City Boy – Edmund White (2009) – A Real Life Review

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cityboy

Edmund White is best known for his trilogy of autobiographical novels.  I read the first of these “A Boy’s Own Story” not long after it was published in 1982 and it has since become the classic coming out tale.  I’ve read all three as well as his 2000 novel “A Married Man” which probably ranks as my favourite out of these.  White is a highly esteemed novelist, literary biographer and essayist but I haven’t yet read anything by him which has really blown me away.

From a British gay man’s perspective I value very much his contribution to gay-themed literature but I have never had the emotional response from his work that I have had from Armistead Maupin, Alan Hollinghurst, Sarah Waters, John Boyne, for example.  Compared to these authors I think he can come across as a little too academic in his writing and lacking warmth- perhaps investing his novels with a richness of technical skills rather than empathy.  Admittedly, it has been a while since I’ve read anything by him and I’ve not read all but this is my impression so far and throughout the years I have been choosing my Best Books of the Year he has never featured in my Top 10.

Things could change with this.  Subtitled “My Life In New York During The 1960s and 1970s”, a memoir in which the struggling author relocates to New York and benefits from the cheapness of rents and the richness of the creative and literary minds he is able to surround himself with.  It is a significant period for New York as it heads towards bankruptcy and areas become violent and dangerous as well as a hub for civil rights and in 1969 a fracas at The Stonewall Inn changed lives for gay men and women across the globe.  White was there.

During these years White met many important figures in the Arts and provides almost rapid-fire character sketches and gossip.  Many readers nowadays will only recognise a handful of these names but that doesn’t matter as we’re drawn into White’s associations.  He also catalogues the increasing sexual freedoms of the era as lived mainly by those who escaped the repression of small-town America for New York City life. There are lovers, friends and sex partners and the many men he met tended to fall in one of these separate categories.  It was only in the era of AIDS that, White proposes, that one person could fulfil all three roles.

My interest in this book was as much to do with the city in this period as much as the man and he conveys the feel of New York very well.  There are sojourns in San Francisco and Venice but the pull of Manhattan wins out. White takes us to the point at the end of the 1970’s where a new virus is looming menacingly, poised to wipe out many of the characters in this book.  (White moved away from NYC and lived in France for much of the 80’s).  He ends his account with a metaphor which I find effective and very much gives the feel of this book;

“I suppose that finally New York is a Broadway theatre where one play after another, decade after decade, occupies the stage and the dressing rooms- then clears out.  Each play is the biggest possible deal (sets, publicity, opening night celebrations, stars names on the marquee) then it vanishes.  With every new play the theatre itself is just a little more dilapidated, the walls scarred, the velvet rubbed bald, the gilt tarnished.  Because they are plays and not movies, no one remembers them precisely.  The actors are forgotten, the plays are just battered scripts showing coffee stains and missing pages.  Nothing lasts in New York.  The life that is lived there, however, is as intense as it gets.”

“City Boy” recounts Edmund White’s time in this vanished world.

fourstars

City Boy was published by Bloomsbury in 2009.  I read the 2010 paperback edition.

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Barracoon- Zora Neale Hurston (2018) – A Real Life Review

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I first encountered African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel “Their Eyes Are Watching God” back in 2011 where it became one of my Top 10 reads of the year.  This is a book which has grown steadily in reputation, particularly this century and now is a recognised American classic.  Hurston produce three other novels and was a significant folklorist of tales of black America as well as a short story writer, playwright and essayist.  This book caused quite a stir when it was published for the first time earlier this year, 58 years after the author’s death.  I’d highlighted it back in January in my Looking Back, Looking Forward post as one of nine titles I was looking forward to reading this year and now I have.  (I couldn’t resist a peep back at that post- I’ve read just two of these so far although a number have to still to be published).

Subtitled “The Story Of The Last Slave” this came about as a result of a series of interviews in 1927/8 with Oluale Kossula who had been snatched, aged nineteen, from his West African home and brought over on the last slave ship “The Clotilda” in 1860, an illegal act carried out long after the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade.  The group of men responsible for this escaped any charges of piracy and trafficking by destroying the evidence by scuppering the ship on its landing on American soil.

