Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Five of the Best...Books I Read in 2008

I read a lot of books in 2008, mainly during long bus trips. You may be surprised that I read almost as many non-chess books as chess ones.

In a bid to inspire you all to read more in 2009, I present my top five recommendations for your perusal.

by A.L. Kennedy

A deep and moving story, written in an unusual style. Alfie Day was a Lancaster tail-gunner during the war and his story weaves in and out of the past and present, with his memories, hopes and fears ebbing and flowing throughout.

Small Island
by Andrea Levy

This is the best book I've read for some time.

The basic storyline concerns the lives of two Jamaicans who are starting a new life in post-WW2 London.

The narrative presents the story through the thoughts of the four main characters (two Jamaican, two English) and examines the prejudices and struggles to come to terms with a changing world.

It's good to read about the same events from diferent viewpoints.

It's a big book - well over 500 pages - but never drags.

Highly recommended.

In the Dark
by Deborah Moggach

Set during World War 1, it features a landlady with a set of unusual set of lodgers.

The dynamics of everyone's lives and relationships are changed forever when she falls for the local butcher, a man of means in troubled times, and marriage is suddenly in the air.

The story follows the effect that the change has on all concerned.

The characters are excellent, as is the mood of the depressing London times during the war.

Being 'In the Dark' is a significant state for many of the characters, but in different ways.

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks
by Christopher Brookmyre

Christopher Brookmyre's recent book caught my eye at the Scarborough Literature Festival last year.

It's essentially about the debunking of mediums, fortune tellers and other pedlars of 'woo'.

The story is told through the eyes of various people. Famous (fictional) psychic Gabriel Lafayette is pivotal to the plot, as is investigative journalist Jack Parlabane.

Keeping secrets leads to a couple of deaths. There are some violent moments but plenty of humour too.

It's not easy to say much else without spoiling the plot (especially as many things aren't quite what they seem to be), but it's a book I can heartily recommend as being a very good, clever and interesting read.

Bounder!: The Biography of Terry-Thomas
by Graham McCann

Graham McCann does a decent job in his study of the life and death of Terry-Thomas.

I didn't know much about his background but this book fills in a lot of the gaps.

T-T was apparently never out of character; what you saw on the screen was exactly what he was like in real life. He even had designer underpants, which he changed three times a day.

His shocking decline and death from Parkinson's disease is well covered. When first diagnosed, he made a typically flippant joke about appearing on Michael P's chat show.

Two small criticisms:

1) It appears to be quite a long biography, but the last 100 or so pages are actually a combination of notes to the main text and a list of his TV and film appearances.

2) On occasion, several pages are devoted to script extracts, thus diluting the main text further.

I'd rather have read a lot more about the actual life of T-T. The listings and quotes are available elsewhere.

Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile read and it certainly whets the appetite for watching out for reruns of his films.


Anonymous said...

I'd say the Terry-Thomas biography is actually a more impressive work - the notes are evidence of how thorough the research has been - whether anyone wants to read through them all is another matter, but it seems unfair to complain that because every single fact has a source it takes up space! Isn't that scholarship? (Otherwise: great blog!)

Sean Marsh said...

It's a good book, to be sure...lots of others didn't make my 'top 5'list! I take your points, but I'd still rather see all of those pages used up by prose rather than lists.

However, my criticisms were only minor and I'm pleased that T-T was chosen for a new biography.

I wrote a bit more about him here: