British Authors

Henry Marsh's "Admissions."

Okay, the copy I have is overdue from the library, so here's your extremely short review: I liked Henry Marsh's memoir Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon. His work is fascinating, his take on the bureaucracy of the British medical system is also fascinating, and even when I don't like Marsh very much (mainly because I don't like doctors) I find most of his honesty refreshing. I could have done without his advocating for euthanasia, because (as previously stated), I just don't think we have the right to kill ourselves or others, but that mostly comes in the last chapter so it's easy to skip it if you're so inclined.

So yeah: a good book. Not as good as his first book, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, but still a good book.


What to Watch: A Whirlwind Tour of British TV presentation.

Binge for blogsMorning!

If anyone is in the McFarland/Madison WI area, I'll be giving a presentation on British television and how great it is at the E.D. Locke Public Library in McFarland, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night, August 27. Here are the details:

Program: What to Watch: A Whirlwind Tour of British Television

When and Where: Tuesday, August 27, 6:30 p.m., at the E.D. Locke Public Library in McFarland. The library's address is 5920 Milwaukee St., McFarland.

I'm really looking forward to it and hope it will be great fun! I'll have books for sale ($15 for one, $20 for two, although I can only accept cash) and can't wait to hear everyone else's suggestions for their favorite Brit TV programs.

Hope to see you there! And if you can't make it, I've made a page over at the Great British TV Site to cover what we'll be talking about!

More information about my and Jackie Bailey's new book, Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching, can be found at Amazon, or you can read some lovely reviews of the book at Anglotopia and British Banter in Atlanta. The book is also available to libraries and stores at IngramSpark with the standard industry discount.

 


Read "The Diary of a Bookseller" today!

BooksellerTo everyone who told me to read Shaun Bythell's memoir The Diary of a Bookseller: You were so right!

I loved this book. It's just that simple. I read it in a couple of days, and then I turned back to the front page and read it all over again. Then for another month I read different pages of it while I ate my old-lady breakfast of Fiber One cereal* and coffee.

What surprised me most about this book was how dense it was. A lot of times when you get bookish or reading memoirs, or even retail memoirs, they're rather light on text. This book is a solid 300+ pages and the type is surprisingly small. Bythell is the owner and proprietor of The Book Shop in Wigtown (designated the National Book Town of Scotland), and this is the diary of a year in his life running the used bookstore, getting along (kind of) with his employees, his life in the community and among his friends, and taking part in the town's annual Wigtown Book Festival. He begins each entry by noting how many of the store's books were ordered that day through various online channels, and ends each one by noting how many customers were in that day and what the "till total" was.

All the highlights of the used book trade are here--people thinking they own very valuable first editions when they want to sell them, and thinking all used books should be cheap when they want to buy them; dealing with eccentric help when you're a bit eccentric yourself; driving hither and yon to assess and buy book collections in all manner of conditions. Bythell also clearly enjoys his environment, both the shop and the natural one; he includes entries about the difficulties of heating the shop and trying to keep the rain out, as well as about the sunny and not-so-sunny days when he ducks out to do a little trout fishing.

This should give you an idea about Bythell's tone, which I thoroughly enjoyed:

"Opened the shop five minutes late because the key jammed. The first customer of the day brought two Rider Haggard first editions to the counter, 8.50 each. At the same moment the thought 'Those are seriously underpriced' entered my head, he asked, 'Will you do them for 13?' When I refused to knock anything off them, he replied, 'Well, you've got to ask, haven't you?' so I told him that no, you do not have to ask." (p. 115.)

What a great read. It took me right back to my job in a used bookstore, which I loved and loved and loved, and would be doing still if I hadn't needed health insurance and if the owners hadn't eventually closed the store and taken other jobs because they needed health insurance too. If you have sold books or love books, read this one. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

*Don't get me wrong. I love my Fiber One honey flakes cereal. It makes my life better. But it doesn't really make for the most exciting breakfast eating ever, which is why it's so nice to put them together with a very strong cup of coffee and a lovely book.


From reading nonfiction to writing nonfiction.

Binge for blogsIt's here! My new book Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching is now available as a paperback from Amazon!

