Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Fitbit
Profile for John > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by John
Top Reviewer Ranking: 3,495,533
Helpful Votes: 288

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
John "Notes of a Bookdreamer" (Bristol,UK)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time
by Clive James
Edition: Paperback

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Find out what you didn't know you should know!, 19 Oct. 2008
How do you define your humanity, your worth and the meaning of the good life? Did the last book you read, the last poem heard, the choir on Classic FM, the last serious piece of reportage in the newspaper make you think, widen the space for thought, help you engage more as a citizen? Did you make a note of the words that hit a spot? Remember to look that book up when next in the library, wonder what that old book of essays would be like you came across in the second hand bookshop. Perhaps as you get older do you see a pattern in what moves you in music, what is good writing and which political ideas increases the possibility of greater freedom of expression and those that close the creative spaces down?

One way to describe this book is to see it as Clive James 40 years exploration to make sense himself, his work and the world around him through works of the well-known, forgotten, cut-short or bogus mainly western intelligentsia. These are over but not confined the past 150 years. He also throws in 20th century film stars, fashion designers, TV broadcasters, jazz musicians and reporters. The format is over 100 individual pen-sketches grouped in alphabetical order of individuals that have aroused his interest with as sentence, comment, or thought and been inked over the years in his journal. From these seeds grows an essay that critically reveals more about the idea or the character or the context but done in his usually witty light foxtrot prose. Knowing that nothing worse then a judgement on writing style not seem here are three extracts.

Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (p.177)

`And above all, I am not interested enough in politics to let them encumber my last days'

On the face of it, Drieu's valedictory testament was absurd. It was 1944, after the liberation of Paris; he had never made any secret of collaborating with the ***; his deeds were done and his time had run out. And his entire personal disaster had been because of his interest in politics. Already resolved to suicide, he was attributing a deficiency to himself in the very area where he had been most obsessed.

Chares De Gaulle (p.258)

After a life of misery, Anne de Gaulle, who had a severe case of Down's syndrome, died choking in her father's arms. She was 20 years old. At her funeral, de Gaulle is reputed to have said, "Now she is like the others". The awful beauty of that remark lies in how it hints at what he had so often felt...For us, that overhear the last gasp of a long agony, there is a additional poignancy of recognising that the Man of Destiny lived every day with an heavenly dispensation he could not control. But to be faced from day to day with a quirk of fate not amenable to human will is sometimes the point of sanity for a man who lives by imposing his personality-the point of salvation, the redeeming weakness.

Miguel De Unamuno (p771)

The eternal, not the modern, is what I love: the modern will be antiquated and grotesque in ten years, when the fashion passes.

The quoted passage makes more sense when we trace what he meant by eternismo, the eternal. He didn't mean an appeal to transcendental values: he meant attention to the profane reality that is always there. On the same page...he wrote the universal is in the guts of the local and circumscribe, and that the eternal is the guts of the temporal and evanescent ... (memo to myself and younger readers: all guesses about tone in a foreign language should be checked with someone who speaks it for a living).

If you have gone... "er never heard of them" then that's a major theme of this book which examines the fate of those intellectuals and their works in the fall out of the Red and Fascist terrors of the 20th centuries as well as the South American dictatorships. Voices lost as they are swept away to death camps, or corrupted to stay on the right side of the prevailing political winds. Books left as floating corpses as the Saloon life of St Peters, Vienna and Paris sank and burned in the 20's and 30's:a tradition with roots in a different form of Jewish prejudice. Another theme is the cant and empty postures by usually left wing intellectuals during the Cold War that would have resulted in a long death in the countries they claim to admire.

I have sympathy with this augment having seen at first hand the middle class student Trotskyites who saw the working class as the ideal except when meeting the wider trade unions membership and ordinary people. Who naturally were seduced by the media to not grasp the wisdom of their leaders in waiting. I was one of those who joined the Communists in the 80's but had no illusions of what they were doing in Russia and China. I saw the dedication and faith that the little band of activists in wanting to change things by active mobilisation rather then electoral engagement alone. Of course we would have all been the first to vanish in any of the systems that we were assuming the UK to be. But read the book and you don't see the poverty and lack of opportunity and social justice that creates the Left. I still see politics of changing the agenda more important then the politics of elections and would tackle the illusion of liberal democracy not with the charge that they are not democratic but that they see democracy stopping at the gates of the factory or school. Other notions such as Social Capital and Environmental Justice movements show currents shaking off traditional notions of Electoral Socialism.

