Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The giddy carousel of pop

Rock Stars Stole My Life!Oh, the "Giddy Carousel of Pop"! Mark Ellen's amusing and nostalgic memoir brought back many happy music-based memories: Dad making annoying comments during Top of the Pops; sniggering with a chum over copies of Smash Hits; being in a band.

More seriously, the book traces the changing face of music journalism and the consumption of music since The Beatles. It also touches on what the life of a pop/rock star might be like.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Sorry Mr Orwell ...

Fifty Orwell Essays [linked table of contents]Perhaps it's a little unfair to award Orwell's collection of 50 essays a mere three out of five stars. Some of the essays are brilliant, but there are plenty that, on first reading, are just ok. For instance, it was difficult to properly enjoy his discussion of the merits of Helen's Babies, or James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution, since they mean nothing to me. I would have got more from the essay on Gulliver's Travels if I had actually read Swift's work, and my knowledge of Shakespeare's King Lear was found wanting in the reading of the essay about Tolstoy.

There are, however, absolute gems in this collection:

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Don't blame the victims

The TruantsThe Truants begins on a park bench. As dawn approaches, a vampire who has been alive since pre-history, is waiting to end his life. A teenager approaches, demands money, pulls out a knife and stabs him. In the immediate aftermath, the knife infects two children with the old-one's blood, thwarting his suicide attempt and allowing him to intermittently control the victims: Peter, an infant who has been abused since birth; Danny, a beloved son who enjoys Harry Potter.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The original psycho-biddy

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?Henry Farrell's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? opens in 1908 with the famous child star having a tantrum in public. "What's ever to become of a child like that?" comments the matron of one of Baby Jane Hudson's fidgeting fans. "It's the others I pity, the ones who'll have to live with her," is the ominous reply.

Fast forward to 1959, and we find Jane living with her sister Blanche,

Saturday, 10 November 2018

American market, American methods

England Made Me"She might have been waiting for her lover." So opens Graham Greene's book, England Made Me, in a railway station cafe, where Kate Ferrant is expecting to meet her twin brother Anthony. She intends to persuade her boss, Swedish industrialist Erik Krogh, to give a job to the feckless twin, who is unable to "open his mouth without lying."

Saturday, 3 November 2018

He who loves money never has enough

The Ballad of a Small PlayerI used to imagine Hell as a Sisyphean search for friends in a packed, Covent Garden Piano & Pitcher bar on a Friday night. In The Ballad of a Small Player, Lawrence Osborne describes a different version of purgatory, that of the impossible task of making money in the garish interiors and themed decors of casinos. Anyone who has wandered through Las Vegas gaming palaces will recognize the oppressive setting of Osborne's story, where addicts are oblivious to the passing of time. He conjures up a seedy world where logic, reason and causality are replaced by a belief in coincidence and luck.