The book is my love letter to all things British television, and perhaps my favorite thing about it is that it provided me with an excuse to make a new British friend: my co-author, Jackie Bailey, who provided the Brit perspective and answered all my questions about Brit TV (and life), like "How many BBCs are there?" and "Why don't the cops in your cop programs have guns?"

AND...we're running a promotion! It's called "Buy a Copy, Review a Copy, Get a Copy." Buy a copy of the book at Amazon, review it for us there, leave a comment here or send me the review link, and I'll contact you to send you a FREE second copy that you can pass along to someone else! BOGO, if you will, with a review in the middle.

I'm very excited, and yes, I want to hear your ideas for promoting this book. Marketing has never been one of my skills*, but I want to learn!

*Indexing is, though, and please note the book is fully indexed!


Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh.

Have I ever talked in this space about how much I hate doctors and everything about the medical establishment?

Oh, wait. Yes I have. Quite a lot, actually.

So anyway. I don't like doctors. But then there's surgeons. Mostly I don't hate surgeons as much as I hate other doctors. Perhaps it's because I've had good luck with surgeons, if by "good luck" I mean they have pretty much solved the problems I went to see them for (although at least one did not shine in the department of helping me recover after surgery), and I can appreciate that.

So when I saw a review of a book by a neurosurgeon, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery,* by Henry Marsh, I thought, yeah, I'm going to read that.

And it was FASCINATING. No kidding. Imagine just being a new doctor, not particularly enjoying it, when someone asks you to come along and help prepare a patient for neurosurgery, and after watching that surgery, you decide, boom, that's it, you're going to be a brain surgeon. This is basically what happened to Marsh.

I found this book endlessly fascinating. I can't say I liked the author, because he seems like the sort of doctor/surgeon/person I wouldn't much like if I met him (although if I needed him to fix a brain tumor, aneurysm, or other brain or spine problem I would be glad to see him). But I did enjoy his voice. I enjoyed his brisk descriptions, like this one, about how he hardly ever took a science class during his "private and privileged English education in a famous school," and eventually left Oxford to work as a hospital porter in the north of England, where he discovered he wanted to be a surgeon:

"Having spent six moths watching surgeons operating I decided that this was what I should do. I found its controlled and altruistic violence deeply appealing." (p. 76.)

I loved that. If there's any better description of surgery than "altruistic violence" I don't know what it is. It also makes it crystal clear to me why there are still more male surgeons than female ones.

There's some thrilling stories here, when everything went right during Marsh's surgeries on patients for an appalling number of different types of tumors, aneurysms, and other horrifying brain problems, and there's also a lot of heartbreak, when things just don't go right or (and it happens) something goes wrong due to surgeon error. Imagine having to tell someone you paralyzed them while you were trying to save them. Imagine telling a family that a patient bled to death on the operating table because you couldn't get the aneurysm clipped in the right way. I can't. I can't believe anyone can. So this book was a good reminder to me that, I may not like them, but thank goodness some people out there have the required personality to be able to cut into someone's head (and other parts), and they have terrible days. You really just have to hope you're never in a situation where their terrible day becomes YOUR terrible day.

I also liked that Marsh is a British surgeon and he had a lot to say about what goes on in the National Health Service and behind the scenes in hospitals generally.

Read it. But don't read it if you're scheduled to go into any kind of surgery any time soon.

*I love this review so much. God love The Guardian.


Something a little lighter for endless winter.

Mr. CR is firmly of the belief that all I read is "depressing nonfiction." He makes a fair point, as Mr. CR often does. I read a lot of depressing nonfiction. But not EVERYTHING I read is terribly sad. Take, for instance, the thoroughly delightful book Weird Thigns Customers Say in Bookstores, by Jen Campbell.

I blew through this one the other night as the delightful March breeze in my corner of the Badger State was taking us down to a record-breaking temperature below zero. In MARCH. That is not right. So, I was glad to have this very funny book to read.

It's organized in sections like "What Was That Title Again?", "Parents and Kids," and "Customers Behaving Badly," among many others.*

The anecdotes range from the brief and delightful:

"Customer: Do you have a book of mother-in-law jokes? I want to give it to my mother-in-law as a joke. But, you know, not really as a joke at all." (p. 20.)