By 1927 Kossula was the last known survivor of this crossing and thus the last known first-generation slave.  Renamed Cudjo Lewis he spent over five years as a slave in Alabama for one of the men responsible for his capture and following emancipation was instrumental in the setting up of Africatown- a settlement of former slaves.

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Hurston visited Kossula, by then widowed and lonely and brought him peaches, melon and ham to get him to open up and used his worlds to take down his life story.  It is a heart-breaking tale which demands to be read.

That Hurston never found a publisher for this work in her lifetime seems extraordinary.  Cudjo Lewis had been previously interviewed by others (in fact even by Hurston herself) and was known as the last voice of this previous era.  There’s a hint of the suggestion that Hurston’s reputation in her early years had been dented by prior claims of plagiarism which could have rendered her account as untrustworthy.  That this account was put together by an African-American woman would have also limited its publication appeal.  There was also some contemporary nervousness about what Cudjo Lewis had to say.  His most disturbing revelation being that he was trafficked by neighbouring tribes rather than white traders.

Kossulu began his journey into slavery in a barracoon, a shoreside prison where captured men, women and children were stored until deals could be made with the white traders.

Hurston lets Kossulu speak in his own dialect which might seem initially off-putting to the modern reader but as with her later celebrated novel meaning soon becomes clear and the reader is likely to be captivated by the rhythm and poetry of the language.  The actual text of the interviews moves along quickly and is supplemented by probably an equal amount of accompanying material including a Foreword by Alice Walker and an Afterword by Deborah G. Plant and a number of Ossulu’s stories that Hurston, as folklorist and anthropologist took down verbatim.  This is a work which manages to be spine-chilling and endearing and is a thought provoking, always relevant read.

fourstars

Barracoon was first published in the UK as in 2018 by HQ.  It is available in paperback.

 

How To Make Children Laugh – Michael Rosen (2018)

 

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Here’s a quick and diverting lunch hour read. Quercus have produced a series of hardbacks entitled “Little Ways To Live A Big Life”. We may not all aspire to some of the other titles (How To Land A Plane/ How To Count To Infinity) but they’ve enlisted Michael Rosen on an admirable mission to get children laughing and that’s something that’s likely to be appealing to almost all of us.

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. From the early days of my teaching career I discovered his collection of poems “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here” and carried it around with me in my bag for as long as I was teaching. It was an invaluable resource, it filled the odd moment, it enriched whole school assemblies, it calmed things down and it livened things up. As a young inexperienced teacher fresh from training I became known as the kind of teacher who liked Michael Rosen and from that children understood I loved playing with words, with humour and reading children’s books. This really did forge my identity as a teacher which lasted throughout my career and for which I will always be extremely grateful. And yes, I did manipulate this, at the end of the summer term when I would meet my new class after the where you put your lunchbox and what days do we have PE I would always introduce them to my favourites (usually the poem “Chocolate Cake” was enough to win them over). For this I will always think highly of this poet.

Later on as a senior teacher and Head Teacher I was delighted to bring Michael Rosen in to meet the whole school on a couple of occasions. This man wins children over right away, he actually looks funny. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I remember using a Schools TV series he was involved in with a class of 7 year olds who didn’t know who he was but laughed as soon as his face appeared on-screen, which I was initially unsettled by, thinking I’d put the wrong videotape in, but it was him winning them over from the word go.

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And as a live performer. Wow! I’ve never seen anyone command a whole school group of Primary children from the wriggling youngest to the too-cool-to-listen oldest with such aplomb and for so long. They would hang on to his every word and the laughter was infectious and totally genuine.

So how does he do this? This book tells us how. He studies and totally understands his audience. He’s done the research, he knows what it is in the wider world that is currently making children laugh and he can pinpoint the rudiments of humour of children, which are, basically, building on anxiety, surprise, absurdity and language-play. If the first one seems a little odd you’ll need to read the book to see how he is able to deconstruct humour to these elements. It’s a convincing argument, used with examples of his and others work.

