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Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson
Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson
by Judy Oppenheimer
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly engrossing, 9 April 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Shirley Jackson(1916-1965) was a writer whose work includes the very famous short story "The Lottery" and the novels "The Haunting of Hil House" and "We have Always Lived in the Castle". She also wrote many lesser-known works of similarly high quality, and deserves to be much more widely-read than she is, imo.
The present volume(published in 1988) tells the life story of Mrs. Jackson, who was marked out as different from her earliest years. She was the daughter of a shallow, status-obsessed mother, whose disastrous attempts to mold Shirley in her own image led to a lifelong undercurrent of hostility between the two. From a young age Shirley spent long hours alone in her room, writing, and this habit intensified during her lonely adolescence. After flunking out of college she suffered some manner of breakdown, followed by months of depression. Eventually, she convinced her parents to let her go to Syracuse University to study writing.

Possibly the most important event in Jackson's life occured while she was at Syracuse; that is, meeting Stanley Hyman with whom she quickly began a relationship and later married. He was a literary critic, convinced of her genius, and with his encouragement she began to get stories published, culminating in fame or notoriety with the publication of "The Lottery".
Jackson was a prolific writer while also a dedicated, though unorthodox, mother to her four young children. Her deep neuroses were kept at bay by constant activity and the abuse of prescription drugs. She also smoked and drank heavily, and ate to excess, making her increasingly overweight.
In the six or so years before her death her mental state worsened as she became increasingly frightened to leave the house and was apparently morbidly fearful of the inhabitants of the small town to which she and her family had relocated. This fear is reflected in her last published novel "We Have Always Lived in the Castle". She was unable to leave the house for long periods, and unable to write.
At the time of her death she appeared to be overcoming her problems to some extent but unhealthy habits caught up with her, and she died of cardiac arrest at age 48.

This is the only real biography of Shirley Jackson in existence, as far as I know, so it is fortunate that it is a good and comprehensive one. One huge factor in this is the fact that all four of Shirley's children were forthcoming about their mother's life, as well as thoughtful and articulate. Also Shirley wrote a lot, documenting her existence from her teenage years to her late breakdown. It seems that the author has interviewed all available witnesses(Stanley Hyman had died five years after Shirley) and done all the research and what emerges is an utterly engrossing, transfixing tale of a woman haunted by her past, her insecurities, and her fear of the outside world, happy only when in the intimate confines of her home, or within the confines of her mind, from which she could compose the works of uncategorisable weird genius that helped her to exorcise her demons, for a time at least.

I have long been fascinated by the work of Shirley Jackson and this book is an absolutely spellbinding account of a unique and turbulent mind. I found it unputdownable and worthy of its subject. There is only one biography of Shirley Jackson, but there is no need of another.


If.... [1968] [DVD]
If.... [1968] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Malcolm McDowell
Price: £4.10

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, maybe three and a half, 6 April 2009
This review is from: If.... [1968] [DVD] (DVD)
"If" concerns an English public school and its oppresively conformist atmosphere. It centres on the character of Mick Travis(Malcolm MacDowell) whose disrespect for authority and tradition leads him into conflict with the prefects, or "whips". Apparently the whips are senior students but head whip guy Rowntree looked waaaaay too old to be a student. About thirty, I would have said, 26-27 at least. His manner was also far too "old" for the part. Quite offputting.

Most of the film aims(successfully) for realism but there are some scenes which clearly do not, like the scene in the cafe, what was that about? It changed the whole tone of the film.
A weakness in the script I felt was some of Mick's dialogue, which tended towards pretentiousness and pseudo-philosophical waffle and didn't reflect his character as shown by his actions and MacDowell's acting.
Furthermore, it was predictably one-sided and, dare I say it, simplistic in its "conformity is bad,rebellion is cool" message.

On the other hand it kept me interested for the 107 minutes and it is a good film, I just recommend you don't take it as seriously as it takes itself.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2010 10:01 AM BST


Sor's Method for the Spanish Guitar
Sor's Method for the Spanish Guitar
by Fernando Sor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.12

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic guitar method, 5 April 2009
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Ferdinand Sor(1778-1839) is among the most admired and influential composers for the classical guitar, though his name is unknown to most non-guitarists. Before Sor the guitar was not considered a classical instrument but his dedicated and professional approach, musicological knowledge and composing skill were major factors in changing perceptions of the guitar's possibilities. His Method is one of the most highly-regarded in the history of the instrument.

