2010 Review of Book Reviews…Review…Part 1

Cover of "Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journ...
Cover via Amazon

I have tried – countless times (okay, that a lie. Seven.) – writing book reviews but only managed to get around halfway through before I realized that I was writing Match of the Day style highlights of the plots…without giving away the final score or providing any in-depth analysis. I was the literary critic equivalent of Graeme Le Saux along the lines of: ‘At the end of day, it was a book of two halves and could have gone either way…the author gave 110% but the characters couldn’t make their chances count. At the end of the day they let the author down, the book down and the readers down. The author has got to take a long, hard look at himself in the mirror, take stock and go back to grassroots…’ The usual eloquent latrine of clichés and inanity.

So, to save everybody some time and force myself to keep it short I have collated the books – in no particular order – that I remember reading. Also, I am not going to go crazy and describe the plot and will instead try and do a John Crace and summerise the books in a sentence or two, if you want the full S.P. of the book then visit Amazon and read the summary:

  1. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets – David Simon The sheer size of this book made me want to leap behind the sofa and hug a teddy, but it is broken into bitesize chapters that make it more a plate of nuggets than a giant, mutant chicken. David Simon was the writer behind The Wire (the greatest TV programme ever made) and this was pretty much the blueprint for that. It is more a journalistic account than a factional depiction but it is still utterly immersive and compulsive. The main players (the Baltimore homicide unit) are beautifully drawn (maybe that’s an after-image from the tv show) and the futility and remorselessness of police work in Balitmore is captured very well. Overall: recommended. 7/10
  2. Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction – David Sheff I read the synopsis of this book and thought that it wasn’t going to a laugh-a-minute, fun ride from cover to cover; and I was right. Interestingly, this follows addiction through the eyes of a parent and because of that it feels (as a parent myself) more raw and brutal. The predictable highs and lows of living with addiction are portrayed – as you would expect – but what makes this book fresh is the utter honesty with which the writer conveys his own feelings towards his son’s addiction. Sheff expresses anger, denial, guilt, anger again, more denial, hope, trust, failure – the whole gamut. In the end you just feel sympathy for everyone involved in what is a very difficult situation. It does help that Sheff writes beautifully; describing his son as he grew up – a laughing, intelligent and thoughtful boy – so vividly you can almost smell the Johnson’s Baby Bath. Sad, emotional and cautionary. Overall: great! 8/10
  3. The Help – Kathryn Stockett This is so not my kind of book. I looked at this and thought: bollocks, chick lit. I was in Geneve Airport and they don’t have a tremendous collection of English books, so it was this or a Jeffery Archer – and I’m buggered if I am going to line the pockets of that lying, philandering toad – so I picked this off the shelf and paid the CHF125,000 that English language books cost in Swizzerland. Well, what a nice surprise this was! A swirling, fascinating, accessible book about the experiences of black maids in 1960’s Mississippi. It’s one of those multi-perspective type books (each chapter told by a different character) and there is no weak link which is not normally the case. I found this funny, interesting, harrowing and credible – but sometimes just a little magnolia. Overall: Very good 7/10
  4. Under The Dome – Stephen King I hadn’t read a Stephen King in an age (the last one I read – Cell – was an absolute shocker, like a reet pile of shite) so I decided it was high time I ducked into the horror section of Amazon and nabbed myself some Kingage. Under The Dome is an absolute whopper; it’s like a bloody telephone directory which is a coincidence as it sometimes reads like one. The cast of characters is immense – as it is about a small town that gets trapped under a dome – and it is sometimes hard to keep track of who the hell everyone is. The story is like a massive, runaway freight train with dancing girls; you know exactly where it’s going to go, how it’s going to end but you want to stay on board so you don’t miss any of the action. It feels like King is struggling to write fresh material as this reads like a mashup of The Truman Show and Lord of the Flies and I found it laboured and sometimes derivitive in places. But, it is a real page turner and it’s great to read a King which is not horror as he is great at writing dialogue and pacing plot. Overall: Big, but not always clever. 5/10

Part 2 to follow as this is turning into a bit of a Under the Dome itself. So much for one sentence plot summaries…

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6 thoughts on “2010 Review of Book Reviews…Review…Part 1

    1. It is a real fear and something you can neither predict of legislate against – the idea that you can terraform your kids to not become part of drug subculture is, I think, a myth. All you can do (and it appears that you are doing it, from reading your blog) is be there for your kids no matter what – maybe then, if they get in too deep, you can be someone they can turn to for help. I dunno, scares the crap out of me, it does.

      I have been tempted by A Million Little Pieces a few times (mainly because of the cover art) but have always resisted. Wasn’t there a story about the guy who wrote that and that his recollections turned out to be made up? Found it here.

  1. I have also read The Help, Under the Dome and Homicide. Passed Homicide on to DH because I thought it was great but he is too busy reading military history tomes at the moment… Also loved the Help, and like you wasn’t as impressed with Under the Dome.

    Am currently reading Remarkable Creatures (Tracey Chevalier) which is good, and also The Secret State, which is basically a potted history of how near we came to be nuked in the Cold War, and how close we are to being wiped out by a dirt bomb right now. Cheerful stuff. Quite hard going actually – more academic than the review in the Times led me to think (or perhaps I am just getting more stupid…)

    The other one I have read recently which isn’t particularly high brow, but I enjoyed a lot, was The Passage by Justin Cronin. Couldn’t put it down actually.

    1. I have always imagined Maggie, after a few gin and tonics, toying with The Big Red Button – she had an air of lunacy about her. Reagan was never quite there and must have come pretty close and Nixon? Christ, whatever line between right and wrong that man had had been erased long ago; I bet he was itching to nuke someone.

      I have ordered The Passage as it looks right up my strazza. Will tell you how I get on.

    1. I am reading Margrave of the Marshes at the moment (on a DJ theme) and it is utterly excellent. John Peel wrote beautifully and one feels that one book is not enough. I can hear his radio voice through the letters and it’s sometimes side-splittingly funny.

      What’s Mr Jupitus’s book like? I get the impression – from his on screen persona – that he is a bit of a know it all.

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