Nowadays, I don’t personally need to make children laugh but this book has relevance for performers and writers especially, as it is to these it is angled but those who work with children in whatever capacity and even parents would benefit from taking a look. I just enjoyed feeling as if Michael Rosen was talking to me once again- his voice comes through strongly in this. Due to its brevity this series is really only offering a taster so I don’t feel able to shower it in stars, rating-wise but it does exactly what it says on the cover in an entertaining way.

threestars

How To Make Children Laugh was published by Quercus in 2018

Night School – Richard Wiseman (2014) – A Real Life Review

realives

nightschool

Subtitled “The Life Changing Science Of Sleep” (and yes, it is unusual for me to read a book with “science” in the title) Richard Wiseman pulls together all the theories and research on sleep to produce an extremely readable book on a fascinating subject.  I chose to read it after having had a few days of my occasional struggles with sleep and I am already doing better.

 Basically, we’re not getting enough of it.  Sleep, that is.  Most of us fall short of the 8 hours required to fully recharge ourselves for the next day and the quality of this sleep has deteriorated rapidly over the last half century due to our lifestyles, stress and our obsession with the blue light of smart-phones, computers and tablets.  As a result we are becoming sleep deprived affecting our abilities to function as individuals and at work, causing many road traffic accidents and putting ourselves at risk of obesity, diabetes and cancer all of which Wiseman is prepared to attribute to the wrong type of sleep.

 We still feel guilty about sleep, as if it is a weakness.  Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, was said to thrive on 3 or 4 hours per night and this was held up as an admirable quality.  Running the country is surely more important than sleep.  She might actually have done a better job if she’d put in those extra hours. (There’s also significant research to suggest that those who claim to be thriving on a modicum of sleep actually do a lot more of it than they realise).

 Wiseman also fascinated me by exploring another social no-no, the afternoon nap.  Take one of these and you’ll likely end up feeling guilty.  Wrong!  We’re often being told of the virtues of the Mediterranean diet as an explanation for lower instances of heart trouble and stroke in regions which follow this- but what do these nations also support?  The siesta.  Is this why coronary disease is much lower because of the blood-pressure lowering benefits of a nap? There’s a precise science to getting this right and Wiseman points out how long it should be and when and how to get the most out of it.  He’s convinced me, I’m off to buy an eye-shield.

 What sleep is for and what it does, how to do it when you are struggling and how to enrich your learning potential whilst asleep; the role of dreams and how to use them for your benefit and avoiding and curing other sleep related problems are all dealt with this in this book in a highly accessible way with the author as friendly tutor guiding us, rather than blinding us, with science.  I’m really glad I liked the author’s style as I have another of his books “Quirkology” – a book I bought then wondered why I had done so as it is also not the sort of thing I would normally read and which has been sitting on my shelves for some time.

 He also debunks the many myths that have built up with relish.  The connection between eating cheese at night leading to bad dreams, for example, was actually a fictional creation by Charles Dickens as Scrooge ate cheese before his ghostly visitations.  Experimentation has proved this has no basis in fact.  Yet how many of us still avoid cheese at night because of this?

 If, like most of us you don’t give that much thought to the third of the day when you should be in bed and are not using it to maximise your potential for the other two thirds of the day then this book is a real eye-opener, or yes, go on, I’ll say it, a real eye-closer!

 fourstars

Night School was published by Macmillan in 2014

The Young Victoria – Alison Plowden (1981) – A Real Life Review

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youngvictoria

Like many people my knowledge of the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign has been based upon what I have seen in the ITV drama series “Victoria”.  There were still things that I was unsure about, namely, how the line of succession played out so that she came to the throne in the first place.  For my second book in the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge at Sandown Library I pulled out of the hat “a book with a green cover” and I chose Alison Plowden’s non-fiction work because a) it had a green cover and b) I wanted to know more about the young Victoria.

 Plowden’s book was written in 1981 although I read a paperback reprint from The History Press which was published in 2016.  It falls firmly into the category of popular history, there are no references to get you leafing through to the back of the book, a shorter bibliography than one might imagine and an author’s note which credits especially two biographies, one from 1972 and one from back in 1964.  Plowden has synthesized this information into her very readable work which suited my purposes but may frustrate the more serious historian. 

 It does read like a novel, especially with its characters that we know from the TV series here being fleshed out and it was a little surprising to find that the ITV drama does not deviate too far from the facts as presented here. 

