2022 minus 22: Ten [more] books on my shelf

Posted: 10 December 2021 in 2022 minus, personal, ten things
Tags: , ,

This is effectively part two of this mini-run; part one’s here.

I have a bookcase. It looks like this.

Now, the eagle eyed among you will spot that there are little rectangular cells in which there are lots of books.

There are fifteen or eighteen of them, depending on how you measure them. (The book case/shelves are actually two, screwed. together. But yeah, that’s what gives the ‘middle’ bit its own cells.)

You can see even from a brief look that the bottom half has mostly comics.

But yeah, there are various ‘cells’ of books. Some of them are even put together; the middle cell, the one with the white book just poking out is full of Irving Wallace novels and David Morrell novels; two of my favourite authors.

But yeah. There are my books. And, just for the hell of it and for no better reason than why the hell not?, I’m going to take the next three Fridays, identify thirty books on my shelves, ten books ten ‘cells’, each week. There will obviously be more than one book from several ‘cells’ by the end, but hey my bookshelves are chaotic, why shouldn’t this be equally so?

(I’m limiting it to three weeks before Christmas, since the fourth week in December will be Christmas Eve, and I have a plan for that day. There’ll be more about what’s happening to the blog in 2022 soon enough.)

Now, since comics collected in trade paperbacks are, obviously a lot thinner in the main than hardbacks or paperback novels or non-fiction, that may be a bit unfair to the comics. So, if I think that is the case, after three weeks, I’ll do another ten trades afterwards. We’ll see,

Two rules before we start.

  1. I own many, many more books and comics’ trades than are shown on these two shelves. They’re just what I have up now. The rest are in various boxes, and indeed there are two piles of books you can’t see, some of which are books I’ve read and just haven’t replaced on the shelves, and some of which are my ‘still to be read at some point…’
  2. The usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things I like… at the time of writing, or in this case ten books I’ve picked. Another week could be ten others, and in fact will be.

Oh, and 3. (Yeah, I know but it’s not a rule as such: I’m going to be bouncing around the shelves.)

Let’s start with the ‘Jewish’ cell and get it out of the way.

The Complete Artscroll Machzor

Yeah, I’m not going to go for the ‘who wrote this’ gag with this. Mainly I’ve included it today because I’m tired and nothing says ‘Yom Kippur’ to me like the memories of falling asleep in synagogue during the long afternoon session, when the end of the fast isn’t close enough to look forward to, but the novelty of being in shul has long ago worn off. You’ll see that I have books from various publishers, and they each have their charms and each have their drawbacks. The Artscroll ‘commentaries in English’ are – to my mind – a lot better written, and the Hebrew is typeset in a more modern, and easier to read, font. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

The Word – Irving Wallace

I went through a phase a long time back when Wallace was my favourite author; I’m got pretty much all of his novels, and you’re going to see another one in a minute. I picked this one though because although it’s fairly typical Wallace – an involved plot, half a dozen main characters all of which are ‘real’ people to the reader with all their wonders and flaws, and an involved plot with great, realistic, dialogue… this novel contains what must be the most pedestrian written sex scene he ever wrote.

I mean, he’s had sex scenes in other novels, and I guess they’re ok – none stand out as particularly memorably good nor bad – but this one? THIS ONE reads like he submitted the novel, then the agent and publishers read it, then they all looked at each other and said, ‘you know what it needs? A sex scene… right…. here.‘ So he wrote one, right there. In the room. In front of them.

It doesn’t ruin the book but it’s the only passage in any of his books that when I come to it (no pun intended) I skip three or four pages and pick up the story again when they’re laying in bed afterwards.

Anyway, the story itself is about an PR exec who gets a chance to be publicist for a new edition of the bible… including a newly discovered gospel. Except it’s not that simple, is it? No, of course not. They made an eight hour miniseries of it in 1978 with David Janssen and Ron Moody. and it wasn’t half bad. Not great, but not half bad.

The Man – Irving Wallace

And here it is: my favourite novel, bar none.

I’ve lots of novels I like, and lots of novels I’m happy to reread. You can see in the photo the name of another favourite novelist. But yeah, The Man is a novel I’ve loved from the moment I picked it up.

