Posts Tagged ‘books’

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

And… no, wait.

Since you’re unlikely to be reading this third part without knowing what I’m doing, I’m going to skip most of the introduction and just get down to it. (The introduction in full is in both the previous parts one and two.)

The 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.)

Oh, and 4… (yes, yes) I’m breaking my own rules here since it’s the third part, and doing more than one book in three cases below, for what will be obvious reasons.

The Time Patrol – Poul Anderson

If there’s a better writer for clever, deceptively simple, time travel stories than Poul Anderson, I don’t know who he or she is. I’m a sucker for time travel stories, the paradoxes, the chance to draw your protagonists, your antagonists and your supporting cast from the whole of history… and even the whole ‘let’s fix what has gone wrong’. And Anderson is just so damn good at it. In There Will Be Time, another of his time travel books, he focuses in on two characters: one who travels and one who doesn’t.

Here he expands that, and while you have one main character, pretty much everyone involved is a time traveller of some sort, most belonging to the titular Time Patrol, founded by a less than altruistic group who set it up to ensure that the timeline that leads to them is the one that survives. Yet good can be done, and is done, by those who patrol the timelines, ensuring that gratuitous wars, deaths don’t occur but making sure the ones that did happen, erm, do. I kind of wish there were in real life the grammatical tenses developed so time travellers can talk to each other and still make sense.

This is a collection of short stories and they’re the very exemplar of how time travel stories should be written.
 
 

The Sandman – Neil Gaiman


The first of my ‘cheats’, as I’m including an entire run here – Neil’s astonishing run on The Sandman. (Oh, I do have the ‘missing volumes’ above, by the way; they’re just in a pile for me to reread.)

I’m not sure what I can say about The Sandman that hasn’t been said by wiser and smarter people who are better at wurds than me. It rewards rereading; there’s never something new I don’t get from it, but that’s not the sole reason I reread it. I enjoy knowing the characters I read will change as I read the full run, even those who won’t want to. And it’s fascinating every time, reading that change. And I can’t say better than that.
 
 

The Compleet Molesworth – Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

I read the original four books contained in this collection – Down with Skool!, How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms, Back in the Jug Agane – and yes I’m including both the writer and the artist since I find it impossible to think of Molesworth without picturing him (and his schoolmates and teachers). And you can thank Ronald Searle for that. (Oddly, I think I came across Searle first in sketches of young girls on ponies he did for a magazine. I digress.)

The conceit used in the books is glorious: a pre-teen – when it starts – kid at a minor public school, St Custards, writing about school, and suggesting how to succeed in life., The books are full of [deliberate] misspellings and are pure acnarchic nonsense. Wonderfully funny, clever as hell and just a pure wonder from start to finish. I can’t ever imagine having a bookshelf without Molesworth being there somewhere.

(They recently republished the long out of print origins of Molesworth, a series of pieces written during WWII. Less polished than the version that appears in the books, they’re still pretty wonderful. I recommend them for any Molesworth fan.)
 
 

The Fuse – Anthony Johnston and Justin Greenwood

Another cheat since I picked up the final trade only a month ago. Anthony’s fantastic, sf wonder, about police on a space station, where things aren’t as simple as they appear (of course) people have hidden agendas and the only thing you can trust is the information you’ve gleaned yourself, and the only person you can trust completely is yourself. And not always then.
 
 

Various kids’ books about Judiasm

I’m putting these in here just to prove that a) I am very old and b) I was a very studious child, a bit of a Jewish swot. These were prizes at cheder, Sunday School.

Oh, and one final amusing bit. The cover of the first book above, looks like this. I was genuinely pleased to have to do a double take when I started reading The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

I wonder why…


 
 

Anyway… moving on…

The Beatles Complete – The Beatles

I have no musical talent. None. I can pick out a tune on a keyboard and am intending, in the near future to learn to play the mouth organ. Which will be a test for both me and whoever’s the poor fool I take lessons from.

But this isn’t there for me to appreciate the music. Not really. It’s there because my late brother loved this book to play to, and to learn from. He did, as I’ve mentioned previously, play the guitar… with admittedly more enthusiasm than genuine talent. But he would crack this open fairly regularly, and pencil in the chords. And when he died and his widow asked me if I wanted anything from his shelves, this was one of the books I took to always remember him by.

