REVIEW: Win a copy of Rip it up!

Macmillan have kindly sent me two copies of self-help manual Rip it up – one to review and one to offer in a competition.

So if you leave a comment under this post, being sure to use your correct email address, I will draw names from a hat on Friday and get in touch with the lucky winner to ask where you want your copy sent.

The book is an interesting take on self-help and I guess they needed to send me two copies because, if you read the book and follow the instructions, bits of the book won’t be there for its next reader. The idea is that the book wants you to change your habits, and it starts out by getting you to change how you see books. Suddenly it’s OK to commit the most heinous book crime, and tear out a page!

The book is by Richard Wiseman, professor of the public understanding of psychology at Hertfordshire University, and once the initial task is out the way the (entirely readable) first chapter delves into the academic history of the theories the book is hoping you can use to change your life for the better. Following the exercises, it’s apparently possible to become a better, more productive thinner person. Imagine!

If you too want to become better, thinner, and more productive, remember to enter the competition by leaving a comment.

Non fic stories

Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and almost all of that, for almost all of the time I have been an independent reader, has been detective stories of one sort or another.

But in the last few years, I have started to branch out a bit into reading non-fiction for pleasure. And there’s a sort of new genre I have come across – or at least new to me – of a weird sort of travelogue / nonfic hybrid. Nonfic authors essentially writing stories that happen to be true, but have the readability of fiction. And maybe also footnotes.

The first I really bumped into were Mary Roach. I can’t now remember why I started reading her, but her books are brilliant, about all sorts of unsavoury subjects. There’s Stiff, about cadavers (which I also talked about for Pod Delusion here) Bonk, about sex and Spook about scientific investigations into the afterlife – one I didn’t enjoy quite so much. In all of these, Roach travels about the globe, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

I suppose the king of all of this genre is probably Bill Bryson. For some reason I have resisted reading almost anything by him, although I did dip into A short history of almost everything on honeymoon and did rather enjoy Notes from a Small Island, in which Bryson travels around Britain, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

Then the latest discovery is Jon Ronson, of whom I had previously not heard, but someone (probably Kayray) tweeted about his book The Psychopath Test, and I, being for some reason at a low resistance (ie tired, under the influence) popped over to Amazon and bought it. Most weeks there are a scary flood of parcels coming through the letter box of things I only dimly remember buying. And there are now two versions of Mt Toberead – the Kindle version and the print version…

Whilst on holiday, a brief moment of time away from our wonderful hosts while he wired his new sound system and she showed P around the garden and got him to take cuttings, left me alone in my room with my book for a few hours. So far, so good, and so I turned to Jon Ronson. And finished it in two sittings – three hours then and a few more on the return ferry from France.

It’s a book in which Jon Ronson travels around the world, meets people including psychopaths and mental health professionals, and then writes about the journey and the discussions. It’s fascinating and worrying, takes in the corporate world, Scientologists and Broadmoor. And eminently readable. So, at the end of the book, when the Kindle automatically suggested I might like also to read the Men Who Stare At Goats, I added that to the mountain.

RIP Reginald Hill

I read from barely two people on Twitter that ace crime novelist Reginald Hill, auteur of the Dalziel and Pascoe crimefighting duo, has died. M’learned colleague Stephen Tall has a nice post on the subject, bemoaning the quality of the TV adaptations of his work.

For me this was not an issue, for although I was aware of the adaptations I have never seen either incarnation.

I had however read a few of his novels over the last few decades, and so was able to choose his work when I went on my long French road trip in 2005. It is always a pleasure to encounter the first time an author you really like with an extensive series of novels you can get your teeth into when you get time. I have a slight completist streak, mainly when it comes to the unproductive side of life such as crime novels and TV series.

So in 2005, in preparation for six weeks under canvass on my own in France, I bought a crate of Reginald Hill novels, almost all of his books that had been in print some time, and systematically set out to read them in order. I had particularly been looking out for the Ursprungsroman of the gay character Sergeant Wieldy, which is referred to obliquely in many subsequent books. I have definitely read it, enjoyed it at the time, and have no detailed memory of what happened in it.

