June 2013 TBRSince I moved to reviewing two books per blog post in more detail, rather than three random ones, I’ve liked to match them in some way – whether it’s pairs of books about the same person, books rooted in place, books by contemporaries, books by favourite authors … I will admit to having taken books slightly out of the order in which I read them (but not mixing books from two months, oh no!) in order to achieve this, but the pairings do seem to fall quite naturally.

I was  a bit stumped as to what to pair with this Larry Lamb autobiography, however, until I realised that pairs can be made out of contrasts. So, here goes: one of these books is about a man who can never sit still, who flibbertygibbets between jobs (not even staying in a major soap opera long) and changes his partner with alarming regularity. The other is about a man who devotes a full year to doing only one thing, and that thing involves sitting in one of two chairs and reading the same book every day. Read on to find out more!

Larry Lamb – “Mummy’s Boy”

(22 November 2012)

Admittedly, I knew nothing of Lamb when I picked up this book, apart from his lovely character in the Gavin and Stacey series and the fact that he appeared in Eastenders as a villain. Unfortunately, he turns out not to be that attractive a character in real life, and not especially nice, especially to the (many) women in his life. He doesn’t seem to have got a huge amount of self-knowledge from the extensive therapy sessions he describes attending and although he does tell stories against himself, the book never really engages and doesn’t exactly light up the page. To be honest, he seems more fond of his house in France than most of his girlfriends, and the final chapters of the book, when he goes back to a couple of the locations of his youth, seem really muddled and an afterthought (there is a good bit about his appearance on Who Do You Think You Are, however). One that I’m glad I purchased cheaply from The Works, and will probably go on the BookCrossing pile.

This read did make me think: I’ve read quite a few “celebrity” autobiographies (and I have more on the TBR) – have many of them (any of them?) been actually any good as works of autobiography? What about you? Discuss!

Ammon Shea – “Reading the Oxford English Dictionary”

(25 December 2012, a present from my friend Jen, who knows my reading taste and my wish list well)

In this slim volume, Shea describes sitting in one of two chairs (one in his flat, one in the basement of his local library) reading the Oxford English Dictionary. The whole, multi-volume one with the very small print (he does end up with a prescription for glasses!) that comes in a series of boxes and has to supplant other dictionaries on his bookshelves. Because this isn’t one of those pranky, “apropos of nothing” quests: dictionaries were already his favourite reading matter – he even lives with a lexicographer and he’s startled to find himself considered an oddity at a lexicography convention – no one actually reads the things from cover to cover, do they?

So, we end up with twenty-six chapters, which have either something about the experience of the reading project – finding a place outside the apartment to read, the physical effects, or what it’s like when you start to come to the end of a project like this – or something dictionary-related – the history of the form, errors, etc. We are then given a choice selection of words and definitions – mainly written by Shea himself – that are amusing, strange, horrible or a mixture of the three. I imagine that he carefully chose these so that everyone knows at least a few of them; or is that just me?

A gentle and engaging read. We’re lost with the author when he gets to the end, and I love the descriptions of him littering the apartment with scraps of paper with hieroglyphical instructions to himself inscribed upon them. I was more pleased than perhaps I should have been when I discovered that, during one exercise bike section, I had read exactly half of this book …


Currently reading: next up to review is Adam Nicholson’s “The Gentry” finished at last, but also sadly, and another book about the English language. One more book, perhaps, then it’s on to A Month of Re-Reading in July!