 
 

Yossel, April 19, 1943 – Joe Kubert

Yossel is one of the odder comic books I own. Most comic books are printed on Matt or glossy paper. This is printed on thick paper that’s almost cardlike. Most comics are pencilled, then inked, then coloured. This is pencils only. And it’s incredible. It’s kind of a ‘What if…?’ written and drawn by Joe Kubert… as a ‘what if my parents hadn’t gotten out? What if I’d not gotten out?’

Out from what? Well…


Well, do I need to say more? 

Just buy it; although it’s only indirectly linked, I can’t imagine it not being next to The Plot (mentioned previously in this run) on my shelves.
 

The Political Animal – Jeremy Paxman

Paxman’s best book, by far, in my opinion. It’s a study not of British politics, but of British politicians: what makes them tick? Are there any similarities between politicians of wildly opposing viewpoints? Are there surprising similarities? How can politicians who believe such wildly different things be genuine friends? How does one become the sort of person who regards politics as a worthwhile endeavour. Many many perceptive observations are made, many compromises are identified, and many hypocrisies speared.

One lesson I’ve taken from it, when Paxman observes that only in politics and religion is it held and seen as a positive virtue to hold the same, unchanging, opinion for 20 or more years. And Paxman believes it’s for the same reason in both.
 
 

The Prize – Irving Wallace

It’s kind of tailor made for Wallace, this subject matter; a dozen people are awarded that year’s Nobel Prizes; most of them deserve them. But who they are and what they’ve done to justify their awards are very different creatures. Politics, personalities and people: all grist to Wallace’s clever plot. (They made a Paul Newman movie of the novel. It’s not a good movie. This is a very good book.)
 
 

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, Or, 2000 Years of Upper-class Idiots in Charge – John O’Farrell

Some years ago, I spent 27½ hours on an airplane, flying to Singapore, staying in the airport 6 hours and then flying back again. At the airport, I picked up a couple of books to read on the flight. This was one of them, and I laughed all the way through it. It’s a history book of Britain, from 55BC through 1945. O’Farrell goes for laughs throughout but never skimping on the basic facts. In some cases, far deeper than the mere basic facts. You’ll learn stuff from reading it, and the pen portraits he creates of the monarchs, the prime ministers and those surrounding both, are much fun. But mainly I remember it for the gags. There are many, many gags; I struggle to remember a book that made me laugh out loud so often while reading it.

Well, that was fun. Thirty Books in three Fridays. I may do it again next year. We’ll see.

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

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now more rapidly approaching.


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


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.

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.

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 count 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

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 andf 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.)

Oh, and just for fun, I’ll tell you the othere book I almost wrote about this week from that cell.

Let’s start with a goodie.

All I Ever Wrote – Ronnie Barker


 
There may be finer comedy writers in the field of sketch comedy than Ronnie Barker; I mean, I wouldn’t disagree if you offered John Finnemore as the finest sketch writer working today. And, let’s face it, Victoria Wood was about as good as they come. Further, there may have been comedy writers who lasted longer, or hit bigger audiences.

But for my mind, as a comedy writer up there with the very very best, for sketch writing, monologues and silent comedy, there’s no one to touch Ronnie Barker (or Gerald Wiley as he sometimes went by) at his peak. So much of The Two Ronnies greatest sketches were down to him. Four Candles alone puts him up there. The book should be just one to dip in and out of. It’s not. If I pick it up, I’m not putting it down for an hour. At least. Glorious, clever, funny comedy. No wonder I like it do much.
 
 

Thank You For Your Support (I’ll Wear It Always) – So many people


 
This is an odd one. After my brother died, his widow asked friends and family for reminiscences, for funny stories, for sad stories, about him. For tales about what it was like to know my brother Michael. And she then put them together in a book, which she offered for sale to benefit the Jewish Bereavement Service, who’d helped her so much in the aftermath of Mike’s tragic death. It’s a wonderful book but it’s one I can’t easily read, for obvious reasons. But it’s on my shelf (twice as it happens). It’ll never not be there.
 
 

Blackadder Scripts – Richard Curtis


 
Another book of scripts – you’ll see there are several.

I’m not the hugest fan of the first series of Blackadder, and I always thought it was becaiuse of the scripts and plots. Until I read the scripts, together with the other series’ scripts. The first series is just as as strong, just as clever, and in some ways actually cleverer comedy than the later shows, when they beacame reliant (overly reliant?) on catchphrases and self-referential gags. The first series is raw, unquestionably, but it’s truer to the oriugional idea, and the characters are not as set as they later became. And the first series – at least in script form – is all the better for it.

Which means, I guess, that it’s either the direction or the acting that hurts the first series. I dunno. But it’s probably the first time I read scripts and got a completely different take on something, that made me appreciate it more, than from watching it.
 