To the slightly longer and delightful:

"[Child finds the light switch and begins to flick it on and off...and on and off.] Child's Mother: He's playing a game he calls night and day.Bookseller: Could you please ask him to stop? I need to be able to see the register to help these customers. Child's Mother: It's ok. He'll stop in a few minutes. See, he's pretending to snore at the moment. He'll stop soon and pretend to wake up, and switch the light on like it's the sun. He's so imaginative, isn't he? David, what time is it in the game? Child: It's five in the morning! Child's Mother: [to bookseller] See. Not long to go now. Just be patient." (pp. 48-59.)

Gosh, it made me miss working in a bookstore. It also just made me miss bookstores, full stop. This online world sucks.

Now, book people, go get this book and enjoy.

*All of which I'm sure librarians can appreciate too, although we would have to add a chapter for "Weird Things and People we Have Had to Pull Out of Bathrooms."


Diana Athill, 1917-2019.

Out of nowhere one day, no more than a month ago, I wondered when we would lose* editor and author Diana Athill, and I actually felt some sorrow just thinking about the day she would die, which I figured must be coming because a. we all die, and b. I knew she was now either in her high 90s or 100s.

So yesterday came the announcement: Diana Athill has died, aged 101.

Go read that obituary. Really. Even if you have no idea who she is her life story is a wonder. Not only do I feel tremendous warmth toward Athill for being part of the publishing house of Andre Deutsch (the publisher who published Helene Hanff's books in England), but I really enjoyed her as an author, too. Also, because she found much of her success in writing after her 40th birthday, I find her tremendously inspiring. Here's a list of posts I've written about her in the past (I had forgotten there were so many).

I don't know where to tell you to start: among other things, she wrote the memoir Stet, about her life as an editor; Somewhere Near the End, about life as she aged into her 80s and 90s, and Alive, Alive Oh! an essay collection which includes her essay about having a surprise pregnancy and miscarriage at age 43 that remains among the best things I've ever read about a woman's body by a woman.

I salute you, Diana Athill. Fly, be free.

*Mr. CR says I have got to stop using the word "lose" as a euphemism for someone's dying. When my brother died, years ago, I called my library boss to tell her I'd lost my brother and wouldn't be in to work the next day, and all she snapped was, "Well, you're on the schedule the day after that, too," to which I patiently had to explain I wouldn't be in that day, either. When I got off the phone, appalled, Mr. CR said, "Well, maybe she really just thought you lost your brother out in the cornfield or something." (That's actually one of my favorite Mr. CR moments of all time.) But I can't help it! "Died" is too harsh and I hate the word "passed." So "lost" it is.


The Essay Project 2018: Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree.

It is Monday, May 7, and that means: It is time to do this Essay Project, people.

Can I get an AMEN from the choir?

That's better.

Now, our essay collection for May 2018 is Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, which is a book consisting of essays he posted in The Believer magazine. Now you should know this about me: I don't really care for The Believer magazine. Any book review publication that doesn't really print negative reviews is emphatically not the kind of book review publication I want to be reading.

But I'm not going to hold that against Hornby. In these essays he looks at his book-buying and book-reading life, month by month, listing the books he buys and the books he actually reads, and what he thinks about those books.

But I'm not here to talk. I'm here to facilitate our discussion on this book to the best of my ability, and to pose questions and invite questions from you as well. For this firstish week of May, I have two questions; you can answer one or both.* The first one's no softball, because let's face it, we are not novices, we are Citizen Readers.

1. What makes something an essay?

And the second one is a softball, because we don't always go in just for the big intellectual stuff.

2. How did you like Hornby's essays in this collection?

Now have at in the comments!**

*And please suggest questions you'd like to ask for next week's discussion of this book.

**This is so exciting!

 


Reading while not paying attention.

I'm having a very odd autumn. I'm reading a lot, but I can't say I'm enjoying a whole lot of what I'm reading, or paying too much attention to it. I feel like I'm skimming a lot of books, and my feeling while reading them is, "yeah yeah, been there, done that."

