Friday, 26 September 2014

East London Suffragettes - Sarah Jackson and Rosemary Taylor

'To many respectable middle- and upper-class Londoners in the late 1800s and early 1900s , the East End seemed to be at once on their doorstep, and a kind of foreign country.

Well. As you can probably guess, this book does what it says on the tin: gives you a nice bit of history about what a shithole East London was, and shows you how change came along out of the poverty and people started getting fighty and angry and shit. All for the greater good. Lovely stuff. People's Army, mate.

It focuses on our pal Sylvia Pankhurst, but also on some of the lesser names of early feminists, men and women. A nice little collection of total babes.

It was (unintentionally, I think) quite hilarious in places - something that particularly stood out to me was what an enormous fucking joke the British police were back in the day. For example, the police are after Sylvia Pankhurst so go and wait outside wherever she's just popped in. Out comes matey wearing Sylv's hat and coat and the police nick her. Fucking incredible! All women look the same but for hats and coats!

However, the book on the whole is a bit of a mixed bag. Although I loved a lot of the tales in the book I didn't find it to be particularly well written or engaging. In fact, most of the writing could fuck right off in favour of the snippets from the papers and the eyewitness bits and pieces. They were ace.

Recommended if you already love the Suffragettes and their stories and need another to add to your collection. Otherwise, maybe go down the library and have a root round for something a bit less dry.

Friday, 19 September 2014

How To Be A Public Author - Francis Plug

'Bookish folk aren't what they used to be. Introverted, reserved, studious. There was a time when bookish folk would steer clear of trendy bars, dinner occasions and gatherings.'

Right, first off, this book is not by Francis Plug. Francis Plug doesn't exist. If you do read this review and then buy the book and read it you will understand what a horrible tragedy that is, but for now just know it and also know that it was actually written by someone named Paul. Paul Ewen. I don't know how you're supposed to fucking list book like this, do I.

Anyway. Francis Plug has observed that to be an author these days is not what it once was. You're expected to do talks and signings and appear at festivals and all manor of tedious bullshit that traditionally authors probably weren't very good at because they were all recluses and tortured artists and that kind of thing. Oh, and drinkers. Big, big drinkers.

So Francis Plug decides to go out and find and observe a few modern authors. He attends events of Man Booker Prize winners and gets them to sign a book. He needs to do this cos he's going to win the Man Booker Prize next year, obvs. He tries to have a chat with some of the authors. Some chats are much more successful than others.

This book is fucking hilarious. Francis Plug is my absolute dream man, no question about it. He's a fucking disaster. I love him. He's incredibly funny and sharp and a total babe. Combining Plug with the 'personalities' of each writer encountered in the book is genius and makes for a really fun, really page-turning read.

Recommended if you want a My Uncle Oswald-esque set up of the book celebs of today being sought after by a mad drunken wanker gardener/author as he tries to take and learn from them the secrets of how to be a modern, public author.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Beauty - Aliya Whiteley

'... There are signs of change, of regeneration, and I saw the first mushroom in the graveyard on the morning after I ripped up the photograph of my mother's face and threw the piece over the cliff, ...'

A group of men have settled somewhere in the woods. There are no women. Every night these men sit round and listen to your man Nate tell stories, like the good old days when all people had were stories that went from mouth to mouth to brain to settle. A simpler time.

But something in the woods is listening in as well. And as these lads sit about telling there stories, some weird mushroom like creatures are growing under the ground and will soon be a much more involved and hands on part of their lives.

Right, no point in beating around the bush. This book is fucking incredible. It is unlike anything I've read before. What you've got is basically a fairy or folk tale but like the fucking good old folk tales that are so completely fucked up and dark that they hang about in your head forever after you've finished them. Smash in a bit of fantasy and a bit of feminism and a dash of sci fi and you've got yourself a story.

It is a short book that packs a fucking huge punch. It is about love and loss and moving on and forwards and learning to live again. It is about being frightened and wanting to be loved and safe. It is also so fucking deliciously fucked up that I could squeal with delight. If it doesn't make my top ten at the end of the year I will be very surprised indeed.

Recommended if you want a short but beautifully written eerie piece of fiction that will knock your fucking socks off.

Adventures in Stationery - James Ward

'I grew up in Worcester Park, a small town in Surrey, As a child, I would regularly visit Fowlers, an independent stationer on the high street.'

