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An Encyclopaedia of Myself [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Meades
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description


‘A symphonic poem about postwar England and Englishness … A masterpiece’ Financial Times

The 1950s were not grey. In Jonathan Meades’s detailed, petit-point memoir they are luridly polychromatic. They were peopled by embittered grotesques, bogus majors, vicious spinsters, reckless bohos, pompous boors, drunks, suicides. Death went dogging everywhere. Salisbury had two industries: God and the Cold War. For the child, delight is to be found everywhere – in the intense observation of adult frailties, in landscapes and prepubescent sex, in calligraphy and in rivers.

This memoir is an engrossing portrait of a disappeared provincial England, a time and place unpeeled with gruesome relish.

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‘Meades [is] an original in the best sense of combining deep knowledge and keen observation with a genuinely individual viewpoint … The richness of vocabulary is as pleasurable as his honesty is bald … The era is wonderfully reconstructed, the words so impastoed that everywhere you can feel the grain of times … By far the best picture of the 1950s I have read’ George Walden, The Times

‘If this book is thought of less as a memoir than as a symphonic poem about postwar England and Englishness – well, then it is a masterpiece … Meades is a sort of apocalyptic John Betjeman, and the descriptions here rank with the late poet laureate’s eye for detail and nose for nostalgia’ Roger Lewis, Financial Times

‘A vivid and sometimes haunting portrait of a lost England … Seldom has the suffocating sense of self-absorption of the siblingless, of loneliness and boredom and of precocity, imagination and alienation, been more powerfully illustrated … Every page bristles with informed analysis and cogent argument’ Andrew Anthony, Observer

‘A dazzling confection of grown-up sophistication and schoolboy intensity of feeling. Meades may be pushing 70 years old, but like a more literate William Brown or an angrier Nigel Molesworth, he is still energetically kicking at everything that comes his way’ Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

‘A brilliant stylist; he seldom writes a boring sentence’ Lynn Barber, Sunday Times

‘This book is a riot … [Meades] writes with such force and originality … Meades is already a cult. This book will make him more so. It is a true literary achievement, and one's only regret is that a sequel is not already at hand to be read straight away’ Simon Heffer, Literary Review

‘[Meades] vividly conjures a vanished world … I loved this book. Meades is a very great prose stylist, with a dandy’s delight in the sound and feel of words, and we are lucky to have him’ Ian Thomson, The Spectator

About the Author

Jonathan Meades’s most recent book ‘Museum Without Walls’ was selected as a book of the year by seven critics. He has since published a box of photos in postcard form, ‘Pidgin Snaps’. His new films ‘Concrete Poetry’ are in praise of brutalist architecture and will be transmitted on BBC4 in March 2014.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2942 KB
  • Print Length: 353 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (8 May 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GQV1R8Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #49,623 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Douglas
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable portrait of a certain social milieu, and their rackety lives in the aftermath and shadow of war, both second and cold. The prejudices and social affectations, along with the characteristic silences and inferences are precisely described. Anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s will recognise much in echo, and it will perhaps reinforce just how much has changed in Britain, and how much had to change. But this book is not a condemnation, so much as a love letter, if not for the social decay and dilapidation it describes, then for those who endured the perennial dislocation of life in post-war Britain. Meades dismisses the Great War epitaph 'their names liveth for evermore' but he reminds us of a past we had almost forgotten by remembering it differently than it was. It is a personal account, but the characters are composites of recognisable members of my own family and background. Not exactly a trip down memory lane, but a vivid reminder of times I had hoped were long forgotten. And all the more bracing and affecting for that.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One terrified minor and a host of bogus Majors 20 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you have been a fan of Jonathan Meades' telly essays or, better by far, his forays into fiction, this book is a must have. A memoir of his childhood in 1950s Salisbury, it constitutes a vivid, belligerently autodidactic vision of a vanished provincial England and the vanished child that grew to be Jonathan Meades in it. Picaresque tales of Mr Thick the drowner jostle with accounts of Porton Down boffins and dubious garage owners, all the while showing how Jonathan Meades became the actually rather frightening figure he is today. Militant materialist atheism and a strain of seeming cruelty that sees him mock his Mother even when she descends into the clutches of dementia suggest that his infant terror of decline and death persist unabated. That he is too clear eyed to dissemble at such revelations does him credit, though it may leave some readers wondering at his lack of humanitarianism. His style, as ever, is ostentatious, witty and determinedly idiosyncratic.