These are minor quibbles for what is timely reminder what we are losing in this country with an Education system that fetishes churning out workers and not enabling citizens. Clive James reads many of the books he discusses in their original language, has a lively interest in how films, TV, poetry are creating our cultural life. He can judge and put into context what the writer or performer is offering. Can you? Would you try? See what you lose if you don't try.

In a conversation on Picasso's Guernica Matthews asked his students to...look at their inner response...what sound do you hear from the painting?... the room exploded in howls of pain and rage. The door flew open and two students from the hallway stuck their heads in, their expressions resembling the faces in the painting itself.

Said one participant, `Suddenly I saw that these art forms were making a claim on me. They were saying, "Wake up! Live your real life."

Stanfield, R.B. (2000) The Art of Focused Conversation p.2

The Gargoyle
The Gargoyle
by Andrew Davidson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and the Beast retold, 26 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Gargoyle (Hardcover)
Did The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson change my life, open eyes to a world unlived, sweeten my lips until my last breath, well no. But was it an enjoyable read making the world's troubles refreshing you for the grind of job, and family- you bet. The story is essentially a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast but fellows don't dismiss it as chick-lit. It's your turn to say "I'll have what she's having" as it's also skilfully weaves in comedy and mystery with twists.

The story opens with the unnamed narrator, an adult movie mogul and porn stud high on drugs and liquor crashing and burning in a car accident. To describe the pain and the impact he asks you to put your hand on a live electric element:

And hold it there. Hold it there as the element scorches Dante's nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever. Let the heat engrave the skin, the muscles the tendons; let it smoulder down to the bone. Wait for the burn to embed itself so far into you that you don't know if you'll ever be able to let go of the coil. It won't be long until the stench of your own burning flesh wafts up, grabbing your nose hairs and refusing to let go, and you smell your body burn.

I want you to keep that hand pressed down for a slow count of sixty. No cheating. One Mis-sis-sip-pi, two Mis-sis-sip-pi, three Mis-sis-sip-pi... At sixty Mis-sis-sip-pi, your hand will have melted so that it now surrounds the element, becoming fused with it. Now rip your flesh free.

The honest story of recovery from severe burn trauma becomes one theme of the novel. He is crippled emotionally by depression and self-loathing rooted an appalling childhood and drug abuse. He fired only by the hope of getting out of the hospital to finish killing himself. A strange woman from the Mental Heath wards in for schizophrenia and bi-polar break down befriends him and he sees her as a way out,

So you ask, what about the mystery element? Well as the recovery progresses she starts telling a myth-story that reveal deeper secrets or madness. It remains ambiguous until the end of the story if this is a supernatural story of eternal love or a natural love of two very screwed up people. Each time you think you have the line it will slip away from you. As light relief you also have a comedy love story about another couple linked to different historical myth/stories. But pay attention, as all the themes and story strands knit together to give you an expected ending.

It's not a hard story to hold in your head as I snatched reading time from travelling around the country meetings in a very busy week. The clever plotting meant that the move between the now and then and between the characters backstories keep you interested and the writing build pictures for your mind to play with, parallels of the now and then from the morality of the narrator, to the role of friends and livelihoods also help to keep the pages turning.

I would highly recommend it, and if you and partner get a copy( it's the credit crunch so time to share so you have spare) you could cuddle up on a cold evening. Sip wine and read aloud to each other by candle-light (well I would so ask him). It's cleverly aimed at a broad market so expect the film (once they have sorted out the nude scenes-some hot and some very yuk!) in 2010 with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in the lead roles. You heard it here first!

The Sound of Laughter
The Sound of Laughter
by Peter Kay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Childhood mined for humour not bitterness, 20 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Sound of Laughter (Paperback)
Decent northern British bloke who had a typical 70's working class life( back to back terraces, poor schools, worse diet) but who mined humour rather then bitterness out of it.