James Ward is a bit of a nerd, and in his first book (which is about stationery, in case you couldn't guess) he waxes lyrical about the excitement and wonder at his youth spent in stationers getting a hard on (not literally, correct me if I'm wrong, James) over all the pens and shit.

The book is split up in to sections about different kinds of stationery, where James kind of digresses after a bit and moves on to something else without you really noticing. It's very well written, witty, and full of funny anecdotes. A little delight.

You might think that a book about stationery might be a bit dry, and it is, in places. I didn't particularly enjoy all of the history of everything. I mean, fuck me, how can anyone care that much about paperclips? It takes all sorts. That being said, the book is constructed in such a way that you can easily skim the bits that are too much and get stuck in to the bits that you do give a fuck about.

For every bit that bored me a little but though there were about twenty facts and/or figures that I fucking loved. It is one of those that makes you feel nostalgic and comforted. Mmmm, paper. Mmmmm, notepads. Mmmm, tipex. Lovely.

Recommended if you'd like to read a factual and funny book about design, invention and 'boring' things made exciting.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Indigo - Clemens J. Setz

'Remember: It is fortunate that in certain cases we do not first send for the priest but instead for the doctor.'

It's not that long ago in the past and the world is in this mad epidemic where children make people violently headachey and sick and just really fucking unwell. Obviously, upon first reading the description of this I thought that was the natural response to children but it turns out it's not. Who knew, eh?

Anyway so you've got this man called Clemens who's trying to investigate what is going on and why. In following him around we see some cases of this 'Indigo' disease, and also get lots of pictures and newspaper clipping things and articles to highlight disease like this past and present.

Cutting through these episodes you have a fast forward into the future where an ex-Indigo child sees a piece about Clemens in the paper and decides to investigate what has happened in the years gone by.

This is an interesting book with an interesting idea and a bit of a fucked up story accompanied by loads of bits and pieces that drag up the weirdness of medical treatments and beliefs through history and that kind of thing. It's written and presented cleverly in a way that makes you think it could be real and you just missed all the news coverage in 2007.

Recommended if you like sinister sci fi and fiction presented as fact.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Belles & Whistles - Andrew Martin

'I practically grew up on a train, but my nominal base, in between journeys, was the city of York.'

Written by this man who you just know is an absolute fucking megababe, Belles & Whistles is the story and history of Britain's railways and the grand old trains that used to chug up and down them.

Now then, I went for lunch yesterday with some good pals of mine and one of them excitedly asked what I was reading (cos people are always doing that cos they think I read cool shit). When I said 'actually, I'm reading a book about trains' her eyes glazed over and she very quickly gave up on me. As a person, as well I think. Not just as a person who recommends books. More fool her, I say!

This book actually properly excited me. I think it was because your man Andrew is such a wonderful train nerd, but also I was excited because he was trying to recreate the past on the modern rail routes. And the old trains, yeah, they were the dogs bollocks. Proper luxury. Well exciting.

We get taken through was it and what was and then back again, and it's a bloody good journey (ha) with a lot of scenery (haaaa) and a few station stops along the way (I'm fucking guffawing over here.)

Recommended if you want to read about a great British institution, a cracking bit of history, and an exciting time when the trains didn't all stink of piss and shame and fear. A right good read. Like a nerdy cuddle in a book.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The King and The Slave - Tim Leach

'The only city the Messegetae can believe in is the one that comes and goes in the passing of a single day, when two tribes chance to meet at a good grazing ground.'

So we're back in the day when every fucker was in a tribe and other tribes were all foreign and weird and a bit frightening but as a general rule it was okay cos you thought your tribe kicked fuck out of all the others. Patriotic. These armies/tribes/whatever are marching about and trying to sort their shit out. The lot that we're watching is headed by a King who is advised by his slave. (see title. Clever.)

This is a historical adventure story, but it's one that is all clever and a bit sensible and literary. Which is fine but personally I prefer the trashy hisfic with fucking loads of fight scenes and fewer feelings and thinking.

It is very nicely written, though, and if you like your history with spears and morals and all of that kind of shit then it will be right up your street. It's a good story with some life lessons and some oldy-worldy challenges to be overcome.

Recommended if you like clever and thoughtful books and history. And kings. And slaves. Basically look at the cover. If you like they cover you'll probs like the book.