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John E. Davidson (Purley)

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Ashes 2005: The Full Story of the Test Series
Ashes 2005: The Full Story of the Test Series
by Gideon Haigh
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Good, 13 Dec 2005
My heart sank as I read the introduction to this book for it is simply a collection of Gideon Haigh’s match reports and articles from the Guardian, Cricinfo & Wisden Cricketer. In order to meet the publication deadline they are essentially untouched.
This gives the book some structural problems, for example for each test there is an overall match report before the day by day summaries and because the reports are drawn from a number of different sources there is some repetition and some odd digressions. Furthermore, given the rush to publish, there are, inevitably, mistakes: most egregiously, the upsetting assertion that Australia won the second test by two runs.
It is a tribute to Haigh’s qualities as a writer and journalist and the intrinsic appeal of the Ashes contest of 2005 that despite these problems this is actually a good book. Haigh writes well and is a knowledgeable cricket pundit; the book is full of interesting observations and funny moments. I suspect that in order to appreciate the book, the reader needs to be quite well versed in the nuances of cricket and have an appreciation of cricket history; this is a book for the genuine cricket fan, not someone with a passing interest.
The book does contain a quote from Haigh that, for me, sums up the series: “It wasn’t long before the Ashes of 2005 had become the best Ashes in recent memory; a little longer and it was one of the best in history; by its conclusion it was a Test match classic that will be talked about for as long as I live, which can be guaranteed, because I will be doing the talking if no one else cares to.” Haigh does not need to worry, there are many others, including me, who will be talking about it as well.

Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood into a Boom-town
Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood into a Boom-town
by Tom Shone
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good, 6 Dec 2005
Before I start of criticise, it should be noted that this is actually a rather good book. It is one of the best and most accessible books about film written in recent years; almost anybody with any interest in film of the last thirty years will find this book interesting and often entertaining.
The book is essentially a monologue (although Shone readily admits that it is the product of many conversations) expounding his thesis that blockbusters, starting with Jaws and Star Wars, saved Hollywood. Actually, it is not a particularly sophisticated thesis: he simply takes the opposite view to a very simplistic interpretation of the thesis expounded by Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that blockbusters killed Hollywood.
There is a good deal of Biskind baiting in the early chapters of his book (although Shone seems to lose interest in this as the book progresses) and Shone’s makes some interesting points. However, he invites comparison between the two books and these comparisons are inevitably unfavourable to Shone.
Although there are lots of good and interesting sections, overall the book is a bit of a mess and there are some odd things about it. Shone seems strangely distant from the subject matter in the sense that this feels like a book written by a cinema goer rather than somebody with real inside knowledge and insight. Often he simply repeats well-known or previously published anecdotes. There is much less insider gossip (than the Biskind book), which some readers may approve of, but it also means that the characters are flat and uninteresting. It is also rather confusing that he wants to have his common man cake and eat it with a side order of rather esoteric, post-modern film criticism. At times it reminded me of an intellectual undergraduate post-pub rant.
Perhaps the biggest problem Shone faced is that his subjects Lucas, Spielberg et al, are dull (deathly dull in comparison to the characters in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls). Many of them appear to have no interest other than making profitable movies; this does not make them interesting characters to read about.
One other thing bothered me: the seriously over laudatory praise verging on hyperbole, from a group of people I suspect are his friends, which adorned to book cover.
Despite all my issues with the book I still enjoyed it. It is an enjoyable and interesting read.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need To Talk About Kevin
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 5 Dec 2005
The story is well known (given the about of publicity that this book has received) - Kevin Khatchadourian killed seven of his fellow students along with a teacher and cafeteria worker shortly before his sixteenth birthday.

The book takes the form of a series of letters from his mother, Eva Khatchadourian to her husband, and Kevin's father, Franklin Plaskett about their life together and Kevin's upbringing. In these letters she attempts to make sense of this tragedy and determine her role in it.

The first half of the book is simply stunning. It is beautifully written in slightly arch prose; the prose as much as the sentiments expressed in the letters seems to capture Eva's character almost perfectly. Eva never liked Kevin; she considered her pregnancy an intrusion and never liked the child, even as a baby. She emerges as slightly unpleasant character (at the very least difficult): she can be selfish, cold and judgemental but she is by no means unsympathetic.

