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Kate Bradley

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The Rotters' Club (Penguin Ink)
The Rotters' Club (Penguin Ink)
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty average, like seventies Birmingham, 8 July 2012
I remember this being quite a good TV series a few years ago, but it's not a great book. It's a light and vaguely humorous read, but it's not particularly gripping - the characters and scenarios are predictable and yet somehow unlikely, and though Coe captures a lot of the seventies' politics and culture, he does so awkwardly at times, shoving topical references and viewpoints into the plot almost for the sake of it. The humour sometimes falls flat too, with anecdotes that would be mildly entertaining in a biography, but are cringeworthy as fiction. However, enough of the moaning, this book was alright, and I probably would have enjoyed it more had I not known the ending from the TV adaptation. Coe adopts an interesting variety of techniques too, using letters, diaries and articles to spice up the narrative, which overall, he does successfully. The book also covers several years in many characters' lives, weaving together sub-plots without it feeling too strained; this command of structure is the redeeming feature of The Rotters Club despite lots of bum notes.

Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
by Owen Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 11 Jun. 2012
This is a deeply flawed book. A lot of its weaknesses have been covered by other reviewers, but there were a few which particularly grated on me. Like many others, I started reading Chavs with high hopes, and was quickly disappointed and frustrated by its treatment of important and complex issues. Jones' analysis of modern class divisions bisects society vaguely, like a P.E. teacher splitting the sporty kids from the weedy ones, with no real explanation until Chapter 6 of how Jones defines class, and even then, the reader has to make do with a few Neil Kinnock quotations and no real analysis of what it means to be 'working class' in today's Britain. If you're going to write a book about class, you need to make it clear exactly who you think is in each class, as it's a disputed matter these days. Otherwise, the debate is aimless. Jones caricatures and stereotypes all of his opposing groups simply through a lack of knowledge or a desire to persuade the reader of his point despite obvious counter arguments.

I would say, if you read this interestedly, no matter who you are, you'll be able to find a time when Jones unthinkingly offends you. If you're working class, be ready to be patronised, pitied and defined from an outsider's perspective as a lost victim, automatically worse off for the lack of life-threatening, unpleasant jobs, with no control over your own fate; if you're middle class, be ready to be lumped together with every 'snob', 'elitist' and 'sharp-elbowed parent' who 'shops at Waitrose', as someone who apparently ridicules and detests the masses; if you're in an ethnic minority, be ready to be told that racism towards you is just backlash about other issues, and while racism is really sad, it's not the racists' fault that they hate you. (This may be true, but I doubt it's an appealing argument for a reader who has suffered racism.)

Chavs had a lot of potential to be a good book. The result is a shame because Jones has a lot of interesting raw data, a lot of evidence, but it's thrown at the page and he has not developed or concluded it properly. It's reasonably coherently written and structured, but I find it hard to see why anyone gave this more than 3 stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2012 2:16 PM BST


5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant tool, 2 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Highly recommended - works for many phones, iPods, anything with a universal charger - just a great tool really. Having so many wires hanging around the plug can be irritating, some get mislaid, some lost for good... this eliminates loads of problems and it's compact and portable.

The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics)
The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics)
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual dystopia, 27 May 2012
I really enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale. I am drawn to Atwood's idiosyncratic style, and I can tell why this novel has been lauded. You have to be prepared to throw away the rulebook when reading it - speech isn't indicated, it hops about in time, it explains integral features of the plot at irregular intervals, changes narrator a couple of times... But that's part of its attraction for me - picking it apart, working out what's going on. It probably isn't beach reading but it's definitely compelling.

However, the main reason I'm writing this review is to try to counteract a few earlier comments which compared this dystopia with 1984 and Brave New World. I don't think it's fair to compare Atwood to Orwell or Huxley - not because she falls short, but because she's trying something totally different. Both 1984 and Brave New World bring characters and devices in to explain the functioning of their new political and social systems, but outlining a new system isn't Atwood's goal. Some people have commented that her world needs expanding, which I think could be missing the point slightly. Atwood is dealing with a character who is utterly insignificant, who has been plunged into confusion by the reformation of her country, a woman who can suddenly only experience the world as an underling. Atwood's is a psychological study of the key characters within her dystopia, so it's flippant to read it and compare it directly to more material descriptions of dystopian societies.

