top every time. The revelations would be side-splittingly funny if they weren't, at the same time, so shocking. I recommend you buy a copy of this book and send it to any right-wing Americans that you know. They'll go crazy...!

"The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" by Roddy Doyle

Started - 9 March, 1998/Finished - 10 March, 1998

This book centres on the character of Paula Spencer, the wife of Charlo, and who appeared in the terrific BBC TV series "Family" some years ago. Paula describes the disaster of her life subsequent to her marriage, including her descent into alcoholism. A shocking read, with language and imagery that are not for the faint-hearted. But if you've read any of Doyle's other books. you'll know what to expect. Bleedin' brilliant, but!

"Clarkson on Cars" by Jeremy Clarkson

Started - 23 May, 1998/Finished 20 June, 1998

Doncaster's finest(?) writing about a matter of mutual interest...cars. Jeremy, one of the hosts of BBCs TOP GEAR, likes 'em big, brutal and British. His personality doesn't so much ooze from the pages of this book, as bursts out at you at high pressure. You know in ER when they're in the operating theatre and one of the doctors says "Oh, oh...gotta pumper!"? That's Clarkson for you. He's an unashamed Tory and proud of being British. If I ever meet him in the flesh, I may well be tempted to aim a leather-clad size 11 at his ample rump. But he likes big cars, so he can't be all that bad...!

"Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert

Started - 21 June, 1998/Finished 30 June, 1998

One of those 1 Penguin Popular Classics. Generally very good value (I should know, I bought a dozen of 'em recently with a book-token). The very interesting story of a lady in 19th. century Normandy who just couldn't be satisfied with her station in life, and who took steps to remedy her ennui (just thought I'd shtick that one in...) with tragic results. I don't know whether to blame the standard of Flaubert's writing or the standard of the translation used (curiously enough, the translator thanks his wife for the usual patience and forebearance, but he isn't named in the book at all), but I thought the book was rather badly written. I know, I can hear legions of people (one or two, anyway) wondering who the hell am I to criticise a classic of literature. But there ye go...ye pays yer money and ye shakes yer toys.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens

Started - 30 June, 1998/Finished - God knows when...

"It's a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done..." Famous last words indeed. I'm not a great fan of Dickens. I find the prose style very ponderous and the Victorian-era emotional displays give me the vapours. But there's more than a sense of verve and elan about this novel. Shame that the ending is telegraphed half-way through, but then again the telegraph was a novelty at that time...:-)

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