There is a lot going on in this complex book - the exploration of Eva's ambivalence to motherhood during her pregnancy and her lack of maternal feeling is beautifully handled. The use of the epistolary form is very successful. It allows Shriver to tell the story in a roughly chronological order while allowing scope for important digressions; furthermore the use of letters provides great insight into Eva. The approach also asks interesting questions of the reader, most importantly how reliable a narrator is Eva?

For me, the second half of the book is less successful. As the book progresses it becomes more plot driven and I felt that Shriver slightly lost her feel for Eva's voice; she ended up providing an absolute recounting of events rather than Eva's version. Furthermore, while Eva is a beautifully realised character all the other players are simply caricatures: Kevin is the epitome of passive aggressive evil, perfect child Celia merely a cipher and Franklin the dumb opposite to smart Eva. Another problem with the book is the hype that surrounds it - when dealing with Eva's feelings about motherhood it is completely successful but it is not an exploration of what drives schoolboy killers (to be honest the film comedy Heathers probably has more to say on that subject).

Despite all these reservations I still think that this is a fantastic book - beautifully crafted and totally gripping.

The Work Of The Director: Mark Romanek [DVD] [2005]
The Work Of The Director: Mark Romanek [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Mark Romanek

51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure trove of interesting music videos, 5 Dec 2005
I bought this DVD for one track/video: the remarkable and genuinely moving Hurt by Johnny Cash (a cover of a Nine Inch Nails track). It is a fantastic song and a fantastic video, made all the more poignant by the fact it was made so close to the end of his life. Believe the hype, it does transcend the genre. It is worth the price of the DVD on its own.
For me it is a bonus that this DVD includes a number of other fantastic videos. Romanek is a very innovative director and has made some very interesting videos with a wide range of interesting artists including the excellent Jay-Z track, 99 problems, the brilliant Fiona Apple track Criminal (which makes most other attempts at being a bad girl seem pitiful); the classic En Vogue Free Your Mind video.
Note that Romanek also directed the interesting movie, One Hour Photo, but this DVD concentrates on his music videos.
As the Amazon description does not provide a full track list, one is included here:
• Jay-Z: 99 Problems (Director’s Cut)
• Linkin Park: Faint
• Red Hot Chilli Peppers: Can’t Stop
• Johnny Cash: Hurt
• Audioslace: Conchise (Director’s Cut)
• No Doubt: Hella Good (Director’s Cut)
• Mick Jagger: God Gave Me Everything
• Janet Jackson: Got ‘til It’s Gone
• Fiona Apple: Criminal
• Nine Inch Nails: Perfect Drug
• Beck: Devil’s Haircut
• Weezer: El Scorcho (Director’s Cut)
• Eels: Novocaine for the Soul
• Sonic Youth: Little Trouble Girl
• Michael & Janet Jackson: Scream (Director’s Cut)
• Madonna: Bedtime Story
• R.E.M.: Strange Currencies
• G. Love & Special Sauce: Cold Beverage
• Nine Inch Nails: Closer (Director’s Cut)
• David Bowie: Jump They Say
• Madonna: Rain
• Lenny Kravitz: Are You Gonna Go My Way
• Keith Richards: Wicked as it Seems (Director’s Cut)
• En Vogue: Free Your Mind
• Kd lang: Constant Craving
The DVD also includes a documentary (really just a bunch of celebrities talking about Romanek and his work) and commentary about each video. The commentary is of mixed quality: there are some very interesting bits although it does occasionally veer towards the cringe making.
Overall, a very interesting offering.