Studying English Literature: A Practical Guide
Studying English Literature: A Practical Guide
by Tory Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.35

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful in the right circumstances, 19 May 2012
Studying English Literature is one of several guides with this title, and it's important to note the sub-heading on this particular guide before buying it. This is a practical guide, not to be mistaken for a supportive critical text examining canonical works, or a general introduction to the subject.

What this book is NOT:
* an introduction to the discipline of English. It does cover some of the changing ideas in approaches to teaching English in order to show you what you might face at university, but it does not give an exhaustive history of the language or discussion of literary movements or anything like that.
* a text which could accompany primary texts as an evaluatory source. There are very few excerpts from canonical texts, unlike some books of the same type, meaning it could not be used as a critical text, providing opinions on extracts - it's more to help with the act of studying, reading and writing, than support for specific texts.
* easy to read cover-to-cover. Contrary to previous reviewers on here, I found it hard to sit down and digest this guide, particularly the sections on grammar and referencing. Students who don't feel they have a problem with grammar may want to skip the 'Sentences' chapter, and if the reader is not currently undertaking referencing, that section can also feel a bit dull, even if it becomes useful at a later date.

What is book IS:
* a practical guide to the study of English - in a university context. The advice offered is universal for things like grammar but the creativity and deep-analysis recommended in this guide are probably a bit advanced (and ill-advised) at an earlier stage, considering the standardisation of mark schemes in A-level and GCSE courses.
* an introduction to approaches on reading texts ('literary theory'). This could be helpful as these are not always introduced or discussed in depth in A-level courses.
* a concise and relevant toolkit for improving essays and the standard of your written English, with some helpful tips on referencing and structure too.

Overall, I thought this could be an essential reference text, something which students find they have to refer to when they forget which 'practice' to use, or if they get confused about the difference between New Historicism and Post-Structuralism, etc., but I think Doing English by Robert Eaglestone is a good start if you're looking for a more general introduction to English as a discipline and some of the debates within it.

The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly
by Dennis O'Donnell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but no Psychology textbook, 18 May 2012
I read the reviews of The Locked Ward on here before I launched into reading it - at that time, it had 14 reviews and all of them gave it 5-stars, so I had high expectations. I thought it might be useful for learning about Psychopathology, something on every Psychology course from GCSE upwards in the UK. However, what it is definitely not is a Psychology textbook - if you're buying it hoping for that, you'll be disappointed; it does detail case studies of mental disorders, from an orderly's perspective, and it does give rough guides to some of the drugs they use to treat it, but it's a long way from being an informational text. Any Psychology student will know most of the technical information anyway, and O'Donnell's perspective on the patients is more sympathetic than analytical.

On the other hand, this book is a good read, and it's great to hear an orderly discussing his views of these wards - from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' to 'Girl Interrupted', a very grim and totalitarian picture is painted of mental hospital staff; O'Donnell's locked ward seems, by contrast, to have fostered quite positive relations between the staff and patients. Schizophrenic Theo, for example, seems to have something approaching a friendship with the narrator, and O'Donnell presents the case for (often criticised) sedations and restraints pretty persuasively. Containing violent and dangerous situations is one of the necessary evils of this kind of care.

The Locked Ward was unexpectedly funny, filled with both schoolboy humour and wit, and written in a compelling and easy-to-follow style, managing to quote Shakespeare et al at the start of every chapter and still avoid pretension. I would recommend it, but I'd also argue that it's not quite worth 5-stars, because it's really just a recounting of people and events when it could have been a more ambitious project. Still, what O'Donnell was going for, he achieved.

Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion
Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Hardcover

120 of 144 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing. Unnecessary., 21 Feb. 2012
When I first took this from the shelves and had a read through the opening pages, I was intrigued enough to take it home and read it through. Alain de Botton's laid-back, easy-reading style and his liberal usage of pictures means it's a quick read. This is the only reason I made it to the end: the content itself was very disappointing. The journalistic and slightly patronising tone which de Botton utilises means that he can only ever make superficial points, and many of the points he does make in more depth feel desperate, and sometimes just unresearched.