Sor's Method is, in this edition, 96 large-size pages. The first half of the book is a comprehensive exploration of Sor's style, techniques and theories on guitar playing. I was surprised to find that he advocated the use of only thumb and two fingers of the right hand, only using the ring finger in exceptional circumstances. This surprised me as many classical guitar players are somewhat dogmatic in their insistence on strict p-i-m-a fingering.
Another of Sor's most strongly-held opinions he sums up in the maxim: "Regard the effects of the music more than the praise as to skill as a performer", another idea that is not always subscribed to in modern-day classical circles. On many occasions throughout he rails against "ostentation of difficulty", apparently as common then as it is now.
Sor also gives direction(with the help of diagrams) on how a guitar should be built, how it should be held, posture, how it may be made to imitate other instruments, such as harp, left-hand fingering, and discusses the use of thirds and sixths to create harmony. The second half of the book is taken up by exercises corresponding to the text. There are many short practice pieces, many exercises on thirds and sixths, excerpts transcribed for guitar including one from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and a long one(12 pages) from Haydn's "The Creation", all rendered in standard notation, no tablature.

This is an impressive work from a man who knew his instrument inside out, who had made it his life's work, and had attained great skill as a composer and interpreter as well as a reasoned understanding of the guitar. He is careful to provide reasoning for all of his conclusions. Sor's Method is not a book for beginners as it demands some musicological knowledge and is, at times, quite demanding to read. This may be because of the translation used here, which is a nineteenth-century one. Perhaps there are more modern translations, I don't know. But in terms of content and attention to detail it cannot be faulted and it is the work of a master who understood completely the technical aspects of music but who was never content to accept standard practise where his reason suggested otherwise and who knew that the power of music could not be reduced to pure technique.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2011 9:06 AM GMT


Road Through the Wall
Road Through the Wall
by Shirley Jackson
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too good for general consumption, 26 Mar. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Road Through the Wall (Paperback)
This was Shirley Jackson's first novel, published in 1948, the year she made her breakthrough with the short story The Lottery, still one of the most anthologised stories in America and a work that sets out in condensed form Jackson's views of humanity, causing a considerable controversy on its initial publication.
Every one of Jackson's novels is excellent and in The Road through the Wall her style emerged pretty much fully formed, for a dark but compelling work. Most of Jackson's novels are seen through the eyes of a single character, always female, always isolated and with a tenuous grasp of reality(Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House is the classic example). The Road through the Wall is the exception as there is no central character, rather a quickly changing kaleidoscope of characters inhabiting Pepper Street, average American suburbia, where propriety is always maintained but a constant undercurrent of malice and dissatisfaction is detectable, in Jackson's distinctly misanthropic view. Harriet Merriam, an overweight teen dominated by her manipulative mother, and Miss Tyler, a fading spinster living with her sister and her husband(like Eleanor), both embody traits of the typical Jackson protagonist, but there are several other characters given equal space. Jackson's sympathy is with the misfits in Pepper Street society, especially Tod Donald, an awkward teen ignored by his peers and regarded with distaste by his family, but a key character, as it turns out.

This novel is vintage Jackson, which means that it is very good indeed. To try and sum up Jackson's style is difficult but to me her work seems something of a literary equivalent of the Doors song "People are Strange", if you get my meaning. Dark, cynical, always seeing beyond the facades worn by humans in respectable society and uncovering the savagery and petty spite beneath. There's no fooling her, she sees right through to humanity's dark heart and lays it bare in all its twisted ugliness. If that's not your bag, try something else.


The Early Blues Roots Of Led Zeppelin
The Early Blues Roots Of Led Zeppelin
Price: £7.33

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good selection of classic blues tracks, 20 Mar. 2009
This CD comprises 17 blues tracks from the 20's- 50's that influenced Led Zeppelin. In fact, many of these tracks were covered by them, though you wouldn't know that from the composer credits on Zep albums, ha, ha.

The tracks are well-chosen. There's Josh White's "Jesus gonna make up my dying bed", from the 30's, a surprisingly jaunty rendition of the track that Zeppelin redid as "In my Time of Dying"; Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault but mine", featuring some of his famous stinging slide guitar that influenced Jimmy Page's playing. The legendary Robert Johnson is represented by "Travelling Riverside Blues", more great slide guitar and a line famously appropriated by Zeppelin: "You can squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg". The original 1920's version of "When the Levee Breaks" by Memphis Minnie is also here.
There's also songs from the 1950's bluesman that Zeppelin would have seen at first hand like John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy(a great acoustic player, the riff in "Friends" on LZ III is very Broonzy-esque; here he's represented by his less powerful electric work) and three songs by Sonny Boy Williamson.