 

The Plot – Will Eisner


 
Will Eisner was the master of graphic storytelling, with a style that was entirely his own, that no one’s come close to topping. And while his earlier works — this was his last published work — are fantastic, it’s this book that for me hits home the hardest.

A matderly examination of, and destruction of, the myth, the hoax, the scam, that was the Protocols of the Lerarned Elders of Zion. Eisner shows, from and by his research, how they were created for reasons of politcial bullshit, how the bullshit was promoted, and how the bullshit was defended, and how it was shown to be unfettered, unresereved, unmitigated bullshit. And then how the bullshit goes on. And on. And on.

Superb and I’d recommend it to all without a moment’s hesitation.
 
 

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman


 
It’s hard to pick a favourite from these, especially since there’s my favourite ever novel there on the far right, and the wonderful whimsical satire of Alan Coren up there as well, but it comes down to Neverwhere; it always comes down to Neverwhere.

Let’s be fair, there’s never going to be a bookshelf of mine without a selection of Nei;’s writings. (I’ve always considered it incredibly fortunate that I discovered Neil’s writings, and discovered my enjoyment of them, before he became a friend.)

But yeah, Neverwhere. It’s my favourite of Neil’s novels, and while there’s very little he’s written I’ve not liked (reminder: not liking something isn’t the same as disliking), there is some, occasionally, Neverwhere soars above everything else for me. And I love this edition with Chris Riddell’s glorious art.

I remain very grateful that Neil’s never put me into that world, as a completely stoned budgerigar, referred to all in London Below by the name High Barnet(t).
 
 

Sandman Overture – Neil Gaiman


 
I didn’t mean to do this, honest — the order of the ‘cells’ was chosen randomly — but yeah, another of Neil’s. I love Sandman as a series, and it’d be tough to pick a favourite story arc; I’ve two or three definites that’d fight it out. But I’m picking Overture for three simple reasons.

  1. After so long away from the characters, it remains a delight to me that the characters managed to evolve while Neil was telling a story of the past.
  2. I was fortunate enough to read the first issue before it was published and I suspect my reaction of “AND…? What happens NEXT?” was exactly what Neil wanted.
  3. The book itself was a gift from my ex-wife who saw it, bought it for me out of sheer wonderful friendship, and because she knew I’d like it. I’m sure that somewhere in Sandman there’s a lesson to be learned about valuing the people you care about and who care about you. (Maybe in A Game of You?) I’m very grateful that Laura and I remain friends, and the closest of friends at that.

No surprise that future ‘ten books’ will always include something by Neil…
 
 

Chumash – Well, I don’t know


 
Well, who the hell would you say wrote it, be fair? The “Jewish’ shelf. The cell that conatins not all but most of the jewish texts I have, as well as my tallit and a coupel of kippahs. Not a lot to say about this cell other than my god, the memories… the memories.
 
 

Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud


 
Many years ago, there was a series of “The Bluffer’s Guide to…” Ostensibly writen for the uninformed, on a variety of subjects, the unspoken secret of the books’ success was that they were actually written for people who knew the subject matter very well indeed; I remember doubling over with laughter at the gags in the accountancy one.

This isn’t one of those books. It’s written for both the comics insider and the comics outsider, for those who write, draw and prodiuce comics… and for those who’ve barely even seen a comic in 20 years.

Writing the history of comics and an instruction manual that doesn’t feel like an instruction manial, and a text book that doesn’t feel like a textbook, and a slew of examples that actually move a story forward should have been an impossible task. McCloud manages it in style and I’d recomend this for anyone with even the faintest curiosity about or interest in comics.
 
 

Jews Don’t Count – David Baddiel


 
What the hell can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said better and by more distinguished people? It’s been described as a polemic but I don’t think that’s true. Not really. To me, that implies ranting and there’s none here. There’s a very, sure. And upset. And irritation and frustration in equal measure. But this is calmly angry, a cold burning at the injustice revealed.

(There’ll be a full review of this before the year end but I need to reread it a couple of times before that).

David takes as his basis for the book the idea, the well-proven and eqaully well evidenced concept, that prejudice against one minority, against jews, that anti-Jewish bigotry, that antisemitism, seems to be left out of the ‘oh, I’m an anti-racist, me‘ area of progressive politics. Casual antisemitism continues to infect the public arena and antisemites are welcomed by people into that sphere, into that sphere, as if their antisemitism is less disqualifying than bad breath or acne. People accept, and indeed have no problem with, antisemitic discourse and overt (as well as covert) antisemitism as either unimportant or, perhaps equally insidiously, as ‘a price worth paying’ in a way that other racism simply would not be accepted.

