A little bit of a gap until my first reviews this month – I was away at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference (write-up here if you missed it) and of course was reading on the train journeys there and back. As well as this one, I’ve read Daniel Tammet’s new book of essays, “Every Word is a Bird we Teach to Sing” but that was to review for Shiny New Books, so more on that one later in the month.  Unfortunately, going to the conference meant I’ve failed ever so slightly in #20BooksOfSummer – a report on that below.

Alexei Sayle – “Stalin Ate my Homework”

(21 January 2017, from Sian)

A birthday book, chosen (slightly out of TBR sequence) for the journey because it was a smaller paperback and should be an easy and engaging read – which it was. There’s a comment on the front that “It’s not like other comedians’ memoirs. It’s funny.” from The Guardian, and while I have read some other amusing ones, yes, it’s funny.

Sayle is witty about his odd family, ever-smiling Dad and extremely volatile Mum, his own failings and life in general being raised as a Communist where, if you believe in Leftist principles anyway, the only way to rebel is to become a Maoist. There’s loads of interesting detail about how it actually was to be a Communist, including trying to have holidays in Eastern Bloc countries. They have a couple of trips to Czechoslovakia where, ironically, they are treated like the royal family, with nothing too much trouble, and he even invents a country based on the state, mainly because, as he memorably says, “Being an only child was a bit like taking an extraordinarily long train journey: you were always trying to find something to do to pass the time”. Love it!

He has a talent to entertain but sadly doesn’t really use it in the right ways – I love how he’s genuinely surprised to get kicked out of school at one point. I really enjoyed his tales of growing up within the party system, finding a Communist to help wherever they went and having various adventures in the Eastern Bloc, thanks to his railwayman dad’s concessionary rail pass (most of his colleagues just use it to go to Blackpool: they head for the edges of the Soviet Union). It’s not all silliness and Communism, though: there’s a real sense of developing his comedy skills (being in Liverpool, he has the advantage of a tradition of careful critique of all comedy) and of the family pulling apart, especially when his dad’s health declines.

We leave young Alexei going off to art college, where I’m pretty sure he’s going to cause mayhem. I have the second volume on the TBR (great move, Sian, thank you) and can’t wait to get into it.

#20BooksOfSummer update

Well, gentle readers, I’ve failed. #20BooksOfSummer ended a few days ago and I have yet to finish “Madame Solario”. It’s a great big (500 page) Persephone and I just wasn’t able to pack it for the conference in the end (and even if I had taken it, there wasn’t that much reading time in the end). The days before the conference were full of working extremely hard in a busy patch at work, and it’s still not finished.

Here’s my original post with my selection, and below documents what I achieved:

Dorothy Whipple – Every Good Deed and other Stories – Book 1 read and reviewed

Mitch Prinstein – Popular – Book 2 read and reviewed on the blog and for Shiny New Books

Jane Gardam – Old Filth – Book 3 Did Not Start, replaced by Helen Mitsios – Out of the Blue – read and reviewed

Barbara Taylor – Eve and the New Jerusalem – Book 4 read and reviewed

Natasha Solomons – The Gallery of Vanished Husbands – Book 5 read and reviewed

Eric Newby – Something Wholesale – Book 6 read and reviewed

Nick Baker – ReWild – Book 7 read and reviewed on the blog and for Shiny New Books

Francis Brett Young – The Black Diamond – Book 8 read and reviewed

Stuart Maconie – Long Road from Jarrow – Book 9 read and reviewed on the blog and for Shiny New Books

John-Paul Flintoff – Sew Your Own – Book 10 read and reviewed

Miriam Toews – A Boy of Good Breeding – Book 11 read and reviewed

Farahad Zama – Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness – Book 12 read and reviewed

Adam Nicolson – When God Spoke English – Book 13 read and reviewed

Susie Dent – How to Talk Like a Local – Book 14 read and reviewed

Mollie Panter-Downes One Fine Day – Book 15 read and reviewed

Scott Jurek – Eat and Run – Book 16 read and reviewed

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God – Book 17 read and reviewed

Amber Reeves – A Lady and Her Husband – Book 18 read and reviewed

R.C. Sheriff – Greengates – Book 19 read and reviewed

Gladys Huntingdon – Madame Solario – Book 20 currently reading

It’s a lovely challenge; you’re never made to feel you’ve actually failed even if you don’t finish at all, and I definitely started and was reading Madame Solario within the time period. All of the books were good reads and entertaining and/or thought-provoking, and I enjoyed seeing what other people doing the challenge were reading, and will look forward to their round-ups.