IrbyTake Samantha Irby's essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Irby blogs at bitches gotta eat, and I've been seeing her book (and its eye-catching cover) get a lot of attention. I did read the whole thing (it's a quick read) and laughed in parts, but after a while I thought, yeah, okay, LOL, I don't mind all the caps, but I GET IT NOW SO THAT'S ENOUGH KTHANKS. I will give her this: she'll tell you anything, and I like memoirists who do that. Take this scene, when she tries to spread her father's cremains in Nashville, on a trip with her girlfriend:

"As the better part of the cremains shook loose from where they had settled, a huge gust of wind came from the east. OF FUCKING COURSE.

Mavis's face was like Munch's Scream painting, all horrified wide eyes and open mouth, as I turned toward her with my dead father's charred bones and fingernails splattered across my face and crackling between my teeth. It was like coming home from a day at the beach, except replace 'sand' with 'gritty Sam Irby [her father] penis and entrails' lining my nostrils and in between my toes." (p. 183.)

And then there was the very different Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm, by Sarah Menkedick. This is a memoir about a woman who spent most of her life traveling, until she settled down on her parents' land in Ohio and became pregnant with her first child. Normally I eat that sort of thing up with a spoon (being interested in both farms and pregnancy) but this one didn't do much for me, even as I kept reading it:

"In my twenties, I flung myself into the world. I leapfrogged across continents, hungering for experience and proof of my own wildness. I taught English to recalcitrant teenagers on Reunion Island, picked grapes in France, witnessed a revolution in Mexico. To be aware was to be outside, under Mongolian skies and in bantam seaside bars, far-flung places where every conversation and scent prickled with exceptionality." (p. 4.)

The writing is fine and the subject is fine but while I was reading all I could think was "blah blah blah you travel it's all very exotic and now you're going to have a baby and connect with the Earth uh huh..."

I know. I'm a terrible person. You're really not going to like this next story.

BookshopLast week I also read a lovely light little novel titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry. It's a nice little chick lit-ish romance, it's set in a bookshop, it's further set in Great Britain, and it's got several love stories that get happy resolutions. All of those things should have meant I should have been purring with happiness as I read it. And yet I wasn't. In fact part of me was distinctly thinking, as I said to Mr. CR, "Oh brother, go live your happy little love lives, bleah." Part of it was jealousy that the main character owned a bookshop and made it a profitable concern by the end of the book. I'm very jealous of that.

So there you have it. Don't send any cheerful, nice, gentle, earth-mothery, or lovey books my way this autumn. I won't be fair to them.


A tale of two novels.

Swimming lessonsI got and read Claire Fuller's novel Swimming Lessons because somewhere I read that it was a good book about a marriage (or, as the jacket copy promises, it explores "the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage"). I have been burned by this interest before, but I almost always look at novels and nonfiction that are primarily about marriage.

And it was okay. I read the whole thing, and I wondered vaguely about the lives of the characters, but when I finished it I didn't have a real strong feeling about it one way or the other. At points I was unsure what had happened, or what the author meant by some things, and, as I told Mr. CR, "You know, in all of modern literary fiction lately I feel like I am just guessing at what happened or what the author meant." And I do not like that feeling. Sure, I'm a lazy reader, but sometimes I just like to feel like I get the whole story the author is telling.

I was almost off of novels for a while, but then I remembered that I had Jami Attenberg's new novel All Grown Up home from the library. I almost took it back sight unseen, but then I remembered my reading experience that had been her earlier novel, The Middlesteins. I read it during one of my non-blogging periods, but I should have written about it later: I loved it.

So I read the first fifty pages or so of All Grown Up, and I was confused a bit by who was talking and who the names at the heads of the chapters were referring to (see earlier: I am a lazy reader), and I thought, well, it's no The Middlesteins. But I felt I owed it to Jami Attenberg to stick with it.

All grown upAnd somewhere in the middle it did two things: First, it kicked me in the heart. Then, it made me do that thing I do where I don't really sob, but I pause from the text and I put my hand to my face and I look around a bit and I try not to cry.