If you are British you will have read the book, seen the performances(mainly drawn the book and his life) or his award winning range of comedy-drama shows. Or seen and brought the charity song so know what I am on about.

If you are not British, then its very likely you never heard of him.Although he was a monster on Dr Who. And if you have did you really understand what he said...some if us don't and we speak the language!

In a short, very funny if you were there but er...what...if you weren't.

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
by Mark Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Italian Great War and the roots of Facism, 7 Sept. 2008
I have just finished reading "The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1918 by Mark Thompson which is a study of a 1st World War front that is often forgotten but where Italy lost 689, 000 solders( Britain lost 662,000 + 140, 000 reported as missing). That we tend to associate the infantry war with the plains of Flanders and Russia reveals the common myth as this part of the struggle was mountain warfare albeit also with trenches.

The conduct of the war exposed the weak hold of liberal structures and politics on the Italian population and the defeat of victory quickly let in 20 years of fascist government. The collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and take over the successor national states by the communists has made it difficult to get a sense of what really went on: Italians and other non Germanic nationals did fight for the Emperor, many of the feature of Fascism (a puppet parliament, a muzzled press, a romantic nationalism, a militarised state) had their roots on the political conduct of the war.

What made the book an interesting read is that Mark Thomas does more then hold to the historical arc of the events from the turmoil in Italy leading to its ripping up of a long standing agreement to be allied with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary ( It took on a secret 30 pieces of silver territorial deal with the Allies). And ending with the desperate mad dash to occupy land vacated by the collapsing Hapsburg armies-it made the most of the cock-up where as the armistice agreement ended the war one day earlier for Austria-Hungary. What he does is switch the narrative in cinematographic terms from wide/long shots, medium to close-ups as the narrative unfolds. So we take the long view at the ideas affecting Italian practice in politics, art and military such as Romantic Vitalism or the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. Or the impact of how Italian unification actually unfolded. We then have medium shot accounts of how individual battles unfolded from both of the combatant's perspectives or the power struggles and conduct at military and political levels. And finally the close-up accounts of artists, reporters, and survivors that expose the official accounts or help to explain the mindset of the elites.

It was this rounded and varied explanation that held my attention, as I tended to wander in the step by step of accounts of the battles(my attention span rather then the quality of the writing, although these are necessary to understand the appalling and arrogant way that the soldiers were used. For example, Military discipline justified the ancient Roman practice of randomly killing 1 in 10 solders if the platoon had infringed any rules which could be just turning up late from leave. The fact, with no interest shown in the reason was enough for summary execution. This is because the Italian army leadership took the most extreme view of all the armed forces in the 1st world war that the solders were only cannon fodder to do the will of the supreme commander. An attitude they paid for when Austria-Hungarian forces with direct support of Germany developed a forerunner of Blitzkrieg and took back all the territory fought over in the past three years and swept down to the pre 1866 national boundaries.

The resource imbalance between the foes and the deteriorating political realties for the Central Powers meant that this could not be turned into a knock-out blow. But with Russia out and embroiled in Revolution and no significant Allied victories, the collapse of the Central Powers as Germany struggled to avoid the fate of Austria- Hungary created the German Nazis myth of a stab in the back. It also confirmed the lack of democratic populist support for liberalism.

So why should you read this book? Well it gives you a clear account of one part of the wider First World War front that is only now becoming clear and even possible to study. (Attempts to clear the names of those summarily executed is still politically sensitive in Italy.) But a more important reason is that it offers insights into the conduct of events now. If History has anything to teach, its that we the ordinary people wont get a true picture what our masters have been doing in our name until we are pushing up the daisies.. In knowing what was going on behind closed doors then, we can question what the media, cultural elites, military strategists, politicians are doing now. But of course if you think we have the straight line on the War on Terror, then give it a miss.