I ended up tearing through the crate of books, burning up the D-cells in my tent lantern so I could read through the night, and ultimately read the six weeks’ worth of books in only three. The structure of my holiday was such that I took a holiday from my holiday to return to England halfway through for a stag do so was able to ensure that a whole new stack of Amazon 1p special secondhand books was waiting for me when I got there. I moved on to reading all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet books.

My route took in my dear friend, my former French teacher, and conversation there turned to novels, and I found out that despite her northern heritage, she had never read the Yorkshire classics. We ultimately effected an exchange – and my crate of Hill novels was handed over and in return I got a big pile of Georges Simenon novels – the Maigret books – in French. I fear that crate has languished neglected somewhere ever since. I hope it’s in the attic and is OK.

To return to Reginald Hill, it seems such a shame that so few people are talking about it. So few people have mentioned it on twitter, and I haven’t heard officially on the BBC news on either last night’s 6pm bulletin or this morning’s lunchtime headlines. And the Wikipedia pages are somewhat incomplete, with most Dalziel and Pascoe novels not having a page of their own. Which is a shame.

My audiobook published – Chasing the Dragon, by Nicholas Kaufmann

Cover artwork for audiobook Chasing the Dragon

As mentioned a few months ago, I’ve been taping an audiobook for Iambik Audiobooks, a company that grew in the fertile soil of Librivox, where I have a few titles and many more chapters.

A good number of hours ensconced with the text and my trusty Zoom H2, and huge number more hours editing, and sterling effort from a team including a proof-listener (thanks Diana!), artwork, technical and post-prod directors, and hand-holder-in-chief Gesine Kernchen, brings the project to a close.

It’s now available for sale here. You can get it in an iPod friendly format or DRM-free honest-to-goodness plain and simple MP3s. Payment via credit-card or Paypal. Over three hours of me speaking direct into your earhole, swearing, talking blood and guts, doing a brief Morgan Freeman impression, jonesing, going on heroin flashbacks… G’wan, you know you wanna.

Oh, and the story is ace too. Big shout out for its author Nicholas Kaufmann. The text grips you from the start – get more than about a third into it and you will probably find your life on hold until you’ve finished it. The characters are strong and vivid and you are rooting for the protagonist so hard it hurts – despite her many flaws and the sea of destruction around her.

Interestingly, it seems the audiobook edition is the cheapest way to get hold of this story in the UK! (You can get it in print on Amazon here and as a Kindle edition here.

BBC’s “neglected classics”

BBC Radio 4 has been running a “neglected classics” segment on its programme “Open Book” where they get famous authors to choose books that not enough people still read. There are ten; there is a public vote; then the winner gets dramatised for Classic Serial.

The list is here, along with links to the authors talking about the books to help people choose.

Of those ten works promoted, only four are out of copyright (I was hoping for more than that, given that they are “classics”!)

So, four are available from Project Gutenberg, and can be downloaded for free as E-books:

Lermontov, Hero of our time

Trollope, Miss Mackenzie (apparently very short by Trollope standards)

Johnson, Rasselas

Moore, Esther Waters

If you prefer your classics to be narrated, then two of them have been recorded for Librivox by volunteers, and can be downloaded for free as public domain audiobooks in MP3 format.

Esther Waters by George Moore on Librivox

Rasselas by Samuel Johnson on Librivox

Unpleasant Tory campaign vignettes

This week in the Guardian’s diary column Esther Addley is standing in for Hugh Muir, and she’s chosen a book of the week, True Blue: Strange Tales from a Tory Nation, by Chris Horrie and David Matthews.

Very unpleasant trends are emerging in two vignettes that paint Tory activists as racist and anti-Semitic. Who knew?