Look, it's not a big profound novel about love.* It doesn't particularly reveal any truths, passionate or otherwise. But, goddamnit, do I love Jami Attenberg's characters. They're nothing like me, particularly her main female characters, and yet I LOVE them. I love their voices, which sometimes say such simple and heartbreaking things. Because you know what? Life is kind of heartbreaking in its simplicity. It is hard to get along with people. It is hard to care for people with sicknesses. It is hard to not know what you want and have weaknesses and it is very, very hard to get old. It is hard, in short, to be all grown up.

Just read it, okay? How can you not like a main character like Andrea Bern, who has a number of (arguably) unhealthy relationships with men, and yet can say things like this after a tryst with a lover:

"That was two years ago. I haven't seen Alex since, though sometimes we text, and once he asked me to send him a naked picture, and I laughed and laughed, so for that I thank him, because who doesn't need a good laugh? (p. 51.)

Because yes, that should be the response of all women when asked to send a man a naked picture. Laughter.

And here she is, conversing with her therapist:

"ME: My mother is leaving me and moving to New Hampshire.

THERAPIST: And how does that make you feel?

ME: It makes me feel like she doesn't love me.

THERAPIST: Hasn't she proved to you she loves you already?

ME: How?

THERAPIST: By caring for you, nurturing you, supporting you, raising you to be the person you are today.

ME: All of that comprises a rational argument but can I just ask you a question?

THERAPIST: Sure.

ME: Whose side are you on, anyway?" (p. 65.)

So: a tale of two novels. The first made me say "meh" and the second made me re-start it all over again when I had just finished it, and I NEVER do that. Go read something, anything, by Jami Attenberg. Okay? Okay.

*And it's not perfect, but mostly its flaws are tiny and forgivable. Its cover, though, which looks like Chick Lit Covers 101? I hate the cover.


Diana Athill's Alive, Alive Oh!

You know, I really like Diana Athill.

AliveOr, I should say, I like Diana Athill on the page. I rather suspect we would not have a good rapport in person. Athill seems like a real "lust for life" personality (which is lucky, as she is currently in her 90s), whereas I am decidedly not a lust for life person. I am grateful for my life and I really enjoy my life, but anyone watching my daily routine, I don't think, would say I have a real "lust" for living.

But there is something inspiring about Athill's enthusiasm for life and all its experiences. In this slim collection, Alive, Alive Oh!, she has put together a few more essays, following up her earlier memoirs/essay collections Stet, Instead of a Letter, and Somewhere Towards the End (as well as several other NF books and novels). One of the most interest to me in this book was the one from which the book took its title, "Alive, Alive Oh!":

"In my early forties I thought of myself as a rational woman, but while I could sleep alone in an empty house for night after night without worrying, there were other nights when my nerves twitched like a rabbit's at the least sound, regardless of what I had been reading or talking about. On the many good nights and the few bad the chances of a burglar breaking in were exactly the same: the difference was within myself and signified nothing which I could identify. And I had always been like that over the possibility of pregnancy." (p. 63.)

She goes on to describe becoming pregnant at age 43, by a man who was her lover but who was married to someone else and was nine years her junior. She also describes being pregnant two times previously, and how she had "overruled" what might have been any subconscious desire of her body by having abortions:

"I had overruled it twice before and had felt no ill effects. 'All right, so you want a baby. Who doesn't? But as things are you can't have one--I'm sorry but there it is, too bad for you.' Neither time had it put up any fight. It had accepted its frustration placidly--and placidly it had resumed its scheming." (p. 65.)*

But, at 43, she decides to have the baby and is happy with her decision (and you have to read this essay just to see how her boss, Andre Deutsch, responds to news of her pregnancy, and what it might mean for her work in their publishing firm. It's enough to make you love all mankind, or just Deutsch specifically), and her description of her early pregnancy is one of the most interesting (and happiest) I've read:

"Those weeks of April and May were the only ones in my life when spring was wholly, fully beautiful. All other springs carried with them regret at their passing. If I thought, 'Today the white double cherries are at their most perfect,' it summoned up the simultaneous awareness: 'Tomorrow the edges of their petals will begin to turn brown.' This time a particularly ebullient, sun-drenched spring simply existed for me. It was as though, instead of being a stationary object past which a current was flowing, I was flowing with it, in it, at the same rate. It was a happiness new to me, but it felt very ancient, and complete." (p. 76-77.)