It's Superman!
It's Superman!
by Tom De Haven
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars It's Superman but not as you know it, 23 Aug. 2008
This review is from: It's Superman! (Paperback)
You may have read one of the classical myths published by Random House. They invite contemporary writers such Ali Smith or Margaret Atwood to rewrite classical myths with modern concerns and twists. Superman by Tom De Haven is a rewrite of the comic magazine myth of Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Superman. On the face of it, two different projects but dig deeper and they are not. The energy that enables Superman last 70 years and expand into TV, films etc is Myth. The baby that appears in a rocket (Miraculous Birth) who as he grow older discovers his powers (Initiation) which leads to loss of family and community(Withdrawal) as he try and find himself(Trail and Quest) and so on.

But Tom De Haven faces a different additional challenge, in rewriting a modern comic hero, as unlike the Greek myths we have grown up with the story and character. Those of us of a certain age can remember buying Superman comics from paper shops along with The Beano and Eagle long before they were elevated to graphic novels and specialist geek watering holes. Or being amazed at Superman the Movie in the 80's( of course those of us even more of a certain age can remember the 50's TV series). It means that you tinker with our childhood memories at your peril.

To do the story justice it has to be driven by the power of Myth but also refreshed so we experience something novel from fare we know in our bones. Does he succeed? Yes, Jumping Jehovah he does with bells on.

The story is set in the 30s and focuses on the politics and society of Depression America including the normalcy of how Afro-Americans were treated. Clark Kent struggles to come to terms with who and what he is and isn't the sharpest blade in the drawer. Lois Lane is, and in control her life and her men (and the life in her men!) The big city is New York and its corruption where we met Lex Luthor a shining reformer by day and a criminal Mr Big by night. Its how he deals with Superman that seals both their fates and Lois as we discover how the Legend finally begins.

This in fact draws more on the original comic storyline then the later camp versions, thinks of the dark versions of Batman rather then the kowpow 60's. The focus here as then is more on domestic crime and fascism rather then the weekly super villain. What also makes it work is the writing. We move in and out of the characters seeing their take on things, major characters die and secondary characters move to centre stage so you cant take things for granted. And the style engages:

He watches it-more like glares at it-till the paper bursts in flame, dissolves in to granular soot, and quickly disappears

Same as always. Clark's eyes are left feeling syrupy, almost liquid like the waterglass his mom would make in summertime to preserve surplus eggs. But the sensation passes in less then a minute. And it's a small price to pay for such a-


For the first time in a week Clark feels the muscles flex up at both ends of his mouth, It's not much of a smile but for now it will have to do.

He needs to speak to his father

He needs to tell him good-bye

So pick this up, and revisit a retold Myth as ancient in its way as that of the Greeks you won't be disappointed and this time you don't have to wait for the film. Highly Recommended.

Beware Of God
Beware Of God
by Shalom Auslander
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If life was this good then you have missed them point, 22 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Beware Of God (Paperback)
The rabbi was fed up with his congregation. So, he decided to skip the services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and instead go play golf. Moses was looking down from heaven and saw the rabbi on the golf course. He naturally reported it to God. Moses suggested God punish the rabbi severely. As he watched, Moses saw the rabbi playing the best game he had ever played! The rabbi got a hole-in-one on the toughest hole on the course. Moses turned to God and asked, "I thought you were going to punish him. Do you call this punishment?!" God replied, "Who can he tell?"

Offended? Puzzled? Then best not to read the rest of this review as Beware of God by Shalom Auslander, a compilation of his short stories, moves you into dark, poignant, bittersweet, mocking stories where God has to kill you in order to keep the books straight, or monkeys suffer suicidal consciousness. In "God is a big Chicken" that what God is and Yankel Morgenstern back from the dead has to tell the truth or live the lie. "Holocaust for the Kids" is a montage of apparent quotes and facts and family comments that show up the horror of the Holocaust.

Some of the common themes are animals with human awareness, God dealing with human dilemmas, humans not understanding how God works (the near death experience is not God saving you but God's aim being off that day), families struggling and relationships failing. Many of his stories are coloured by his upbringing in a narrow Judaism. As Shalom Auslander says about his highly acclaimed memoir Foreskin Lament, (which if you want to pass my way please feel free).