 The characters who feature strongly in Victoria’s early years and are brought to life well by Plowden are her mother, the Duchess of Kent, whose relationship with her daughter became strained during the teenage years largely because of the influence of Sir John Conroy, who placed himself and his family close to Victoria and her mother and who the Princess came to hate.  Victoria had the most time for her beloved governess Baroness Lehzen and for Dash her dog.  The book ends with Victoria’s marriage to Albert but the most fascinating relationship here (as it was in the early episodes of the ITV series) is the one between the young Queen and Prime Minister and mentor Lord Melbourne with Victoria demonstrating anti-Tory tendencies in her desire to keep him in power.

 I still haven’t totally got the succession to the throne bit as her grandfather had so many children that it all gets a little confusing and I could have really done with a family tree appendix to sort this all out in my head.  Inexplicably, the edition I read devoted two pages at the back to completely the wrong tree, that of the House of Tudor, which has no relevance whatsoever to Victoria’s time.  That is a bad mistake from The History Press that I hope was put right in subsequent editions. 

 Alison Plowden was best known for her non-fiction on the Tudor period so that suggests that the family tree here was intended for another of her publications.  She wrote around 25 books mainly on female historical figures.   She died in 2007.

 threestars

 

Young Victoria was first published in 1981.  I read the 2016 History Press edition.  The History Press have republished a number of her books.

The Diary Of Two Nobodies – Giles Wood & Mary Killen (2017) – A Real Life Review

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gilesandmary

I love Channel 4’s “Googlebox” and always enjoy the contributions of Giles and Mary (or Nutty and Nutty as they call each other) from their thatched Wiltshire cottage. I wasn’t absolutely convinced I needed to read a book written by them, fearing that it might be a cash-in for the Christmas market with little merit which would vanish after the present-buying was over, but someone whose opinion I valued recommended it and I thought I’d give it a go. I was pleased I did.

gilesandmary2Giles and Mary have become recognisable enough for French and Saunders to parody them in undoubtedly the most successful sections of their most recent show with Dawn playing Giles with the right level of Alan Bennett-ness and Jennifer as Mary becoming gradually absorbed by the fabric of her armchair.

gilesandmary3Not Giles and Mary

We’ve taken to this couple because they seem to know each other so well. We can sense the long-suffering of Mary towards Giles’ ability to wind her up, often with a twinkle in his eye with her keen to put him back on the right track. In a preamble they say that Gogglebox has saved their 30 year marriage as all that TV watching has got them to sit down together and communicate as well as giving us all a chance to see how frustrating Giles can be! Both having a background in writing and creating they agreed to the diary format of this book as it offered the chance to produce (in Giles’ words “anecdotal accounts of the various hurdles life and marriage throws up at a couple in a bid to try and see what, in the dread words of the politicians lessons can be learned”. For Mary, someone who admits to recording their disagreements and typing up a transcript, this format would also seem to be ideal.

Much of this is based on the problems of Giles – a procrastinating artist “stranded in the Seventies”, a fledgling eco-warrior and keen gardener who relishes opportunities to be annoying and Mary’s constant busyness, rooting around to locate lost objects and attempting to fit too much into each day whose ideal times of her married life have been when she has had a live-in assistant to act as buffer between her and her husband.

It is these differences between them that work so well. It’s consistently amusing, occasionally laugh-out loud funny and interspersed with illustrations from Giles which adds to the text. I’m hoping and believing here that we are getting the real Giles and Mary and not some representation dreamt up in a marketing office. Much of the joy is in recognising our own traits in this couple’s interactions with one another. I think most of us would come off as a combination of Giles and Mary and would certainly appreciate each of their frustrations with one another. It provides a good, plausible picture of a long-term relationship in action. I don’t think you even need to be familiar with them to enjoy this book as the whole thing feels like we have been invited into their world and it is fun spending time with them.

threestars

The Diary Of Two Nobodies was published by Virgin in 2017

 

Stronger – Jeff Bauman with Bret Witter (Blink 2017) – A Real Life Review

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stronger

 

“Stronger” is the story of Jeff Bauman, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time- the finishing line of the Boston Marathon 2013 when a terrorist bomb exploded.  Jeff lost both legs in the blast and became the figurehead for “Boston Strong”, the city’s defiant response to the atrocity.

The film version is dominated by a mesmerising Oscar-worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  I was less comfortable with the depiction of those around him.  The working-class American culture of sport, beer and banter I found quite distancing and I was concerned this might be amplified in the book.

