Well, 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”
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!
One 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 …