I was raised in a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York; picture a madrasa somewhere in Taliban Town, change the head coverings to yarmulkes, switch the Korans for Old Testaments and that's pretty much it. The book is about my life under the thumb of an abusive, belligerent God, and the long-term emotionally crippling effects the fundamentalism of my youth has had and continues to have upon me. But funny. I suppose it didn't help that my father on Earth was as abusive as my Father in Heaven. Good times, good times.

Its this self-depreciating, prick pomposity humour that drives these well written stories. Unlike many collections, this has diversity and surprise so it avoids the sameness of style or theme that weakens so many other collections. This is down to the quality and cadence of the writing as well as its humour as in this story when God goes to an Ad Agency.

They did concept testing of a number of preliminary taglines and position statements. Nobody in the focus groups like "The Original and Still the Best", they were spilt on "The Porsche of Deities" and "Feeling Odd? Try God" met with consistent disapproval. One elderly woman took personal offence with the latter, as she understood the tagline to be suggesting that if she believed in God, she must be odd; a meaningful discussion nearly ensure, and an emergency plate of doughnuts was hurried in.

Highly recommended, oh and readers in the UK could rush down to their local Works as the HB is on sale for only 99p. Let me leave the last word to Shalom.

For general contact, comments, questions, requests, accusations, rants and tirades, email: Jackie@shalomauslander.com Please note that while I try to read all emails, I am quite busy with writing, whining, self-loathing, reading glowing reviews of the work of people other then me, complaining to my shrink, masturbating and intoxicating myself to be able to respond to every one, but I do appreciate them. The positive ones, anyway.

The Speckled People
The Speckled People
by Hugo Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The memoir is not a sentimental Irish story of hope crushed by poverty driven by the drink., 21 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
Hamilton is a journalist, and a writer of short stories and novels. His first three novels were set in Central Europe. Then came Headbanger (1996), a darkly comic crime novel set in Dublin and featuring detective Pat Coyne. A sequel, Sad Bastard, followed in 1998. The Speckled People came out in 2003 to critical acclaim It is an intensely personal memoir about very a political and public issue; what does language mean for national identity in democracies. His was a childhood of "lederhosen and Aran sweaters, smelling of rough wool and new leather, Irish on top and German below" so uniquely lived through two separate struggles represented by his parents. It is also about homesickness; for a dream Ireland, a lost Germany and a homeland of one's own.

Hugo's father wanted an Irish speaking self-sufficient Catholic Ireland. English if spoken by the children resulted in punishments including beating with sticks. He adapted an Irish name that no one could spell and pronounce and refused to answer even his work letters if they failed to write using his English name. Yet he also made toys, read stories and took his family on holiday to West Ireland (much to the amusement of the locals who were tired of the Dublin Intellectuals telling them they were the future when all they wanted was a decent inside toilets and jobs. His nationalism was driven by the shame of a father who had served and died in the British Navy leaving a service pension that funded his university education. He was always on the look out for the next big business deal to make Ireland economically free. But from crosses, toy wagons and tragic Honey they are failures, his only success is the size of his family as it grows year by year. They are the secret weapon to challenge the legacy of Empire.

His mother was a German Catholic, whose father was a conservative opponent of Hitler and whose family were passive resisters throughout the war although one sister was more active in being part of a network of safe houses hiding Jews. She herself as being "people of the head rather then the fist" so eventually rebels against her husband and destroys the canes but otherwise goes along with her husbands dreams and teaches her children German so they becomes fluent in three languages. She also has secrets that unravel as the biography unfolds.

The memoir is not a sentimental Irish story of hope crushed by poverty driven by the drink. The children have a comfortable and warm upbringing drawing on the richness of three culture's music and literature. But being German meant that the children were bullied and taunted as Nazis and they were at a lost to say where they belonged. What drives the story is the voice of the narrator that uses simple sentences and childlike observations, gradually turning to what he knows and understands, as he grows older and so creating a quiet humorous yet honest account of two flawed humans struggling to make a better life for their children in the very different 50s and 60's. An sequel called The Sailor in the Wardrobe was published in 2006.