It actually isn’t.  I found the book less sobering and more hopeful.  In the film Jeff seems quite isolated from those around him trying to do his best of him.  I felt the support more appropriate in the book with him existing less as a vacuum.  He is involved with others injured in the blast right from the start, he is actually with a couple of his girlfriend’s friends at the Marathon and not alone as shown in the film and their recovery does influence his.

The narrative arc of the film puts Jeff into a downward spiral which levels out only when he eventually agrees to meet Carlos, the man who saved his life at the scene, whereas Carlos was actually a vital part in Jeff’s recovery right from the start.

Of course, real life is more complex than movie adaptations and I got a lot from the book about the stages Jeff went through, both physically and mentally and he comes across more rounded than the film’s depiction. There he is portrayed as the man who “never shows up”, the irony being when he did he ended up losing his legs.  In real life he seems more reliable and supportive.  Smaller events have been combined and ramped up to add dramatic value to the movie, inevitably.  The film should be seen for its tour-de-force lead performance and strong back-up from Miranda Richardson as well as hitting home one man’s determination to succeed.  The book should be read for its stronger emphasis on hope and support and for a community’s response to a personal tragedy caused by atrocity.

fourstars

Stronger was published in 2017 by Blink Publishing.  My review of the film version can be found here

 

Hollywood Babylon– It’s Back! – Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince (Blood Moon 2008) – A Real Life Review

 

hollywoodbabylon

The original version of “Hollywood Babylon” first appeared in France in 1959.  An incredibly scandalous reveal of Tinseltown that had to wait until 1965 for a US publisher brave enough to put it out.  Within ten days it was banned and did not appear again until a decade later.  Written by American film-maker Kenneth Anger ,who claimed to be in the know concerning scandals, the first volume had an emphasis on the stars of early Hollywood and the silent era.  A second volume appeared in 1984.  Many of Anger’s claims have been strongly denied if not always completely unproven so they have hung around as rumour and urban legend.  The books are sleazy and compelling in equal measures, I’ve read both over the years. 

So enthused by the format were Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince that in 2008 they claimed “it’s back” with another volume of scandal, rumour and sleaze ranging from the Hollywood in its hey-day to modern Tinseltown. (Tom Cruise certainly does not get off lightly here).  Anger was decidedly angered by Porter and Prince muscling in on a direct copy of style, format and general grubbiness.

Truman Capote (a source of a number of the scurrilous titbits in this book) reputedly said that gossip will become the literature of the twenty-first century (and he should have known being a tremendous gossip himself) so maybe what we have here is literature in its purest form.  Movie heart-throb Rock Hudson (another gossip) said “In Hollywood you can keep a mistress, or a boyfriend, maybe both.  You can go gay, bi or pan-sexual.  Just don’t tell anybody and don’t get caught.  What do you expect when you bring the world’s most beautiful people together in the same town?”  This quote does seem to be the raison d’etre for this book.

It’s not an easy read.  By adopting the style of the original and of classic scandal magazines from “Confidential” of the 1950s to the National Enquirer it has ended up as vague, repetitive writing, keen to go off on tangents, with grainy black and white photography which may or not provide proof to their claims.

It will rouse strong emotions.  I read a (withdrawn) library copy and there’s a chunk of pages which have been roughly ripped out (hence the withdrawal and not by me I hasten to add).  I know where there’s another copy (hopefully undefiled) and will be keen to see what has been so forcefully extracted (oddly enough  from the contents it seems to be the end of a section concerning Lucille Ball!)

The lips are pursed and the dirt is dished throughout.  Some may be familiar stories and there’s a great deal of emphasis on who slept with who, who was secretly gay, and what was the size of the equipment they were doing all this sleeping around with.  Thus Ivor Novello is linked with Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger with Eric Clapton and James Dean and Marilyn Monroe with just about everybody.  Does any of it matter?  Of course not, but there is still something compelling in this catalogue of stories with dubious provenance that kept me reading even when I felt quite grubby doing so.

I recently watched on Netflix the documentary film “Tab Hunter Confidential” in which the 50’s heart-throb movie star and singer puts into context his hiding of his sexuality in a calm, admirable way.  It is the weird attitude of Hollywood and its hypocrisy (recently brought into focus with all those accusations against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey) which has brought about all this net curtain-twitching from Porter and Prince.

