Book reviews – 33 Revolutions Per Minute and The Well-Beloved

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Apr 2014 whole tbrWell, I don’t seem to have got very far through my TBR this month so far (and it’s waaaay bigger than the picture on the left from the start of the month, owing to my holiday purchases) but that’s mainly because I’ve been reading two very big and very good books. John Major’s autobiography is one of them, and very good it is too, if a little slow-going around the ERM, and the first book reviewed here is the other, which I read slowly, savouring every chapter. I’m still in the end of the middle of the Major autobiography, but hoping I can finish it in the next few days, in preparation for my Month of Reading About Iceland in May. So here we go, two reviews and one new acquisition – not my fault, m’lud, thrust into my hands by a World Book Night giver-away.

Dorian Lynskey – “33 Revolutions Per Minute”

(10 August 2013, Casbah Records, Greenwich)

Bought on this trip to London and I was looking forward so much to it bubbling up to the beginning of the TBR shelf … and it did not disappoint. Subtitled “A History of Protest Songs”, it’s much more than that: pretty well a history of struggle and conflict against the establishment and oppression (sometimes the same thing, sometimes not) in the UK, US, Europe, Africa and South America, from the 1930s onwards, from Blues singers protesting against racial inequality through Live Aid and Riot Grrl up to Green Day’s acerbic comments on the modern state of America.

Rather than forensically investigating every detail of every song, Lynskey widens each chapter out to cover the history and context of each song and the situation it arose from (providing some brilliantly succinct explanations of historical events as he does so), as well as looking at the artist’s other work and people working in a similar genre or at a similar time, with some figures like Pete Seeger cropping up through several chapters and some appearing just once or even just being mentioned.

While some reviewers have criticised the lack of an in-depth look at every bar and lyric, I found it enthralling and extremely useful and worthwhile to have this wealth of additional detail instead. The research effort was phenomenal – I looked up a couple of things that surprised me and yes, they were correct, and it’s well written with a very funny turn of phrase on occasion. I was most comfortable when we reached the 80s and bands/artists I knew well, but every chapter had its appeal.

The lack of an accompanying CD is made up for by the existence of a couple of Spotify playlists (the main songs and some extra ones). A hefty tome but a very enjoyable, entertaining and absorbing read.

Thomas Hardy – “The Well-Beloved”

(on Kindle)

I believe this is Hardy’s last published novel, with only a volume of short stories to go before we’ve finished reading all of his works in order. It’s rather an odd one, I have to say, centering on Joceyln, the hero, who suffers from an awkward condition whereby he perceives his beloved as flitting from being embodied in one women to another, with a remarkable inconstancy that seemingly excuses his own flitting from one woman to the next. This includes dalliances with three generations of the same family, handily bearing a strong family resemblance. Rather slight and unappealing, although the setting on the Isle of Portland was interesting. Not his finest work and not quite the book to read on one’s honeymoon!

Note: I’m sure I’ve read a short story – either Hardy or possibly Edith Wharton – which shows a man’s loves at 20, 40 and 60, as here. But what it is? Help!

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The Boy with the Topknot - Sathnam DangheraOne acquisition / confession to report – this was my friend Gill’s World Book Night book, and is a memoir set in Wolverhampton, which has been on my wishlist for some time. I don’t really love the covers the WBN books have, as they look like the original cover photographed w0nkily when you try to take a picture, but you get the idea. Stuffed onto the groaning TBR shelf for the time being …

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Holiday reading and acquisitions

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Apr 2014 2We’ve just spent a very pleasant “minimoon” in the Lake District, having a lovely, relaxing time with lots of reading. I managed to read two and two bits (a third of Thomas Hardy’s “The Well-Beloved”, which turns out to be a rather odd choice for the newlywed to read, and part of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”, which didn’t really grab me and I’m not going to finish. I did also manage to buy FIVE books – how did that happen? More info on those after the reviews …

Charlie Hill – “The Space Between Us”

(21 November 2013 Oxfam Bookshop)

Charlie Hill was taught by the husband of one of my friends, is a friend of another and in a writing group with yet another, who is mentioned in his acknowledgements, so clearly it was time to read and review this one (his new one, “Books”, is on my wishlist). It’s also set in early-1990s Moseley, which is where I was when it was, if you see what I mean, so even more apt. It was also set up to disappoint of course – luckily it didn’t!