If you are familiar with Athill's life and works you probably know how this story turned out; if not, you will simply have to read the book. I may not always agree with or even particularly like her, but she has a beautiful way with words and I always find her interesting. Also of particular note in this collection is an essay about how she chose to move to a slightly nicer and more independent version of what must be a British nursing home; once again her continuing interest in life and her pragmatism to get what she can out of every experience (even at age 98!) is truly something to behold. Alive, alive, oh! Indeed.

*This is one issue on which Athill and I would disagree. I continue to be anti-abortion and find her to be rather too coldly practical on this issue for me.


Eye candy for Anglophiles: "British Stuff: Life in Britain through 101 Everyday Objects."

So I've pretty much given myself over to just pretending I'm British. Yesterday I was writing something about colors and I almost wrote colours. Today I told a friend I had to go to the piddly diddly department.*

British stuffSo of course when I see books in the library like British Stuff: Life in Britain through 101 Everyday Objects, I have to immediately take them home and read them. I LOVED this one--beautiful photos and just enough text to impart good information while still making it a quick (and fun) read. And yes, I'm totally pathetic and prided myself on how many of these objects I already knew about. Sad that my self-confidence is tied up not with keeping a tidy home or making awesome craft projects with the CRjrs, but rather with how many British things I can identify on sight.

Here's a particularly fun entry, for the simple "Garden shed":

"A shed is usually a simple, single-storey structure in a back garden or on an allotment which is generally used for storage, for hobbies or as a workshop. Of course sheds exist all over the world, but in Britain the shed has particular cultural significance. It is where British people, especially men, retreat to, in order to 'potter,' to escape, to 'do stuff.'

It is their refuge from the rest of the world, a place where they can dismantle a motorbike without having to suffer the abuse they might otherwise earn if they carried out the same task on the kitchen table. In exceptional circumstances the shed may also be used to sleep in if their owners have locked themselves out after a night at the pub. And whilst it may still be men who most often seek refuge in their shed, increasingly women are also enjoying their own space there."

I'm totally going to build a backyard shed to be my refuge. I will go there and pretend I'm British, and I will tell Mr. CR, "I am going to my shed. Kindly do not bother me whilst I am there. I will be back in when I need to go to the piddly diddly department."

It's a great book. Do humour me and go and read it.

*Meaning the bathroom, of course--you would totally know that if you had read Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicolson books like I told you to.


Oh, Louise Rennison, my heart is broken.

Author Louise Rennison has died, at the age of 64.

I LOVED Louise Rennison. Any good Anglophile worth the title should be familiar with her master works, starting with Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, all the way through the tenth book in the Georgia Nicolson series, titled Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

If you can't tell by the titles, these are YA novels (ten in the series, total) featuring Georgia Nicolson, a boy-mad but totally hilarious young girl with a vocabulary all her own. And you know what? They were sweet. Georgia is crazy, but over the course of ten books she never got dull, and actually very little in the way of full-frontal snogging went on, which was kind of a nice change in modern literature. If you know anyone just a bit young for the Bridget Jones books, get them this series instead. They will love you forever.


Holiday Book Buying Guide 2015: For the Anglophile in your life

Know any Anglophiles? You know, your friend who watches more British TV than she does American, and (largely as a result of that) clicks on all the royal family linkbait she comes across?*

Well, if you need a gift for an Anglophile, you could go more wrong than buying Fraser McAlpine's fun pop culture/reference guide Stuff Brits Like. In short chapters McAlpine covers a wide variety of subjects of interest to those with an interest in all things British: Pedantry, Talking About the Weather, Apologizing Needlessly, Sarcasm**, the National Health Service, Dunking Biscuits, and many, many more. It's engagingly written (as seen in this chapter on "Reality TV"):

"It's bubble-popping time! A certain number of people may be interested in reading a book about British culture because they believe the world is going to aitch-ee-double-hockeysticks in a handcart and entertainment media are throwing vacuous nonentities out there as hard and as fast as they can and it's the end of civilization as we know it unless the British--with their tradition of theater and literature and thinking hard about stuff--have the key to making everything okay. Surely they won't have fallen prey to the base demands of reality TV? Surely they've seen through the giddy parade of desperate egos and stuck to watching BBC dramatizations of the lives of prominent scientists, starring Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston? Surely? Please?

