LEN GOODMAN – Better Late Than Never

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Apr 2010 – charity shop

Bought at a charity shop in Kings Heath.

Autobiography of the Strictly head judge and renowned dancer, teacher and judge.

A good read; although he can be a little saucy at times, Goodman’s story is interesting and amusing and there’s lots of background about the world of dancing and, of course, Strictly Come Dancing (up to series 5). Good stuff. 

DIANA PULLEIN-THOMPSON – The Pony Seekers

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Acquired via BookCrossing 29 Aug 2010 – from Sorcha

Lynne’s older sister Briony decides to set up a pony dealing business on the strength of her fame as a show-jumper. It’s just the thing to get her back interested in matters horsey after a terrible accident has stalled her career.  But it’s harder than they think and when an outbreak of disease hits the new business (complete with rather graphic horse-nursing scenes) things start to slide into panic and bankruptcy.

This feels like the middle of a series (is it?) but it’s well done and honest, with lots of pony lore and realistic siblings.

PAUL MAGRS – Aisles

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03 Apr 2010

As we know, I’m a big fan of Paul Magrs’ novels.  So when I heard that one of them featured Iris Murdoch popping up in a chatroom, I couldn’t resist picking it up.  It nearly went to the IM Conference with me, in fact, but there wasn’t room in my rucksack!

Anyway, I am pleased to report that Iris does, indeed, have a starring role in this excellent read.  The book is based around a week in the life of a group of interconnected people living in Norwich.  The webs of interconnection become clearer throughout the book; the characters are all very different, and relate to one another in different ways (I particularly like the way Robin, an ageing English lecturer with a growing dislike of his students, changes when he’s in the chatroom: "Funkymonkey was Robin’s name.  When he was Funkymonkey he came on like an animal: all teeth and hair and no holds barred"),  often having their characters subtly changed by their encounters with one another.  Although each character is given their own set of chapters, and there is obviously a plan behind the book, it doesn’t feel at all forced or creative-writing-class-y (you know I’m going to compare it to "If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things" – well, that book could learn a lot from this one) and all the characters have their own voice and independence.  

Of course, I love Robin and his encounters with Iris Murdoch, as well as his wonderfully-described University life, full of postgrads trying to squeeze literature to fit their own particular theories; and I also really liked John and Darren, whose friendship is unlikely, tender… but is it too close?  An involving, funny read that’s hard to put down.  Fans of Iris Murdoch will not be disappointed; I loved the way she came across and thought it pretty darn perceptive and authentic.

Not so much magic and darkness as the Brenda and Effie series; this is more aligned in his oeuvre with the slightly-magical Exchange or perhaps the ensemble pieces like Marked For Life and Does It Show.

I will be offering this on a BookCrossing BookRing soon, to share a marvellous, touching and funny read.

IAN STEVENSON – Book Makers: British Publishing in the Twentieth Century

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From Library

A meticulously-researched book covering all aspects of book publishing, from paperbacks to art monographs, basically from the formation of the Net Book Agreement to its demise.  It’s beautifully written in a lively style which belies some of the slightly dull joustings for power that went on at some of the firms under discussion.  Actually a few proofreading errors drifted in during the second half of the book, which was a shame, as the first part didn’t even have a single split infinitive!  Anyway, the author is highly knowledgeable, having been part of the industry himself, and not ashamed to make a sharp judgement about someone, or to see the good sense in the actions of someone usually reprehensible. 

A good, lively and informative read.

HERBERT KOHL – 36 Children

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Acquired via BookCrossing 26 Mar 2010 – box of books given to me by Sorcha for OBCZs

This was pretty well the only book I took to read from Sorcha’s boxes for OBCZs.  I do like a book on education and this was the fascinating story of a new, white, teacher’s first year (and a bit more) teaching a class of black children in the heart of Harlem.  He determines to treat the children as individuals; he refuses to look at the reports on them from their previous classes; he works against the curriculum, instead encouraging them to explore , read, write and research. Honestly written, including his mistakes, the book is a fascinating and humane read, only made a little slower by the inclusion of the children’s actual work into the text – which is necessary and interesting but does distract from the story.  He also talks about what happened next, as he retains contact with some of his class.  I’m not sure much has changed in education since this, which could be very depressing, but it’s a heart-warming story in the main, if you concentrate on the fact that there must be other teachers out there of the same viewpoint and calibre.

DAVID MORGAN – With Love and Rage: A Friendship with Iris Murdoch (September read)

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29 Mar 2010 – came as part of my membership of the Iris Murdoch Society

I took this to the Conference with me as I hadn’t managed to read it beforehand, but didn’t get the time to read much of it.  David Morgan was supposed to be giving a session at the Conference but he was indisposed, but Anne Rowe from the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies and Nick Turner gave a marvellous reading from the letters and the book, after Anne had introduced a book she had seen through to publication.

I approached the book with a little trepidation.  As we all know, Iris Murdoch is one of my heroines, and while I’d enjoyed seeing her youthful self in the Writer at War volume, and cried over her decline in Bayley’s books, I wasn’t sure how much I’d mind her having her feet of clay displayed.  However, I needn’t have worried – she comes across as very human and alive, a bit scary, well-meaning and truly attempting to help people, inquisitive to the point of voyeurism, but never, I am sure, overstepping the mark between tutor and pupil.  The book itself, which grew out of an attempt by Morgan, who knew IM when she taught at the Royal College of Arts, to write a letter to her biographer and friend, Peter Conradi, is a rather sprawling and disconnected piece, consisting of impressions, notes, jottings and explanations.  But it’s very vivid and I think throws much illumination onto IM as a person, especially in her "London" persona, which was quite separate from her "Oxford" one.  Of course we are reminded of various scenes and characters from the novels, although Morgan is quick to point out he is not the direct model for any characters in the books.

Overall, we are left with a lively and vivid portrait of a lively and vivid woman, as well as of the conflicted art student Morgan had become.  Evocative and fascinating, and did not destroy my love of IM In the slightest.

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