This book is one of a sizeable output from Blood Moon Productions who on their website claim to be “applying the standards of today to the Hollywood scandals of yesterday” and they do this in volumes dedicated to performers such as Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, Peter O’ Toole, The Gabor sisters – the list goes on, including even politicians (Donald Trump: The Man Who Would Be King is a recent Porter and Prince work).  Scanning down this back catalogue on bloodmoonproductionscom I couldn’t help but think “Ooh, I’d like to read that” on quite a few occasions.  I know it’s all a far cry from the literary blogger I strive to be (Ha Ha!) but sometimes I just can’t help looking to the gutter for inspiration!

threestars

 

Hollywood Babylon It’s Back!” was published by Blood Moon in 2008

The Book Of Forgotten Authors – Christopher Fowler (2017) – A Book About Books Review

 

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fowler

Now, this is just the sort of book to throw out my reading schedule. Novelist Christopher Fowler briefly examines the careers of 99 authors, who either used to be big but have faded from prominence or who deserved to be more popular than they were. It’s a fascinating, highly readable book which is both illuminating and nostalgic. The author has always been a voracious reader and book purchaser and he’s certainly done the groundwork for us here.

Christopher Fowler need not have any real fears of being forgotten, certainly not by me. You wouldn’t know it from this blog as this is probably his first mention in over 400 posts but since I’ve been keeping my own meticulous records of what I’ve been reading (I’ve always done this but lost a book which went back quite a few years), so we’re talking the last 23 years here, he is the author whom I’ve read the largest number of books by.

This book puts the Fowler total up to 15 (+ 1 I’ve read twice in this time) which pushes him further ahead from his nearest competitors , Charles Dickens (12) and Peter Ackroyd (11 + 2 re-reads). I’ve still got plenty of Fowler to discover, a quick tot-up of his books listed inside the front cover suggest 43 publications in total. I did gobble up a number of his horror novels in a short space of time in the mid to late 90’s after discovering “Spanky” (1994), a Faustian tale of a pact with the devil, which I still consider to be his best. In recent years he has concentrated on the Bryant & May detective series. I realise, with a fair amount of shock, that the last of his books I read was the third in this sequence “77 Clocks” and that was 10 years ago now! I haven’t forgotten you, Mr Fowler, honest! (I did last re-read “Spanky” in 2013).

Here the author tackles his findings alphabetically with considerably more than 99 names actually being thrown into the mix as in addition to the potted biographies and commentaries on individuals there’s also sections of forgotten authors linked to themes and genres.

It wasn’t long before I found myself making lists of those I’ve already read (not many and those a long time ago), those whose books I have unread on my shelves (5), those I can get from the library (36), those I can get on Kindle for free (4), for under £1 (8), or at a higher price (8) and those I can buy from Amazon (32). This left just those whose books do not seem readily available (4) or just too collectable for my budget (2). So thanks for all this, Mr Fowler, I’m supposed to be reviewing, not spending my time making lists!
And now I’ve got said lists I’m going to have to use them! So starting with what I have on my shelves already I hope over the coming months to unforget as many authors as possible. So this would include Margery Allingham, (a Golden Age of Crime Fiction writer who appears time and time again on recommended lists), I have a copy of her “Police At The Funeral” to start me off. There’s also Edmund Crispin (I bought a set of his Gervaise Fen novels from “The Book People”), Patrick Dennis (I bought his “Auntie Mame” because I love the Rosalind Russell film version and it’s pretty pricey on DVD), Barbara Pym’s “Excellent Women” (Book People purchase set again) and Edgar Wallace (a mammoth Wordsworth publication of “The Complete Four Just Men” taking up considerable shelf space). I’m adding these to the reading mix over the coming months and will of course be letting you know what I think and then I’ll move onto the others. Christopher Fowler has whetted my appetite so much I want to read them all!

This book would make a great present for bibliophiles – even those who claim to have “read everything” may find some hidden gems. A number of them are names that you’d remember from bookshop visits from your past, but may have never read. It could be time to put this right.

fourstars

The Book Of Forgotten Authors was published by Riverrun in October 2017.