For those who don't know Meades, don't start here. Perhaps try short story collection Filthy English first, else his 'sleaze epic' novel Pompey. Like those as much as I do and you'll be back.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Recede Into Legend 15 Jun. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Fifties were an interesting time. Though as we cannot pick the decade of our birth this was more by luck than judgement. Meades is five years ahead of me but I too remember the half-worlds of former officers, less than modern plumbing and sanitation, parents attempting to join in the current social set and the joys of Punch and Judy toothpaste. Much as I chuckled at Meades's barmy uncles I did have the horrid thought that I may appear this way to my own six nephews. As a recreation of a childhood in that period this is a wonderful book whether it will appeal to the wacky kids of today is a different matter. It seems so very alien now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderfully atmospheric 12 Jun. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
the first two pages or so were slightly over-blown and off-putting. but persevere! it ranks among other classic memoirs (eg George Gissing's; Dylan Thomas's). the atmosphere and attitudes of the 50's in 'small' middle and working class england are captured brilliantly. I gasped and laughed out loud with the authenticity and forgotten familiarity of some anecdotes and passages. if younger people and historians want to know what it was really like in mono-cultural, post-war england, then they should use this as their vade mecum.
although it still has the ascerbic wit and clarity Jonathan Meades is renowned for, its warmth and appreciation of a lost world shines through.

I will re-read this many times and want to buy a hard back copy to keep on my bookshelves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so good, unfortunately 1 July 2015
By Tiger
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I like a lot of Meades's programmes and journalism - "Museum without walls" is a fantastic collection - but I pretty much hated this one! It's essentially his version of growing up in the 1950s, and whilst the hypocrisy and depressed stupidity of many of the adults and his peers is a fair target, that he hits every time (examples of his own super-human cleverness and writerly agility are provided throughout), it's also a laboured tale of a seriously uninteresting and uneventful childhood. Almost all of his stories of things that happened to him pivot on the discovery of something that is inferior to him, or an observation of some human failing that he appears to be immune to. I thought it was showy, cynical, selective, careless, self-obsessed, gratuitously self-important, but overall a really uncharitable book. If you feel part of his club, or are entertained by sneering cynicism you might enjoy this book, but some of the positive views seem to be suggesting this book is more than this - I don't think it is - and they led me to disappointment. The bits about rock and roll are good, and he's obviously correct about the ignorance and carelessness among the supposed guardians of our cultural heritage but I can email you the page numbers if you want to fast forward to these bits.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Meades Over Britain 8 Sept. 2015
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Before reading this book arm yourself with a note pad and pen. Mr Meades is a wordsmith and almost every page will throw up some word that will need looking up in a dictionary. These words are not used as an affectation or to bamboozle the reader but add another short hand layer of description to these excellent memoirs. As a child of 1953 I can at least relate in a small way to the world that Mr Meades describes and have an understanding of the society and its ways that these memoirs are based upon.
It helps to read it in the voice of Mr Meades. Those who have seen his television programmes will be familiar with the unique delivery although occasionally the text fell into Alan Bennett mode.
The pains and complexities of a child growing up in an adult world, and eventually becoming an adult, are described with great detail and provide a unique viewpoint on that era.
I was pleased to read that the pathway of Mr Meades life had crossed that of Mr Ian Nairn as they have similar outlooks on society and they way that buildings and infrastructure can affect the lives of those that live in them.
An enjoyable book.
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