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Snake Charmers in Texas (Picador Books) Paperback – 14 Jul 1989

3.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (14 July 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330305808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330305808
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 2.3 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 924,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
The title of this collection of forty or so essays comes from the film The Third Man. A British officer tells an author of westerns he enjoys his books, especially for the odd information they contain. He didn't know, for instance, that there were snakecharmers in Texas. 'To please the officer,' writes James, 'a good man with more important work to do than to be a literary critic, was no bad thing.' It's a fitting title: the pieces essay an impressive variety of subjects in impressive depth. A few examples picked at random: an Australian poet called Les A. Murray, the Sydney Opera House, Literary magazines, snooker, the Queen in California, a spoof piece about Martin Amis by a writer called N.V. Rampant, Bob Geldof, Footlights, a magazine called Kung-Fu Monthly, a collection of bawdy poetry, Roland Barthes' book Camera Lucida, Michael Foot's election campaign . . .
Everything's game as long as it inspires real enthusiasm. But it isn't enthusiasm alone that leads to such entertaining writing. There's the Clive James voice, the purposeful gags, the artful structure and the behind-the-scenes learning, all of which will be familiar to you if you've read any other non-fiction book he's written. There's also an index, crazily missing from his TV criticism and latest essay collections.
Is it worth buying Snakecharmers in Texas if you already have Reliable Essays? It is: very few of these essays - four or five at most - are reprinted there.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book in print, but the Kindle edition is crying out for a professional transcription. There are long passages which are barely legible, where all sense of narrative is tripped up by glaring errors. It ruins an otherwise hugely enjoyable book.
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After reading other hilarious books by Mr James, I felt a little cheated here. It seems far from immediately clear that this is in fact a series of essays written in the 80s so you need to be of a certain age to understand the majority of them, and even being of a certain age did not help me with one or two of them. The essays range from literary reviews to articles about snooker and Formula 1. Worth reading ? Yes, if you are prepared to skip one or two if the subject matter is beyond you. And yes, because Mr James is simply a marvellous user of the English language. His wit and use of words make him worth reading at any time and any place. But I still think this book should have been on the remainder shelves some time ago.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Limited interest pieces (with a use-by) 5 Jun. 2006
By Trevor Kettlewell - Published on
Format: Paperback
Having enjoyed some of James' TV work when I was a teenager in the 80s I thought I'd give this a go. James is articulate and has sense of humour, but there wasn't really enough here to make this worth the effort.

Several of the essays should really only have been published in journals for those with specialist interest - particularly those dealing exclusively with photographs we couldn't even see! Moreover - while James would deny it and point to his love of popular as well as elite culture - the first half of this collection is uncomfortably pretentious: it's important for Clive to show off his arcane knowledge with ubiquitous italicised Latin or French phrases, and constant high culture name dropping. Don't get me wrong - talking about Samuel Johnson if you're writing an essay about Shakespearian criticism is not pretentious; but throwing in Swift (et. al.) when you're writing about Bob Geldof is:

" can be said that the evocation of his Dublin childhood has a specifying force which reminds you that Swift, Joyce and Beckett came from the same city."

It reminds you of no such thing of course - it's purely to remind you that James is familiar with these impressive names, and that he knows they all came from Dublin.

Despite this sort of thing James is a competent writer and you can see why magazines and papers have employed him throughout the years. He also brought that usually enjoyable personal aspect to many of his reports, so you might, for example, get as many paragraphs about the difficulties he had finding a hotel as you do about the event he's ostensibly reporting on. However, again, the content of papers and magazines are almost inevitably dated - is there really any justification for including in a collection for posterity details like:

"Yesterday the sun shone bright. Piquet went straight out on one of his two permitted sets of qualifying tyres and notched up a time that only Prost could beat. Lauda went backwards with a sick engine. Then Piquet put on his other set of qualifying tyres and pipped Prost, taking his ninth pole for the season."

The interest in this paragraph was exhausted less than a day after it was published originally. Maybe, just maybe, up and coming journalists may want to look at some of these articles to get some tips on style for their own reporting, but there isn't anything here for the general reader.

I'm a general reader. If you are too, I'd advise you to leave this one on the shelf.
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