Blues music is an acquired taste, but anyone who likes Zeppelin(or the Stones or Bob Dylan or many others) can't help but be interested in this music that had such an effect on the great rock musicians of the 60's, and that was also the basis for 50's rock and roll, and this is an excellent collection and the sound quality is good. For me personally, though, I must admit that this is of mainly historical interest and, while it's not going to go onto my most played list, I'm glad I have it and would recommend it to those with an interest in rock music, and in discovering the roots of much of popular music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2013 1:39 PM BST


Russell Brand: Menage A Trois [DVD]
Russell Brand: Menage A Trois [DVD]
Dvd ~ Russell Brand
Offered by Champion Toys
Price: £11.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to write home about., 25 Feb. 2009
I received this box set as a present, I was not really a fan of Russell Brand but I had seen Ponderland on its original TV run and found it entertaining viewing. This 3 DVD set includes all six episodes of the aforementioned Ponderland and two live concerts from 2006 and 2007. These concerts are only slightly over an hour each, so it's not great value. OK, so there are a few token extras, but nothing of note.

As for the shows themselves, I was disappointed. They had no structure, no theme, no real jokes, just Russell talking about himself for an hour. In both shows there was a section where Russell read from the day's newspaper and commented on the stories, which shows just how stuck for material he was. The 2007 show was the better of the two, but not by much. There were a few funny moments, but basically he just relied on his manic energy and personality to do the work in lieu of material. The bits were often repetitive and relied on Russell's small repertoire of funny accents. The 2007 show also used a fair bit of material later recycled in Ponderland.

Had I bought this set myself, I would feel somewhat cheated by the fact that the two live performances could have easily gone onto one disc. It's just repackaged overstock, really. Ponderland at least had themed programs and evidence of research and pre-planning. It's worth a watch, but I wouldn't recommend the live sets: all preening and posturing and no substance whatsoever.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2011 9:39 AM GMT


The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
by George Grossmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant read, 24 Feb. 2009
The Diary of a Nobody tells in diary form the story of a certain Mr Pooter, clerk by profession and a man of no importance or interest. He is somewhat pompous, dull, and stuffy, with pretensions towards gentility but lacking in social skills and self-awareness. He is quite a ridiculous figure, and one who is taken advantage of by many who he is pleased to call his friends, and mocked by his juniors at work. Additionally, all tradesmen are his nemeses. As he sets this down in his diary, however, Mr. Pooter is often oblivious to his own foolishness and to the impression he creates in others, and in the reader.

Mr. Pooter's son Lupin is the main source of incident in his father's life. He is a youth of high spirits and little respect for his elders, including his father. Lupin undertakes a love affair with a young lady called Daisy Mutlar; he is desperately in love with this young lady , who seems to Mr. Pooter to be of no remarkable attraction or accomplishments. Concurrent with this torrid affair, Lupin finds and loses several jobs, joins an amateur dramatics club and speculates on the stock exchange with his father's money.

Though over 100 years old, this book is still funny for the modern reader. It was written with the contemporary audience in mind but the humour has not dated. As another reviewer noted, Mr Pooter is something of a 19th century David Brent. The style is notably uncluttered and unaffected. It is a short book(145 pages approx. in this edition) and extremely readable. From a relatively uneventful start, it gathers momentum with the arrival of Lupin. Pooter's character broadens somewhat to become a decent everyman, though none the less ridiculous for that. This book ends long before the reader has had enough of the bumbling central character, and is a very pleasant, undemanding read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2012 6:29 PM BST


Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century: A Secret History of the 20th Century
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century: A Secret History of the 20th Century
by Greil Marcus
Edition: Paperback

6 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing attempt to link punk to Dadaism, 14 Feb. 2009
Perhaps the subtitle "A Secret History of the Twentieth Century" should have alerted me, but with the name Greil Marcus and a picture of Johnny Rotten on the cover, I presumed that this book was about music. Not so: taking punk as his starting point, Marcus spends the vast bulk of this book talking about Dadaism, Situationism and various other philosophical/political/cultural movements I had never heard of, citing similarities between them and 1970's punk, though not suggesting the punks had any awareness of these movements.