It’s set among the unemployed and artistic community of a more bohemian and raggle-taggle Moseley than perhaps exists today, underpinned by ageing hippies and unthreatened by general culture or the Establishment, with a different vibe from that of Kings Heath down the road (where I’m writing this review). It gets the atmosphere completely right (although I was a student at the time, not a group particularly mentioned or celebrated in the book), and is full of endearingly odd characters, including the narrator, who you shouldn’t really warm to, given that he spends his life drifting along doing what he fancies and not being exactly faithful to the woman he’s involved with. There’s a touching love story which lurches to a start and looks set to drift to a stop at any minute, and the whole is set against the growing community protest movement against bypasses and the Criminal Justice Act.

It’s a good story, if episodic and sometimes vague (echoing the protagonists’ lives to an extent). Linguistically it’s very inventive and playful, mixing slang and poetic devices to extremely good effect, enhancing the dreamy yet absorbing nature of the reading experience. It’s also funny and very interesting on the background to the ‘DIY culture’ of the early to mid-90s (which I’ve just been reading about in the protest songs book I’ll be reviewing next time, fortuitously enough). A good read and highly recommended, to locals and ex-locals but also to anyone interested in inventive new writing and writing about this time period.

Laura Kriska – “The Accidental Office Lady”

(BookCrossing 07 April 2014)

I was shocked to receive an email about a BookCrossing BookRing (a book that’s passed from person to person on an organised list) as I haven’t joined any for years – it looks like I joined this one in 2007! As BookRings are supposed to be read and sent on within a month, I thought the minimooon would be an ideal time to whizz through this one, and so it was. I read about half of it on the train journey home.

The author was born in Japan and studied Japanese, with a year in a Japanese university, so she obviously jumped at the chance of a two-year stint working for Honda in Japan before returning to her new job in its US operations. This is the story of how she carved out her own role and individuality – in society and the company – amidst the culture clash and environment of self-enforced conformity, learning to negotiate in the Japanese way and to make friends along the way.

I liked the details about exactly how she lived her life, her housing situation and arrangements, and enjoyed the honesty about the culture clash and its frustrations but also her appreciation of Japanese culture and attempts to fit in. I would love to find out what happened next, as this is a few years old now.

Apr 2014 3In terms of book acquisitions, on Wednesday we took a day trip to Kendal where there is one of those outlet malls – didn’t buy anything else there but I did find a Works shop (of course I did) where I picked up the above two new Georgette Heyers (not new to me, of course, but they seem to be drip-feeding them into the stores and I definitely haven’t re-read these recently) and Tracey Thorn’s autobiography, about which I’ve heard good reports.

I also remembered as we walked down the hill from the railway station that there was an excellent bookshop at the top end of Windermere, Fireside Bookshop, and that’s where I gleefully pounced upon the copy of “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists”. I was very happy to find this because I have for a while now had it planned for the 1914 entry in my Century of Books project (it’s one of the only decent books published that year), but I’m making an effort not to push the acquiring for the project, as such – as I happened upon this one, that was fine.

I also spotted “Penguin Portrait” there on the first visit, but wasn’t sure whether it was a duplicate of a book I already have in hardback. So I went back to the hotel and checked, and then picked that one up on the way back up the hill to the station on Thursday (it was handy that Matthew bought a new rucksack in Kendal, so we could fit in the extra books and Mint Cake).