The first scene takes us to Richmond:

during the election campaign of 2005, when the book’s undercover authors were canvassing for the local Tory candidate against the Lib Dems’ Susan Kramer. Given a telephone cold-calling script, they were puzzled to find instructions to tell voters that Kramer was an “outsider” and, perplexingly, Hungarian (Kramer was born and raised in London). Why? “She’s a Jewess,” said a party activist, “but we aren’t allowed to say that. We get told off if we say that. So all we can say is that she got off the train from Hungary.”

And then in the London mayoral campaign, we have a charming anecdote:

[Ray] Lewis insisted he had a good idea of what the new job would involve, “which is more than you can say about Boris!”, before doing an impression of his new boss: “Crikey, Ray! What are we going to do? Gosh! Crumbs! Have you got any ideas? Golly!” Cue raucous hilarity, topped only when Lewis joked about a conversation about the local Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey, who was also present and, like Lewis, is black. “I’ve just been speaking to a lady and she asked: ‘Which one is Shaun and which one is Ray – it’s hard to tell you apart.’”

The book is available on Amazon – and if you use this link you’re helping raise funds for the Liberal Democrats: True Blue: Strange Tales from a Tory Nation. Perhaps a kind reader out there would care to buy a copy and review it for us in greater detail?

Political leadership

A colleague has pointed me at a rather charming anecdote in a tome that was available at Bournemouth conference last autumn. The Politics of Leadership was a book available at a stand promoting Be A Councillor when it ran in London. It’s published by the Leadership Centre for Local Government, ISBN 978-1-84049-639-0

One of the chapters is called “Thinkers, fixers and communicators” and the author, Joe Simpson, explains it thus:

I think of politicians as thinkers, fixers or communicators. To be a good politician you need to be good at – at least – one of these attributes. To be great, you need at least two. In fiction, you might find someone who excels at all three.

But the real fun comes at the end of the chapter:

As an aside, the Leadership Centre runs development programmes for rising local government political talent for each of the three main parties. I recently asked each member of the three Next Generation cohorts which one of the three thinker, fixer or communicator categories they would ascribe themselves. The Labour response covered all three, but out of the Conservatives, only one person thought of themselves as a thinker – instead we had a room full of fixers and communicators. And with the Liberal Democrats, only one person (a party staffer) saw themselves as a fixer: most thought they were thinkers. Recounting this outcome to a prominent Liberal Democrat council leader, he replied that that’s precisely why he found it so easy to succeed in his party, always being the one person in his circle who operated as the fixer.

The predominance of thinkers would certainly explain why we get so many comments whenever we discuss just what it means to be a liberal in these troubled times.

So, dear reader, where do you fit in? Thinker, fixer or communicator?

Offloading books

I’m trying to declutter a bit, and have put a whole loada books on, a place where you offer to post books to strangers for free in the hope that someone will post you books you want.  There are rules and things to try and keep it fair, and I can’t get any books until I offload some.

If you want some of my books, there’s a page here that should list the ones I have knocking about.

I buy too many books – usually the very cheap second hand ones from Amazon that cost £0.01p plus P+P. And then I hold on to them.  I’m trying to get a complete collection of the Janet Evanovich / Stephanie Plum books;  I already own a full set of Alphabet books from Sue Grafton, although a big wodge of those are on loan at the moment.  I want to hold onto those.

But there are plenty of books still available.  Lots of Kathy Reichs, lots of Dan Brown, several Stephen Booth (he’s v good – Derbyshire based policiers).  Join Mooch, get a book, earn me new books. Strangely Mooch doesn’t seem to play well with Google Chrome – practically the first website I’ve encountered that struggles.

All of the books on the list are also on Bookcrossing, where I do not have a good track record.  Despite picking up other people’s books and despite registering dozens on the site, and despite leaving helpfully tagged books in interesting places (eg Cyprus) no-one has ever picked up a book I’ve left somewhere and recorded the fact on Bookcrossing.  Gah!