Beyond A Boundary
Beyond A Boundary
by C. L. R. James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives up to its reputation, 30 Nov 2005
This review is from: Beyond A Boundary (Paperback)
Beyond a Boundary reached number 3 in the Observer Sport Monthly’s poll of the best fifty sports books of all time. It is burdened with enormous praise; amongst the quotes included on the cover are: ‘To say “the best cricket book ever written” is pifflingly inadequate praise’ and ‘Great claims have been made for [Beyond a Boundary] since its first appearance in 1963: that it is the greatest sports book ever written; that it brings the outsider a privileged insight into West Indian culture; that it is a severe examination of the colonial condition. All are true.’
The praise is justified. The only way that this is not the best cricket book ever written is if you do not consider it as a cricket book. It is beautifully crafted, transcending the genre: an engaging combination of cricket book, personal memoir and political and cultural commentary. There are other very good books about cricket but this is something more than that. It is a cricket book, a history book, a sociology book and more.
CLR James is a fascinating man: widely travelled, spending long periods in England and the USA as well as Trinidad, an important writer and journalist, a politically active Marxist, instrumental in getting Frank Worrell appointed captain of the West Indies team. The book covers a wide range of subjects including his childhood in Trinidad; great cricketers he has known and watched; Caribbean politics amongst others. For cricket lovers one of the beautiful things about the book is that James loves cricket, he appreciates it as an art form. He possesses the clarity of thought and the prose to convey this love and appreciation to the reader.
In places the book shows its age (it was written in 1963); it is very much of its time: a product of the anti-colonial struggle, and the emergence of West Indies cricket as a serious challenge to the domination of England and Australia. In some places events have overtaken some of his observations and some of the language jars. It is still a fantastic book – amazingly insightful and interesting.
This is a book that no genuine cricket lover should be without.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2008 3:49 PM BST

Down and Dirty Pictures
Down and Dirty Pictures
by Peter Biskind
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent follow up to Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 25 Nov 2005
In my opinion Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is the best book ever written about film and while this book never quite matches it, it is a very good book in its own right. It tackles the rise (and in Biskind’s view fall) of independent film making concentrating on Robert Redford (and the Sundance festival); Harvey and Bob Weinstein (and their company Mirimax) along with a host of film makers and actors including Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and many others along the way.
Told in much the same style as Easy Riders, Raging Bulls it is a wild mixture of serious comment and salacious gossip. Biskind writes beautifully, handling another huge topic with an enormous cast of characters deftly. He is assisted by the fact that many of the players and the films are already well-known to the reader but he has a wonderful talent for the one-line character profile (often a one-line character assassination) and he chooses his quotes well.
It is evitable given his larger than life personality and aggressive business practices that Harvey Weinstein comes to dominate the book in much the same way as the Weinstein brothers have dominated the independent film business. Harvey Weinstein is a fascinating although in many ways deeply repellent character – very aggressive, prone to outbursts of rage, guilty of some very dubious business practices, a man who will shaft someone just because he can – however he is responsible for some of the best films of recent years and at least he loves movies (unlike some of his competitors). In Biskind’s view he made the independent film business. Taking it out of its niche and finding a much wider audience but he is also responsible for corrupting it; as Mirimax increasingly became a studio with a more conservative attitude, eschewing rather than courting controversy, and an ever increasing reliance on stars. This has made life much more difficult for genuine independent film makers like John Sayles and Spike Lee who find it very difficult to get funding.
Absolutely fascinating, particularly if you are familiar with the films of the period (or if you want to be reassured that you do not have the worst boss in the world).

The Collection
The Collection
Price: £5.20

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to Steve Earle, 23 Nov 2005
This review is from: The Collection (Audio CD)
This is an excellent introduction to the music of Steve Earle. Steve Earle is an amazing musician who almost defies classification – he has his roots in country music but his work shows strong rock influences, particularly influenced by the blue collar rock of Bruce Springsteen (in fact this album includes a couple of Springsteen covers).
The album takes tracks from Earle’s first four albums (Guitar Town, Exit 0, Copperhead Road & The Hard Way) together with five live tracks from his live album Shut up and die like an Aviator. Personally I prefer later Earle (Jerusalem and El Corazon are probably my two favourite albums) but this is fantastic introduction to early Steve Earle. In some ways it is more country than some of his later work (although it is before his experiments with bluegrass) but it already shows strong rock influences and showcases his talent for storytelling though song.
If you are interested in finding out more about Steve Earle then I recommend his biography Hardcore Troubadour written by Lauren St John. Note that Earle has led a turbulent life and his life story is often tragic – it is an interesting book but it is not always an easy read.