52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life: A Poem for Every Week of the Year
52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life: A Poem for Every Week of the Year
by Ruth Padel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic overview of modern poetry, 19 Aug. 2008
In autumn, I start a creative writing course with the Open University. One of the assignments is to write an 80-line poem. I know you out there who dash off a daily Sonnet or Etheree ( yes I had never heard of it before either )wonder what all the fuss is about.

Well the fuss is that the last poetry I studied was back in 1977-8 when I started but didn't complete English A' Level ( I decided that living on a commune where naked women -some hippie idea of moon cycles- gardened was the better option... and dear reader it was!) And frankly apart from the last few weeks, I have not written poetry since the 60's which was for some Cadburys Chocolate writing competition which I won but then so did the entire class. Clever marketing rather then good writing one suspects.

This is a poem I put together after reading this book:

He came not wearing black but
dressed as lover's
would; finery to pleasure.

My drought watered as on
a first lover's glance
and kiss. Now my last.

He holds my hand while nurse
shakes me out of my
long sleep in the white night.

I'm so ready for our dance.

Yes I know but it takes time to learn- this is only my 4th poem ever!. Thanks to 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel, I now know that this 50-word poem is a free form (1) syllabic (2) verse with rhythm maintained by the use of enjambment (3) and an underlying 7-5-7 syllabic beat within an irregular 4 stanza form(4). And that it leans to metaphorical expression through the voice of an old woman. See what happens when you read Poetry books.

British readers may recognise Ruth Padel from her long since axed Independence on Sunday poetry section where she published a modern poet's poem and then explored a way of reading or understanding it. This book pulls together 52 of those articles and introduces the reader to the who and what of modern English Poetry.

I hadn't heard of one of the poets(no sniggering in the back please) so the book enabled me to read and catch a flavour of poetry today that... lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

Read this book and then say modern poetry is so elitist and obscure.

(1) meaning no set metre or end rhymes
(2) meaning you count the syllables rather then the stresses
(3) meaning the line or phrase carries over on the next
(4) meaning verses
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2012 3:35 PM GMT

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge)
An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge)
by John O'Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Save money and re-read 1066 and all that, 19 Aug. 2008
You have a spare summer and fancy writing a book but can't be bothered with all that creative muse malarky. It's a bit too soon for the autobiography( still working on doing the X-factor and the Big Brother application and frankly not so hot on the sports front) so what do you do? Well you pop along to the local reference library and sort out a stack of What the Roman's did for us, Great Kings and Queens of England, Prime Minsters I have known, and write a comic History of Britain for History refusniks. This is what John O'Farrell attempts to do in An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge). As you failed English know ( for Americans and other ex colonial types, local joke so ignore) when we mention Britain we really mean England except if one of you win an Olympic medal so you still have time to fit in one for Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

The question is, does it work as comedy, history or even comedic history? The gold standard is 1066 and All That and frankly, the book struggles in comparison. Both draw on popular memories of what is history and make it the raw material for humour. The historical factoids of the O'Farrell book do make it ideal for a bathroom read as you can dip in and out as nature calls. But the John O'Farrell humour of Blackadderish quips and asides* can grate unlike1066 and All That.**

Well does it work as History? Er...not really. If you had more interesting things to do at school, it does give you a simple overview of English History. If you paid attention then the lack of accuracy (Read the Terry Deary Horrid History series to see how its done properly) or the one-dimensional nature of the account soon irritates. One particular annoying clanger is the myth that the Anglo-Saxons wiped out the Romano-Celtic language and culture. The 0rigins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer based on genetic evidence show that the SW and Wales, Southern England and the North had separate and long-standing separate waves of settlement. Meaning that the natives that the Romans met in the south were of Germanic origin and hence why so little Celtic influence in place names and English. I could go about his slighting reference to the King James Bible (an attempt to head off the radical puritans translations), his failure to address the social-religious movements of the English Civil War and their impact and don't get me started on his nonsense of the first World War. Yes, I did pay attention in History and so what if you were more popular in school.

So any redeeming features? It does have several serious asides about the lack of social justice; we the working people rarely get a look in on political and social power until perhaps the English Civil war and then struggled to get universal franchise until 1948(when students having two votes was abolished). But, this was done much better by the classic Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson.