Book tag

Intelligent Person's Guide to LiberalismIain Dale tagged me yonks ago to write about books. I’ve been rather avoiding answering. Although I love reading, I seldom read anything of any weight. I snatch hours here and there to read detective fiction, but even when I do have longer periods, it does tend still to be the same old tec fic. I carried An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism around in my bag for months but never got beyond the first chapter. My Dad gets the Booker Prize winner for Christmas each year because he likes weighty fiction, but I haven’t read one of them before giving since Pat Barker’s Ghost Road.

1. Name one book that changed your life.

That’s a very tall order. I was always very taken by Mr Tickle. Just the idea of being able to get biscuits from the kitchen without ever having to get out bed…

2. One book you’ve read more than once.

Marked for Life by Paul MagrsMarked for Life by Paul Magrs.

Back in 1995, I was working at Ludlow Library as my Saturday job during my A Level years. It was a very good job for me since at the time I did a huge amount of reading. I jobshared with someone I only met once or twice, because we were both language students and we were both likely to take time off for travelling. I used to borrow huge amounts of books, CDs and the like for free. Whenever anything interesting came over the counter, I snaffled it for myself. So often, I learned my library card number so I could type it into the terminal: R2206004395.

Another of the perks was that books about to be published got promoted to the library. We used to get a deck of filing cards with titles, and a very brief synopsis. Something about the book grabbed me – it could just have been the word ‘gay’ in the description. I marked the card as one I wanted the library to buy, a few weeks later, the book showed up, I borrowed it, read it, and was wowed. I bought it for myself a few days later. Now I can’t really remember much about what was in the book, but magical realism featured. Something that really sticks in my mind was a sex scene between the tatooed guy the book is named for and an invisible guy who’s only visible at all because of a glow-in-the-dark condom. Marked for Life is the first in a trilogy, the others are Does it Show? and Could it be Magic? Some of the characters from these books also turn up in Magrs’ Dr Who fiction, which is an interesting crossover of genres.

All these books are amongst the very large stash of my books in my parents’ attic. They’re in a box that says I have to look at them again in ten years from when they went up there. That must be coming up soon. Gawd only knows where in this house they’ll go!

3. One book you’d want on a desert island.

This one looks like a good idea.

4. One book that made you laugh.

Tough call – go for the Pratchett or go for the Fforde? I did hoot recently when re-reading The Eyre Affair at the idea of a perfomance of Richard III given the full audience-participation of Rocky Horror. (“When is the winter of our discontent? ‘NOW is the winter of our discontent.'”) And The Big Over Easy was full of terrible jokes all the way through. Then again pterry manages whole books predicated on one bad pun…

5. One book that made you cry.

Grinny, by Nicholas FiskI’m not sure anything has for decades. I do remember being very upset as a nipper by the book You Remember Me! by Nicholas Fisk, a sequel to Grinny and by the same author as Trillions, and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair. The cover of the Puffin edition of Grinny makes it look like a charming, quirky little story for quite young children. I remember it as a horrifically frightening book – one of those books that scares you witless, but you go back to and read again and again for the thrill. This teaching site lists it as a Key Stage 3 text, which is age-range 11-14, but I think I must have read this at 8. I was probably a wee bit too young. Anyway, I would ly recommend Fisk to anyone with children interested in science fiction. The reviews for Rag sum it up:

i first read this way back in the 70’s and, to be honest, i scared me witless for years after. maybe i was a sensitive child or something. so i came back to it a cynical adult and after the first twenty pages i was laughing at my previous fears, but then the plot really kicks in and remarkably for a thirty year old kids book it hasn’t dated.

6. One book you wish you’d written.


7. One book you wish had never been written.

Oh, what kind of a question is that?

8. One book you’re currently reading.

I’m currently reading 80 Days Around the World for Librivox. Draft files here. I really need to find some time to record more chapters. An actual book? – I have Monster by Jonathan Kellerman on the go, one of the Alex Delaware series.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read.

I bought that Kennedy biography, but haven’t got off the first page yet.

10. Now tag five people.

I don’t tag people. If you want to do the list yourself, knock yourself out.