Apr 2014 Fireside BooksOh, and the picture to the right? This records the first time I’ve written my new name in one of my books¬† (although the first book acquisition of our married life was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah” from our friend Bridget: I seem not to have written in that one yet). I also include in that picture the web address and email address of the Fireside Bookshop – a lovely bookshop that does mail order too – I was very glad to find it still going.

Apr 2014 sewing shopWhile we’re on the subject of lovely independent shops, here’s one Matthew spotted for me on the approach to Windermere Station – Sew Much Fun. The manager is a lovely lady who grew up locally – so nice to see people staying in their local communities rather than moving away, and it’s a rather nice shop with lots of supplies crammed into a tiny space. They do classes, too (see pic to the right).Apr 2014 sewing shop details

So, some good times, some good reading, and some good new books. I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from this blog while working my way through “33 Revolutions Per Minute” – what have you all been up to?

 

State of the TBR April 2014

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Apr 2014 whole tbrHere’s the TBR on 1 April and no, that’s not an April Fool and it’s looking quite good, isn’t it. I have taken a couple of big ones off it (more of those in a moment) and I do have a separate pile of Icelandic books for May, but I’m pleased that I’m getting through books and am up to August 2013 in my customary chronological order. There have been a few additions to the end (check out the Book Confessions category to see them all) and I include two recent arrivals at the end of this post. Just to remove any doubt, the end of the front shelf comes with Underground to Everywhere, leaning slightly about half way along.

Apr 2014 current 2It seems that I only finished 6 books in March, however I have been reading these two lovely big substantial books for a little while now. Dorian Lynskey’s “33 Revolutions Per Minute”, which is a history of protest songs in the 20th century, is an amazing work of painstaking detail, explaining world history and the singers, song writers and songs in a very accessible manner, making it very readable, even as it’s rather hefty.

Apr 2014 current 1I’ve long known that John Major’s autobiography is hailed as a masterpiece of the genre, and I do read works by and about the Conservatives as well as my more natural Labour subjects: they were right, and this is excellent, humane and honest writing, the political biography at its best. He’s only just working his way up through the levels of government at the moment, but it’s very well written and generous, and I’m very much enjoying it. I think it helps that it covers a time period I remember for myself, and the political figures around him are fairly familiar. Another big book that doesn’t seem so.

Apr 2014 TBRComing up next, well, here’s the first section of my TBR in close-up. Now, April should be a good reading month, as I happen to be having a whole week off,¬† for the first time for ages: nothing fancy, a bit of a staycation and a short trip. M and I are both going to read Charlie Hill’s novel, as well as a more recent BookCrossing acquisition, and I’m looking forward to starting another new George Eliot in “Adam Bede” – if I like it as much as “Daniel Deronda”, I’ll be well away. And look at that lovely biography of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin, too.

Apr 2014 to readI do also want to get to these two this month: I’ve been promising myself a re-read of “Up the Line to Death”, the marvellous collection of WW1 poetry, and my friend Laura lent me “The Heavenly Twins” too long ago for me to not start it soon. So I’m hoping I’ll be able to get to these two with relative speed.

Apr 2014 Icelandic booksI am also of course looking forward to my Icelandic reading in May: here’s the pile as it stands so far, although I note that my only book actually in Icelandic has managed to stay on the main TBR – I’ve moved it now. So I have these lovelies plus a children’s book on volcanoes that I WILL be able to read by the end of May, all to come. I can’t wait!

So, have you read anything that’s on my TBR coming up at the moment? Do share if you have!

Mar 2014 6And before we go, a couple of new acquisitions, courtesy of my lovely friend Verity, reader, triathlete and librarian. She was my Santa in the LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa last December: she ordered “So Much to Tell”, the biography of Kaye Webb, founder of Puffin Books, but it didn’t arrive in time to send to me at the time. I was thrilled to receive a parcel of this and the Persephone Book of Short Stories this week: what a lovely treat, and very welcome as a last Christmas splash after the massive pile I clocked up at the time. I’m very much looking forward to these.

So, what are you planning to read in April? Any treats in store?