Good As You – Paul Flynn (2017) – A Real Life Review

realives

goodasyou

Subtitled “From Prejudice To Pride: 30 Years Of Gay Britain” Paul Flynn’s non-fiction publication seems a timely work.  Gay Pride has been particularly visible this year in our streets and through the media celebration of fifty years of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.  The grainy black and white footage of men dancing together at a house party has been used many times in various television documentaries produced recently.  Such is the paucity of images from this era.

Flynn uses a different starting point to show how far we have come in this cultural history of Gay Britain.  As a twelve year old boy growing up in Wythenshawe his life experienced a seismic shift around a TV on a Thursday night watching the perennial British game-changer “Top Of The Pops”.  In our multi-platform digital age it’s hard to recall just how influential to young Britain this show was.  Two acts with  openly band members appeared in 1984- The Communards and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whose song “Relax” (banned by the BBC) seemed to suggest aspects of life certainly never portrayed on a chart-topping single before.

These highly significant acts challenged the stereotypical depiction of gay men for a generation brought up on John Inman, Danny La Rue and Larry Grayson.  As much as Quentin Crisp’s life portrayed in “The Naked Civil Servant” (1975) had been lauded as ground-breaking television (and it was) it distressed many unsure of their sexuality and probably banged as many closet doors shut tight at it opened. 

These men had their own part to play towards acceptance but we needed to open the closet door a little wider to let other representations and role-models out.

From this time forward the whole of British society begins to inch towards a time where equality and gay marriage becomes both possible and stops mattering to objectors so much that they think the world will implode if it happens.  It’s certainly been a one step forward one step back approach and Flynn records with this with clarity and conviction.  There’s the characters of Colin and Barry in “Eastenders” which for a time became “Eastbenders” after a hateful diatribe from the Sun newspaper after Colin gave Barry a peck on the forehead.  Michael Cashman, who played Colin, now sits in the House of Lords, an out gay pillar of establishment with a superb record on gay rights whilst the straight actor who played Barry found himself afterwards being turned down by children’s television because he had played a gay character on TV.  That move from unacceptability to acceptance and recognition is tracked in this book.  Following this ludicrous objection it seems extraordinary that within a short space of time we had “Queer As Folk”, Brian Dowling winning “Big Brother” and Will Young victorious in “Pop Idol.

goodasyou7The kiss that supposedly distressed a nation

There is an examination of the music industry where Stephen Gateley was forced to open the closet door by a tabloid threatening to out him amidst a climate where the whole collapse of Boyzone’s career was anticipated should this information ever come out.  This was evidence that the Britain the media portrayed was different to how things were as his honesty was applauded and his popularity soared.  From here this nervous industry is followed to Olly Alexander from chart-topping Years and Years where his sexuality is just a given and who made a recent personal and brave documentary about the mental health issues of teens coming out.

Along the way there are chapters on the AIDS crisis and the British government response which undoubtedly saved many lives and terrified us all, regardless of sexuality or risk; the development of Manchester into a gay-friendly city; the importance of the pink pound leading to publications such as “Attitude” and the part sport has to play from the shameful treatment of Justin Fashanu, forced to put his head unwillingly above the parapet leading to a hounding which led to his suicide to Tom Daley, whose public coming out and marriage to a man, where the age difference might once have been deemed “predatory” being totally accepted because we all now understand that this national treasure is happy and living his life as he should.  Professional football still has a long way to go with these issues.

goodasyou8

Dustin & Tom – “as good as you”

This is an informative, nostalgic read.  It is very much a personal response from Flynn who went from his Wythenshawe front room to a journalism career, to London, to ending up as a guest at Elton and David’s wedding.  He certainly has the experiences, the authority and involvement in what he records to offer his take on developments.  There were many things I had  forgotten, many things I didn’t know and many things I did not realise the significance of at the time, as to how they fit into this British journey “from prejudice to pride”.  It is a great read for the general reader, for anyone interested in social history and is a highly illuminating book on popular culture.  I really enjoyed it. Once again I find myself hovering towards the five star buttons but on reflection this is a book which feels very much of its time (2017) so might not have the lasting value my all-time classic rating of 5 stars would suggest.  But it’s certainly a very close call.

 fourstars

Good As You was published by Ebury Press, part of the Penguin Random House group in 2017.