Set in the late 1960s (the novel was written in 1969), the Vice-President of the United States is dead by a heart attack as the novel starts. No big deal, the US has been without a VP at several times in its history. Then the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives die in an accident. (A building in post-war Berlin collapses during a summit.) The President pro-tem of the Senate, a man only given the mostly nondescript (as far as the populace is concerned) position to appease a section of the electorate, is catapulted into the White House. The kicker comes at the end of the first chapter as the Chief Justice wishes him well “as the first Negro President of the United States of America.” And all hell breaks loose.

The novel was written, as I say, in 1969, and end up with him being impeached and being tried on the impeachment articles… three of which are or could be seen as racially motivated and one which is most definitely an attack on the Presidency itself.

There’s an interesting apocryphal story (the truth or not of which I have no idea) that in winter 1973/spring 1974 sales of the book skyrocketed… because staffers in Washington were buying the book because it laid out in forensic detail exactly how you impeach a President… the prior example (referred to in the book a lot) was, after all, 100 years earlier…

I, Claudius – Robert Graves

Like many who’ve read the book, I first came across the story of Claudius watching the BBC adaptation starring Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Brian Blessed (Augustus), Sian Williams (Livia) and John Hurt (Caligula).

In fact I so loved the show that whenever I refer to it on Twitter, it’s usually as I, CLAVDIVS, as that’s how the opening titles looked to me as a kid.

The book is an odd beast to read afterwards, to be honest. It’s a thick tome; some 800+ pages. It’s actually two novels: I, Claudius and Claudius The God, and the execution of the prose never quite matches the glory of the plot, which is – put simply – the life of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known to history as The Emperor Claudius. It starts not long before he was born and continues (briefly) after his death. The books’ conceit is that they’re his autobiography, which he writes and hides to be discovered a millennium later.

And dammit, the conceit works; while the various adaptations are of necessity presented as third person (with first person narration), this works best as first person.

Talking of adaptations, by the way, as well as the BBC tv adaptation, there’s a BBC Radio 4 adaptation with Tom Goodman Hill (Claudius), Derek Jacobi, yes, Derek Jacobi (Augustus) and Harriet Walter (Livia) and the latter in particular is as good as the tv adaptation.

There was intended to be a 1937 movie adaptation with Charles Laughton (Claudius) and Merle Oberon, Flora Robson, Emlyn Williams andRobert Newton. It never happened but the documentary about why and the aborted movie it is amazing: The Epic That Never Was.

But yeah, the book is one of those you get sucked into, and damn, the plot makes the Corleones and Sopranos like the picture of good family health.

The Long Johns – John Bird and John Fortune

If you’ve seen my Saturday Smiles, you’ll be used to seeing The Two Johns, two middle-aged fellas conducting mock interviews, one of them usually as “George Parr”, who takes every role necessary from Admiral of the Fleet to Head of The Post Office to a policy advisor in Number Ten Downing Street. When broadcast, they were originally around 6 or 7 minutes long. But the original scripts were about 12 minutes’ long. And these are those scripts.

It’s a crying shame that in the early days they were edited down for broadcast. As their popularity grew, the producers were smart enough to leave more and more in. The final few years, they were broadcast in their entirety and were much the better for it.

Fortune and Bird were satirists of the highest calibre and show it time and time again in these scripts. There’s sweat in every line, not a word is wasted. Every line makes a point. Yes, they’re funny as hell, but that’s not the point: it’s satire, pointing out truths with a rapier.

(There’s also a bit about how they wrote them, which as a writer I found entirely believable and sympathised greatly.) 

The side of a book – ???

Yeah, ok, that’s a bit unfair. It’s this book:

Three Fingers – Rich Koslowski

Every so often, somoene will ask on Twitter “what book do you have on your bookshelves that no-one else you know has?”

The answers are always distinguished by disagreement. Because of course if you’ve got a book on your bookshelf, odds are someone else you know also has it.

And the same applies to comic books.Many of the comic books I have on my shelves are also on the shelves of other people. I don’t know about this one though; I suspect very few have this one.

I came across it purely by chance; someone I know read it and told me, instructed me almost, to buy it, with the assurance that if I didn’t like it, they’d reimburse me for the purchase.

I started reading and thought, after a few pages, ‘yeah, I’m going to be asking for…’

Half a dozen pages later, I’d changed my mind. A few pages after that and I started thinking who I should recommend the book and make the same offer to.

Yes. It’s that good.