Just An American Boy
Just An American Boy
Price: £10.49

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The great Steve Earle Live, 25 Oct 2005
This review is from: Just An American Boy (Audio CD)
This is an excellent live double CD - recorded in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq.
The majority of the album comes from his highly political album, Jerusalem together with a few classics from earlier albums (e.g. Guitar Town, Copperhead Road, Billy Austin, The Mountain and Christmas in Washington) and a couple of covers (Townes Van Zandt's Rex's Blues which segues into Earle's tribute to Townes Van Zandt, the Fort Worth Blues and a rousing version of Nick Lowe's What's so funny about peace and understanding).
The album is punctuated by Earle talking about himself and musing on the subjects of the day: the war in Iraq, the nature of patriotism and Republican attempts to limit free speech in the name of security, his opposition to the death penalty. Christmas in Washington opens with a long spiel about his heroes: men and women of conscience who have, in his opinion, done the right thing from Joan Baez to George Ryan, whose last act as the Governor of Illinois was to commute all the death sentences in the state.
For me the only, mild, disappointment on the album is 'I Remember You', one of my favourite tracks, which misses the vocals of Emmylou Harris and never reaches the heights of the album version.
If you are already an Earle fan then this would be an excellent addition to your collection; if you are unfamiliar with his work then this is not a bad place to start as it provides a good collection of his music and gives some insight into the man himself.
If you are interested in finding out more about Steve Earle then I recommend his biography Hardcore Troubadour written by Lauren St John. Note that Earle has led a turbulent life and his life story is often tragic - it is an interesting book but it is not always an easy read.

El Corazon
El Corazon
Price: £7.26

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Earle at his best, 25 Oct 2005
This review is from: El Corazon (Audio CD)
If you are a fan of Steve Earle then picking the best Steve Earle album is an almost impossibly difficult task but if this is not his best work then it is very, very close to it. Earle is a remarkable musician; although his roots are in country music his leftwing politics and strong influences from outside country music enable him to transcend the genre. This album, his third studio album after his incarceration and recovery from drug addiction, is a wonderful blend of rock, country, bluegrass and grunge held together by fierce revolutionary spirit.
The first and, I think, best song on the album is 'Christmas in Washington' which expresses his disillusionment with US politics as he calls on Woodie Guthrie to come back to us. The rest of the album is very good as well. It ends on another high-note (although a quiet minimalist one) - Fort Worth Blues a tribute to his mentor, the great Townes Van Zandt. In between there is, amongst other good tracks: Earle's experiment with grunge, NYC with the Supersuckers; a bluegrass tracks, I Still Carry You Around, in collaboration the Del McCoury Band; Taneytown, another example of his talent for storytelling through song enhanced by the supporting vocals of the incomparable Emmylou Harris.
Absolutely fantastic (even if you don't really like country music).
A final note: if you are interested in finding out more about Steve Earle then I recommend his biography Hardcore Troubadour written by Lauren St John. Note that Earle has led a turbulent life and his life story is often tragic - it is an interesting book but it is not always an easy read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2013 2:31 AM GMT

The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade
The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade
by Piers Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, 24 Oct 2005
Piers Morgan is undoubtedly smug and I have always found him rather irritating. However, this is an entertaining book and even though I was quite prejudiced against him, I found him surprisingly difficult to dislike.
The book is written in a diary format giving his perspective on the events of the last ten years (covering his time as editor of the News of the World and the Daily Mirror). It covers are Princess Diana's relationship with the media and her death; the war with Iraq (and the Mirror's strongly anti-war stance); New Labour and his relationship with Tony & Cherie Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell; his troubles with share dealing; his dealings with Rupert Murdoch, Kelvin McKenzie, Naomi Campbell, Jeremy Clarkson and other celebrities amongst many other topics.
Clearly his diary has been extensively edited to make it more readable but I would guess he has also taken the opportunity to portray himself in the best possible light and to make him appear almost prescient (he gives the impression that he has understood the full implications of important events almost instantly) while throwing in the odd, half-hearted attempt at self-deprecation in an attempt to make him appear more human and more likeable.
However, despite my reservations the book works; it is strangely addictive: once started it is very difficult to put down. It provides some interesting insight into events of the period together with some genuinely funny anecdotes.

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