His suggestions as to how we could improve secular society, including by building temples for reflection and suchlike, often seem arbitrary; one might throw them out there at a dinner table and follow it up with "I dunno, I'm just brainstorming here", or something equally vague, but it has no place in a philosophical text. Most of the book feels like it's still in these experimental, unconsidered stages, including the photoshopped pictures of his futuristic secular-cum-religious world, which are at times simply embarrassing, and always unnecessary. There are times when his whole philosophy seems skin-deep, such as when he argues that the human race is too often self-absorbed, not considering its transitional place in Nature and the Universe. This, he suggests, should lead to us moderating our emotions and being more understanding and empathetic. However, others could, and have, argued, using the same basic assumption, that our meaninglessness could entitle us to live our own transitory life as we wish. Or, as our tiny self is the only thing we will ever truly know, self-fulfilment and hedonism are the only paths in which we can believe. I do not subscribe to this viewpoint, but at no point does de Botton suggest he has even considered it. His basic assumption that we must be nice, friendly, kind, self-controlled people is bland and never defended.

At no point does de Botton consider that perhaps secular society abandoned things such as sermons because of the principle of moral relativism, which suggests that a government preaching any specific moral doctrine, however secular, is partisan, and in multi-cultural countries can lead to racism and exclusion. Equally, the observance of specific rituals such as having every day of the year given over to some 'secular Saint', like Shakespeare or Compte, completely ignores the fact that Shakespeare has no absolute power to heal or provide guidance, and leaves some readers cold. We abandoned this kind of proscription because it was ignorant and repressive of opposing beliefs. What moral guidelines does de Botton suggest his 'secular priesthood' should lay down? If they're each allowed their own ideas, and we have a choice in whether to agree, they're no better than the small-scale writers of whom he is so dismissive. I assume a thinker like de Botton has thought of these things, but if he did see the great number of potential counter-arguments, he did not bother to address them.

I would agree there are elements of religion which are admirable, but I frequently do not agree with the selections de Botton makes, and he rarely explains his decision to include certain themes. Architecture, for example. He generalises that modern architecture is functional but ugly and old Catholic architecture instead shows an understanding of the needs of the soul. I completely disagree. This suggests that architectural beauty is linked to vulgar decoration and ornamentation; whilst I would accept that grey concrete is not heart-warming, I'd say the architecture of cathedrals is often a sickening show of self-importance on the part of the church, perhaps in honour of God's enormity, but in that sense not in any way a concept the secular world would want to employ.

One argument that could be seen as genuinely offensive is de Botton's suggestion that places of education ignore all the higher needs of their students. Has de Botton ever read an English syllabus? He suggests specifically during the section on education that we never attempt to extrapolate what 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' may tell us about relationships and love, for example. This was a question posed by the AQA A-level syllabus this very year. I think decent lecturers in the Humanities would be annoyed by de Botton's flippant suggestion that there is no attempt to provide extra-curricular guidance for the students. Yes, ihe level of moral propaganda and brain-washing in the Humanities has definitely decreased with secularisation, but not at the expense of moral discussion or questioning; it just gathers opinions in a less self-reverent and exclusive manner. This is just an example, but it is not the only place where this book is seriously lacking any kind of real evidence. When de Botton does provide evidence, it comes as a pleasant and notable surprise.

As I wrote this review, I felt rather uncharitable (which would make me de Botton's perfect misguided atheist, I suppose), but I have written it to counterbalance the 5-star reviews which suggest that this book will somehow leave you feeling fulfilled and ready to face life with new eyes. To me, as I have explained, it felt superficial, deliberately forgetful of inconvenient opposing philosophies, unresearched and barely worth reading, but for a few truisms and astute observations, mostly available from the mouths of other famous people on quotegarden.com.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2017 12:14 PM GMT

Telstar [DVD]
Telstar [DVD]
Dvd ~ Con O'Neill
Offered by Digizoneuk
Price: £17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic biopic, 23 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Telstar [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of my favourite films of recent times. There are cringe-worthy moments of crude humour, but overall this is tastefully and carefully filmed, following the life of record producer Joe Meek with style and confidence. It begins surprisingly entertaining, watching him negotiating his way into success, perpetually angry and slightly mad, and then it follows him both up to the top of his game and down into an abyss of his creation. The atmosphere of the film is carefully managed to remain cohesive despite this dichotomy. The acting is superb throughout (save a few seconds of Carl Barât, whose embarrassingly false American accent is painful). Con O'Neill is particularly fantastic, portraying a confused and intense man who, despite becoming increasingly mentally disturbed as the film progresses, is always convincing (not having met or watched the real Meek, I cannot suggest he is a carbon copy of the original, but he certainly creates a great character).