It’s a clever, suprisingly funy given the subject material, devastating book that everyone should read. Everyone… especially those who hold themselves out as part of that progressive politics strain but who think jews just make too much a fuss, y’know…?
 
 

The Brotherhood of the Rose – David Morrell


 
While my favourite novel remains The Man by Irving Wallace — there’s a hardback first edition 50th birthday present elsewhere on the shelves — this novel, by David Morrell is simply wonderful and is almost falling apart from having been reread so many times . The first of a trilogy, it was the first time I’d come across the combination of intelligent spy noivel and action thriller. Most spy novels have one or the other. This one had both. And I was hooked instantly.
 
 
Well, that was fun. See you next Friday for ten more.


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


See you tomorrow, with… 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.

The write stuff

Posted: 27 October 2011 in personal, skills, writing
Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing recently.

I’m about to be pretentious and precious, both at the same time. Now I know you can cope with me being one or the other, but if both at the same time is too much, feel free to entirely ignore this entry if you wish.

So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about writing.

Not merely considering writing as in “I think I’ll do some writing”, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about the mechanics and craft of writing. This was started off by me reviewing some old writings of mine, and some unfinished works. I’d started making some notes on the uncompleted work when – as so often happens – I found my mind going off in various directions, and I found myself effectively scribbling down lines that were almost a philosophy of writing. Now, it could be said that I’m being, as I suggested earlier, both pretentious and precious, but what the hell. When has that ever stopped me ?

It strikes me that there are two things that I’m trying to get the reader to do when they read something I’ve written. The first is that when you’re writing a story, the whole point (other than telling the tale you wish) is to get the reader to read the next word… or the next panel.. or the next line.

And despite my oft-stated belief writing for broadcast and writing for print are about as different as you can get, both are obviously an exercise in the creative tension of suspense.

As with broadcasting, when you’re trying to get someone to read or experience something you’ve written, everything comes down to a that simple aim: to get the reader to want to know… what happens next.

It was pointed out to me some time ago – and I sometimes find it a useful analogy when considering dialogue – to think of the analogy of table tennis.

Yes, table tennis.

What’s the hardest thing in table tennis? To get the ball over the net and on the table… ONE. MORE. TIME.

That’s what you’re aiming for when you want someone to read something you’ve written… to get them to read the next word/panel. And the next one. And the one after that.

The other thing, almost equally important (arguably more important if you’re more interested in the aesthetics of writing rather than getting people to read it) is to provoke an emotional response in the reader. And we’re back to the concept of a game again. If you provoke the reaction you want, you’ve won. If you provoke a different reaction, it’s certainly not a win, but arguably not entirely a loss. However, provoke no reaction – that’s a cold, hard defeat.

Fear, laughter, anger; it doesn’t matter the reaction you’re aiming for. If the reader reacts the way you as a writer wish the reader to, you’ve won. Simple as that. It’s important, though, to get the reader to feel involved with the story, which leads straight back to the point I made a moment ago: to get the reader to care about what happens next. If the reader doesn’t give a shit about the characters, then he won’t carry on reading, no matter whether or not an individual passage in the story provokes the reaction you want.

Lord of the Rings? Reputed to be one of the greatest books published in the 20th Century, yes? I read 100 pages and genuinely couldn’t give a shit what happened to the characters. So I stopped reading it.

First Among Equals? Complete trash, written by a hack. I was gripped right the way through the book, because I genuinely cared about what happened to these characters. And wanted to know what happened to them.

Some time ago, I started a second novel. I deliberately tried to change my previous style of writing, to concentrate on plot, to make every line have something happen in it. I knew going in that there was a danger I’d sacrifice the depth of character that I’d enjoyed writing previously, but that was a risk I was prepared to take.

I got 12,000 words through the story when I stopped, and offered what I’d written to some friends to read and comment upon.

One particular comment hit home, hard. Without doubt the slight sacrifice I thought I’d made in character depth was far deeper than I’d realised and as writers far more experienced than I know, poor plot will survive good characters easier and better than a good plot will survive poor characters.

So I need to do some more writing. And rewriting.

Because… writing is rewriting.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot as well.

Not just the sentiment but the simplicity of “doing it”.

Easy to say, harder to achieve.

More thinking required… as long as it leads to doing.