If you do get hold of a copy, pass it on to your teenagers who might at last get a sense what Sir was droning on about. As for you, its raining so get down and write the history that John O'Farrell didn't write. As for you few Americans still here, read about your own forgotten past in A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn.

Remembering that humour is subjective here are other viewpoints:

* Well researched, very funny book, which was a joy as holiday reading. Frequently laugh-out-loud. Highly enjoyable.

** a book full of silly upper-class-twit jokes. (Haw-haw! What will Master think!) .Anyway, for us who are more prosaically born and raised, this book offers no reward other than insight into the childhood of a frivolous (if Oxonian) class of recently and soon to be dead English aristocracy.

I Remember
I Remember
by Joe Brainard
Edition: Paperback

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry but not as you know it, 26 July 2008
This review is from: I Remember (Paperback)
One of the challenges facing us in the 21st century is that we have too many reading choices; each year (yes each year) around 320,000 books hit UK and USA bookstores alone. And the pace of this is increasing with smaller and smaller print runs meaning more and more specialised segmented reader markets. Don't know about you, but over my allotted 70-80 years I may manage 1001 books to read before you die; meaning that over my life tsunami of published books, I will read a passing sip of around 0.1% only. Think about all those great books that you are going to miss because of the noise from the ones with the best marketing budgets. Or from reading, what you always read.

I Remember by Joe Brainard is one of those books that was buried with the fishes a long time ago yet deserving of a wider readership. Ok let us get to the killer; its poetry linked to the New York School of the 1950-60's, which had a massive influence on contemporary music, art, dance, prose, and poetry. The `movements' approach was observational, physical, using contrasting vivid imagery to shock the observer, listener, or participant into an emotional response that enables a revitalised experience of the world. The poetry of the `movement' was a reaction to the confessional styles of poets such as Sylvia Plath who tended to write about their inner struggles.

Before you think, I sip Earl Grey tea in some fancy café jabbering on about the prevenient nature of the stanza or the catachrestical no-no, of the imagery let me tell you otherwise. My last experience of any poetry was 1975 when I did English Lit O level and although I enjoyed T.S.Elliot and Sylvia Plath, poems on seeing daffodils or Nightingales croaking did zilch for me-and rhymed couplets, please give a guy a break.

To my horror, I discovered I have to write an 80-line poem for my University Creative writing course in the autumn. Reading the course materials calmed me down. The course teaches you to start with an image or word and then free write a story. This triggers decisions on line, stanza, metre etc depending on the mood and scope of the poem. Suddenly it started to make sense so much so that I wrote my first poem in over 40 years. It was doing the background reading that led me to I Remember by Joe Brainard, which is poetry in ways you don't imagine.

He was a major painter, as well as poet, with a keen interest in collage and assemblage. One of his central works was a collection of over 3000 postcard size images that reflected the public-private experience of living in New York. The book reflects this technique by assembling hundreds of lines starting with I Remember. You may recognise it as a well-known technique for teaching children poetry. The lines list the fashions and fads, public events and private excesses of his 40's and 50's childhood as well as his creative life of the 60's and 70's in simple, honest and witty lines that spin off from each other. In reading, you are hooked into a poetry biography like no other.

You may never have given avant-garde 70's poetry a thought before but make it one of your 1001 books to read if you get the chance. It's only a 175 page slurp of a book readable in 1-2 hours as you surf through lines like this:

I remember when babies fall down "oopsydaisy"

I remember, with a limp wrist, shaking your hand back and fourth real fast until it feels like jelly.

I remember trying to get the last of cat food from a can.

I remember when a piece of hair stands up straight after a night of sleeping on it wrong.

I remember before green dishwashing liquid.

I remember a free shoehorn with new shoes.

I remember never using shoehorns.

Not convinced? Let me leave the final word with Paul Auster.

I Remember is a masterpiece. One by one, the so-called important books of our time will be forgotten, but Joe Brainard's modest little gem will endure. In simple, forthright, declarative sentences, he charts the map of the human soul and permanently alters the way we look at the world. I Remember is both uproariously funny and deeply moving. It is also one of the few totally original books I have ever read.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5