Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.

I've been lucky recently in that I have had good books to read, and time in which to read them. It can take me months to read a book; if I don't like it I'll leave it lying around, refusing to be branded a quitter but really wanting to quit. But sometimes I have a good run, like now.

Attention All Shipping is written by Charles Connelly, a Bill Bryson wannabe looking for an angle, who decided to visit each of the areas mentioned in the Shipping Forecast. Undaunted by the fact that some areas have no land (he had to content himself with flying over parts of the sea and ticking the box) he visits not just some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the UK, Iceland and Scandinavia, he finds himself on barren sandbanks and strange platforms in his quest complete his journey.
The closest he gets to my locality is a fleeting visit to Cromarty - he didn't venture over the bridge to the north of the Firth, missing out on the delights of Evanton and Invergordon, possibly as the result of some thorough research.
The book improves throughout and goes from copying Bill to not quite competing but certainly challenging him as an eye-rolling traveller shuffling rather than striding his way round the world in the search for little snippets of history and heritage.

Next on The Book Tower this week, the man himself. An inspired choice of birthday present from Muriel, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is essentially Bill's autobiography, but only covering his life in the 50s. If you have read Made in America you'll know how 50s obsessed he can be, and each chapter is loosely based on aspects of this decade and the results he saw within his family...and how his dad was a skinflint. It was good, but I can't help thinking that Bill has wrung himself dry now. Neither Here Nor There and The Lost Continent were the results of years of experience, research and observation and as a result are two of the funniest, most informative books I've read. But other Bryson books seemed rushed - especially the Australia one, and now that he's spilled his guts in Thunderbolt, what's next?

My final offering, and the book I am reading just now, is Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. Another gift, I recoiled at first from reading about teaching, cos I is one. For the same reason I don't watch "Teacher TV" on cable. I haven't read any of McCourt's other books, and haven't seen the film. Teacher Man is actully really good. Born in New York, he grew up in Ireland but then returned to New York in his youth and after a series of manual jobs embarks on a career teaching literature to American teens. It is really well written and his power to deviate from the storyline and give interesting tiny details would make Ronnie Corbett green with envy.


  1. In Attention All Shipping I felt the constant need the author felt to shoehorn witty asides into the text was irritating. This would not have been so bad if more of them had been genuinely funny. On reading the book, I was forever coming across examples of wit which would simply trip me up or stop me in my tracks.

    It is ironic that while the author praises the terseness and economy of the Shipping Forecast itself, the book is brimming with many pointless asides which could have been edited out to good effect.

    To put this review into perspective, I don't like Bryson et al either. Once I had read a few of this genre of travel books, I was left with a suspicion that some of the wacky events which happen are engineered or enhanced to add humour.


    P.S. Nice labels.

  2. Wow Kane, very astute and observant remarks. Not a millon miles away from the thoughts of this Radio 4 fan...

  3. Ah yes, Teacher Man is one of my favourite reads of all time. In fact, it ranks up there with Adam Ant's Autobiography ("Stand and Deliver").

    I feel that Teacher Man modulates beautifully from ventriloquistically exact repro teen-speak to rhapsodic meditations on his midlife crisis.

  4. Mmm, Sunday Times.

    You really are making this too easy.

  5. Erm, how many Sunday Times crtitics do you know that have read Stand and Deliver?

    Anyway - next up will be my review of Gary Barlow's Autobiography ("My Take"). I am hoping to get it for Christmas (hint, hint).

  6. Mum - not Yours24/12/06 19:26