Tag Archives: Reviews

Brideshead Abbreviated – John Crace

As I have already written, I am a big fan of the Digested Read, however this book, although funny, wasn’t quite as enjoyable as his previous one that I recently reviewed.  I don´t know if this is because more of the books chosen for Volume II were trashy and these are more worthy.  Basically the premise of this book is that he has taken ten books from each decade of the 20th century (no authors are duplicated) and some of their most famous novels are parodied in about three pages. Therefore this gives an interesting overview of the different literary traditions of the 20th century.

The most damning of his reviews are saved for novels that revolve around gratuitous sex, drug use or violence such as Ballard´s Crash or Burrough´s Junky;

“Why do you do Junk, Bill?”

“Because once I´ve shovelled enough garbage into my body” I replied, “I’ll get away with shovelling any old garbage into print.  Take it from me, some suckers will one day call Naked Lunch a masterpiece”.

He also mocks the tendency of male writers to fantasise about sexual scenes between an older man and younger woman such as in Saul Bellow´s Herzog ;

“She was extremely attractive in her late 30s and gagging for his balding, unfit late forties body  in the way that  balding, unfit late forties male authors often like to imagine.”

The reviews I enjoyed most were ones of books that I had already read, although reading these books gave me an overview of which ones I might want to read, and which to avoid.  I might have overdosed on these though by reading the book and listening to the podcast at the same time.  It is also a good book to dip in and out of.

I just wonder how Crace has time to read all these books and, whether having to read novels simply to find the bad parts has completely diminished his love of reading.  He does admit in the acknowledgements that it was much more work than he was expecting and that his family had to put up with him reading all the time.  Still, I love him and think he is great.

If you fancy checking out one, try this Kundera Digested Read podcast.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2010/jan/08/unbearable-lightness-being-milan-kundera

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Goodreads.com, a great website for book lovers.

Discovered Goodreads last month and am very jealous, I wish I had made a website like this.  Actually they do have millions (well, lots) of people writing for it, so I have no chance of emulating it.

Anyway this is a great website and worth looking at.  You can rate the books you have read or create a would like to read list.   You can also see what your friends are reading and how they have rated the books.  There are also lots of groups to join or quizzes to do.  I have also been looking at their worst books of all time list, for some inspiration on my next post about rubbish books and there are some controversial choices in there like Animal Farm and Tess of the D´Urbervilles at 28 and 30 respectively.  Despite this travesty it is still a little bit addictive.

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James Lees-Milne – Some Country Houses and their Owners

I found this whilst browsing in the National Gallery and always meant to read it but forgot all about it, until this weekend I read an interesting article in the Guardian about the country house in the novel.    This is a very short book that contains extracts of the diary of Lees-Milne who in the 1930s and 40s travelled around country houses all over the country to try to persuade them to hand over their houses to the National Trust.

The diaries are both funny and extremely Despite being  left-wing I found myself feeling very sorry for these upper class landowners who were finding that they were no longer able to maintain their houses and had to hand them over to the NT; although I suppose if they hadn’t I would not have been able to spend all my free time visiting them.  Basically lots of the houses had to be given up due to an agricultural depression, the deaths of heirs in World War I and the increased taxation of incomes and estates, as owners could no longer maintain them.

Some of the stories are both funny and tragic – at Ham House he meets who he thinks is the old alcoholic family butler, only to discover that he is in fact the heir to the estate who is driven almost to the point of suicide whilst trying to maintain two great houses.  “When I waved goodbye, the faintest flicker of a smile crossed his bucolic face, and a tiny tear was on his cheek”  He also meets Lord and Lady Newton of Lyme Park who recognise that “their day was done, and life as they had known it was gone forever.  How right they are, poor people”.

There are also characters who you feel less sympathetic towards such as Lady Binning of Fenton House who confides that she is pro Nazi and “she denied that the Germans had committed atrocities, and declared that the Jews were the root of all evil”.  In the classic English  understatement Lees Milnes sums this up with “Oh dear”.

The book is divided into two parts – the first half deals with the houses that were accepted the National Trust whereas the second half deals with those that were rejected or the deals fell through – some of these are the giant estates like Chatsworth and Castle Howard but you can’t help wondering what happened to some of the poor rundown ones and their owners.

Lyme Park, also more recognisable as Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice

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Stephen Fry – The Fry Chronicles

As a teenager I was in love with Stephen Fry (actually been spending a lot of time thinking about him recently too) because I loved ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’.  His signed photograph was a treasured possession.   Later in life  I really enjoyed his novels The Liar and Making History but had found his first autobiography Moab is my Washpot a bit disappointing, therefore I was in two minds about this book.

After a very annoying apologetic first few pages the book really gets going and apart from a section towards the end I really enjoyed this book and found it really entertaining.  I especially enjoyed the fact that Fry is very honest about his own insecurities which are often not apparent when he is  on-screen, and therefore some people find him annoying. His descriptions of life at Cambridge were enough to make me feel a bit sick with envy and then become cross at the way that it seems as if you get there you are made for life with your numerous contacts from the Oxbridge scene (Emma Thomson, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis,  etc.).  Still you can be amazed by the plethora of famous comics he meets along the way.

This is a really interesting  account of his rise to fame and well written, if you like Stephen Fry this is definitely worth reading.

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Real book reviews

Have you noticed that if you read the Guardian book review pages that it is hard to work out if they actually like the book or not?  Why cant they be written like film review sites and give thems some stars and make it easy.  Well welcome to my new website designed to relieve me from the daily grind of boring life and to give you reviews that actually say if the book is good or not and give you the chance to share your words of wisdom.

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