Lipstick Traces is a tough read, making little allowance for the fact that most people will never have heard of the subjects discussed, many of which are nebulous, ill-defined and self-contradictory. I still don't quite know what Dada means, if anything. Admittedly, I skimmed rather than scrutinized much of the book, as I did not develop any interest in the subjects and felt that Marcus was ascribing more importance to them than they actually possessed, and imposing a coherent ideology on what sometimes seemed little more than juvenile bluster and meaningless soundbites. It is characteristic of Marcus to over-intellectualize the subjects he writes on, but in other books when he is speaking of subjects I was already interested in this did not bother me, as he is a good writer; here, though, some of his theorizing seems quite fanciful and the entire concept of the book is questionable. What is to be gained by seeing Punk through the prism of situationism? Is there really any link, outside of the author's mind?

I cannot condemn this book as I did not fully understand it, however I would say that it definitely has very select appeal and will not necessarily appeal to fans of Marcus's other works.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2010 4:59 PM BST


Murphy (Picador Books)
Murphy (Picador Books)
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beckett's first novel; darkly comic, 8 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Murphy (Picador Books) (Paperback)
Murphy is the first novel by Samuel Beckett, published in 1938, before he gained fame as a playwright. The eponymous central character is an enigmatic figure, whose main aim in life is to avoid participation in normal human society and, particularly, employment. When he finally does bow to his girlfriend's ceaseless prodding to get a job, it is in a mental institution, where he derives contentment observing the behaviour of the inmates. Murphy is a silent, shadowy figure, yet the book's other characters are irresistibly drawn to him.

The thing that struck me most about this novel was the similarity of the style to that of the great Irish comic writer Flann O'Brien, particularly O'Brien's first novel At Swim-two-Birds, published in 1939. I can only assume O'Brien read Murphy and was inspired to mimic it, and perfect its unusual style. Or perhaps the similarity is down to the common influence of Joyce.

Murphy is my first experience of Beckett. It is a comedy, though a very dark one. It is an engaging read, far more so than Beckett's reputation would suggest. Murphy's anti-socialness and solipsism is perhaps a little disturbing, yet also intriguing.
Overall: recommended, and if you like it, I suggest you go on to read At Swim-Two-Birds, by a contemporary and compatriot of Beckett's, stylistically similar, also featuring a protagonist pathologically averse to work, and an extremely funny read.


Great Expectations - BBC [1999] [Dutch Import]
Great Expectations - BBC [1999] [Dutch Import]
Dvd ~ Ioan Gruffudd
Offered by ____THE_BEST_ON_DVD____
Price: £5.98

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy adaptation of an ageless classic, 30 Jan. 2009
This BBC production of Great Expectations is definitely one of their better Dickens adaptations of recent times, and there have been a lot of them. One problem I have with many of them is that they are too faithful to the novels. Yes, I said too faithful. Take the recent Bleak House, for example. Many people appear to have enjoyed it but I found it almost unwatchable. The long, convoluted plot was rendered in excruciating detail; they seemed scared of angering Dickens fans by altering the slightest detail. I think this is the wrong approach with Dickens as he is the most uneven writer imaginable. He veers between pathos and bathos, hilarity and tedium. Surely no one who is familiar with his work would deny this?

Great Expectations is probably the least flawed of Dickens' novels. Nevertheless, this adaptation is not afraid to change certain details of the book, many of these for the better. Even the ending is changed to make it more open-ended than the book, and more in keeping with the mood of what has gone before. I was disappointed, though, that they cut some of the opening scene between Pip and the convict, as it contains one of my favorite speeches where Pip is told his liver "will be took out, and roasted, and et" if he does not do as he is told.
There are many notable performances, also. Bernard Hill was particularly impressive, I thought, as Magwitch, a very interesting character in himself. Both the young Pip and the adult Pip(Ioan Gruffodd) were good too, and I liked the guy playing Orlick, or "Old Orlick" as he likes to refer to himself. Charlotte Rampling was also good as Miss Havisham, though she looked less desiccated than I had imagined Miss H., in fact some might say she's a relatively attractive speciman of mature womanhood.

An enjoyable and interesting take on the classic tale, though no cinematic retelling could do justice to the power of the best passages of the original, which is probably its author's most complete and most mature novel, and his least sentimental. Illiteracy is the only valid excuse for not having read this book. For those who have, this is a worthwhile reinterpretation of the events therein; for those who have not, I suggest you do so post haste.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2011 9:30 PM GMT


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