It’s a documentary. Kind of. It’s a documentary of an alternate world where cartoons exist as real ‘people’ and it’s about a secret ritual they have to undergo. Started by a Walt Disney analogue, who founded an entertainment empire based in the success of one “Ricky Rat”, his story and that of the ritual is told via interviews with “Buggy Bunny” and “Sly Vester Jr.” while others, including celebs, speak out against the rituals or even deny its very existence, with threats of litigation.

It’s clever, funny, sad, brutal, satirical… and you’ve never read anything like it.

The End Of The Party – Andrew Rawnsley

In the pic where I’ve highlighted The Long Johns, you’ll see a book on the right co-written by John Rentoul on the history of New Labour, written almost from a historical angle. (I picked it up after a Q&A about the tv series based on it.).

This book, written by one of the finest politics commentators of the past couple of decades, was published in 2010 and covers much of the same ground, as it’s about New Labour from Tony Blair’s second election win in 2001 through most of Gordon Brown’s tenure as PM. But it was being written during that period, by someone who knew everyone involved well.

It’s a detailed book and the prose is engaging. It’s not quite as taut as I’d like; at times Rawnsley’s insistence on the reader knowing every detail slows the momentum. But for those of us who lived through the time, it’s plot keeps you reading, desperate to see what happened next, and how. And knowing it in advance doesn’t hurt that process. Not at all.

One thing that both books (and the tv show) do: it surprises me again and again how my memories of the time were almost, but not quite, right. For example, I remember this thing happening at the same time as that thing, but they actually happened weeks apart. Or I remember this event happening after that event but the latter was a day or two before the former.

The Brethren – Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong

When I was studying the US political system at college, while I was interested in the Presidency and curious about Congress, it was the Supreme Court Of The United States that utterly fascinated me. (Again, in the Long Johns pic above, you can see a book entitled ‘Constitutional Law’, and it’s a text book about that subject, mainly about Supreme Court decisions.) The history and practices of both SCOTUS and its members are a rich tapestry with the more than occasional ‘knot’ to fuck everything up.

The Brethren covers the 1969-1976 terms of SCOTUS; a new Chief Justice replacing the giant that was Earl Warren, and several new Associate Justices appointed by Nixon and Ford. You get oral arguments, discussion between justices and the details of the compromises ordered and made in order to get a majority on the court. Andthe occasional stinging dissent. Cases covered in detail include Ali’s Vietnam case, the whole range of Watergate, and Roe v Wade. Yeah, it was a pretty momentous period.

The book uses the same process as previous Woodward books, with most things gleaned from public records and off the record briefings. After he died, Woodward and Armstrong confirmed that Justice Potter Stewart was their primary source inside the court.

It’s both a surprise and not, at the same time; Stewart doesn’t come out of many episodes covered with glory and more than a few times, his vanity and obstinacy speak nothing good of him.

If you’re even mildly interested in that period of history or SCOTUS in general, it’s definitely, very definitely, worth reading.

Marvel 1602 – Neil Gaiman

This is a fun, clever, take on Marvel’s characters… where you need to know almost nothing going in… but if you have a detailed knowledge of the history of the charge trust, you’ll have more fun.

It’s basically an eight issue What If..? What if… Marvel’s characters (at least those published before 1969, a personal choice by the author) were around in 1602, and mainly in England? The artwork is glorious, the story clever and Trent whole thing is more fun than it has any right to be.

I mean, Sir Nicholas Fury instead of Sir Francis Walsingham, Steven Strange instead of John Dee?

It’s fun.

The Griffin – Dan Vado

It’s unfair to describe this as “The Last Starfighter done right” but it’s also kind of accurate. Selfish, arrogant, teenage kid, acting up, storms out of his house, encounters an alien space craft looking for youngsters to fight in a war. They promise him glory and rewards. And superpowers. He goes for it, and goes with them.

Twenty years later he comes back for the ostensibly most perfectly understandable of reasons: he’s homesick. So he deserts. Twenty years of war has made him grown up a lot. But is it enough? He’s accompanied by his best friend, an alien. His family, everyone who knew him, thought he was dead. He has a new little brother who wasn’t born when he left.

His commanding officers are not happy. They come to get him.

Several questions are asked and answered: how will his family react? Does he still think of himself as human? And oh yeah, what makes him think he was the first human they recruited? Or the first human who deserted?

Definitely a story worth reading, and then rereading to see what you missed first time around.
Well, that was fun. See you next Friday for one last set of ten more.

If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday’s something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 approaching.

I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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