Meek's life was unconventional and proves a riveting story. Telstar is a glance into a world that doesn't make sense today, one that flows with music, love, deception and prejudice, in which one could be both rich and poor, secure and precarious in fame. There is not a moment in this film that did not engage me even 2nd and 3rd time over, and I hadn't been particularly interested in early 60s music or Meek before I watched it. A definite recommendation.

A Long Way Down
A Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, but a failure, 14 Jan. 2012
This review is from: A Long Way Down (Paperback)
This is one of those books which you read and wonder how the critics on the cover could possibly have found anything nice to say. I read High Fidelity a few years ago and didn't think it deserved the attention it had received; I tried again with Hornby, and I'm even less impressed this time.

From the premise of this book, you would be expecting it to attempt three main things:

1) It should explore the mentality of the suicidal. With its four narrators, that would allow for a pretty extensive coverage of the motives for suicide. Instead of this, Hornby describes four ridiculously unrealistic people, all of whom do something insanely out of character at least once in the book: the sheltered Catholic woman who gets drunk and punches a stranger; the crazily wild daughter of an Education Minister who suddenly starts trying to self-analyse; the disillusioned Z-list chat show host who finally gets the chance to talk to his daughters again, and casually throws it away; the thoughtful, bookish lead singer of a band who spontaneously claims to have a fatal illness. In other words, Hornby's characterisation is incredibly poor, and I didn't believe for a minute that these characters were suicidal, perhaps excepting Maureen, the single mother.

2) It should be realistic, at least vaguely, as it is set in the real world. It's not just the characterisation which fails in this; the plot is inexplicably absurd at times, particularly when the crazy 18-year-old (whose mentality is most definitely not that of any 18-year-old I could imagine) claims to a reporter that they have seen an angel. Whilst this act is in itself not too hard to believe, the fact that the three others simply acquiesce to her suggestion makes no sense; the motivation of money doesn't stand alone to explain anything. It's a plot device at best, and not a very good one.

3) It should be well-written. This is an expectation of any book, really. By well-written, I'm not suggesting it needs to be any less conversational, but Hornby's metaphors are all over the place, and frequently he leaves me wondering what he is trying to say - once or twice to represent general confusion would not be a problem, but the writing is clumsy throughout.

The reason I didn't give this book up after the first few pages is that it redeems itself with its light-heartedness, or the occasional poignant moment when it illuminates some truth, or uses phrasing witty enough to raise a smile. I can accept that I'm not in Nick Hornby's target audience, but even then, I could recognise the quality of a book without enjoying it, and in this case, I really can't see it. A Long Way Down offers no real insights and left me frustrated. Possibly, whether you'll like it or not depends on what you want to get from the book, but anyone looking for more than a quick, vaguely humorous read on the train will be disappointed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 2, 2012 10:58 PM BST

Revision Express AS and A2 Psychology (Direct to learner Secondary)
Revision Express AS and A2 Psychology (Direct to learner Secondary)
by Mr Andrew Favager
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor revision guide, 28 Dec. 2011
As the Revision Express guides go, this one is bad. I bought one of the same type for English Language and it was much better. The main problem is that it hardly goes into any detail, and definitely not enough for the A2 syllabus. Across every exam board, including all the different potential topics, there is far too much information to condense into such a short guide, so most of the topics are only one or two pages long, which does not go into enough depth to help a student achieve more than a C or D at A-level. Additionally, it is badly organised, in a very strange order, and the key studies are not integrated into the text of the topic pages, so it would be possible to miss essential work out if you weren't being vigilant.

I'd say this guide is good for two things - getting a taster of a subject before the course is taught, or giving yourself a last-minute test before the exam, but you'd have to do so much more than read this book to get a decent grade that it's not really worth having.

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