Sorry. That hasn't happened. I mean yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has made those dramas, that's still a thing, but the Brits are as dazzled by reality TV as anyone." (p. 160.)

It's also got loads of pop culture references, to British music, films, and television shows that any Anglophile worth their salt will simply drool over.

So do you know anyone who reads all British books and watches all British TV and whose crushes are exclusively Brit stars like Tom Hardy and James McAvoy? Buy them this book, and Bob's your uncle***, they'll love you forever.

*I may or may not be describing myself.

**You can see why I love these people.

***You'll know what I'm saying if you're an Anglophile.


So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson: Compulsively readable, but somewhat unsatisfying.

I have always been a big Jon Ronson fan.

So when I heard he had a new book out, titled So You've Been Publicly Shamed*, I of course had to go get it. And I was not disappointed. Or, if I was, a little bit, I wasn't disappointed enough to not enjoy the read.

This time Ronson takes as his subject "shaming," particularly the type that happens online these days. As in, someone might post an ill-advised or just poorly worded joke or comment (or completely innocent, but easily misconstrued) on Twitter or their blog, and pretty soon every troll on the Internet rains down fire and brimstone (not to mention more overt threats of violence). The book is ostensibly his look at "shaming as a form of social control."

I'm not going to describe each chapter, because if I did, I think you'd be totally confused. (And also because I read this a few weeks ago and I've already almost completely forgotten the points and flow of the book--which should indicate to you that this is not the best Jon Ronson book ever.) If you'd like a more thorough review of this book, please consider this one, at the AV Club.

The stories here are wild and weird--Ronson always does a very good job of locating stories and people that make you say, "wait, what?"--but I felt that just as each chapter got interesting, Ronson would end it, never to make any conclusions about it or its subject again. (Hence: "unsatisfying.") And (the AV Club review) points out that Ronson as a journalist does some ever-so-slightly dodgy things to get people to speak with him, which makes me vaguely uncomfortable, even when he lets you know he's doing it.**

The part of the book that really struck me was Ronson's work with Lindsey Stone, who was ostracized when she a photo of her acting disrespectfully behind an Arlington National Cemetery sign that asked for quiet and respect, and who was basically destroyed online and threatened numerous times.*** Ronson enlisted an online reputation repair firm to help Stone "clean up" her search result pages. Learning about how Reputation.com goes about trying to fix your online reputation (which, horrifyingly, keeps showing up forever) was fascinating. At one point the firm suggested she not refer online to her experiences working at Walmart as "soul-suckingly awful." Here's the anecdote:

"'Are you sure you want to say that Walmart was soul-sucking?' Farukh said.

'Oh...what? Really?' Lindsey laughed as if to say, 'Come on! Everyone knows that about Walmart!' But then she hesitated.

The conference call was proving an unexpectedly melancholic experience. It was nothing to do with Farukh. He really felt for Lindsey and wanted to do a good job for her. The sad thing was that Lindsey had incurred the Internet's wrath because she was impudent and playful and foolhardy and outspoken. And now here she was, working with Farukh to reduce herself to safe banalities--to cats and ice cream and Top 40 chart music. We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland." (p. 266.)

I'd love to hear what anyone else thinks of this one, frankly, or of Jon Ronson in general.

*And of course I think I first heard about it when Jon Stewart interviewed Ronson on The Daily Show. Where are we going to turn for nonfiction books coverage when Stewart retires? I hope Trevor Noah keeps up the books tradition.

**Ever since I read the superlative True Crime book A Rip in Heaven, and heard about how one of the victims in the story was questioned by the police as though he were a suspect--and how the police lied about certain things to him to try and confuse and trip him up--this sort of thing has made me really, really nervous. I actually have a lot of respect for the police and I'm sure that's how they sometimes have to do their job, but it still gave me the total heebs. In short: read A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, and always lawyer up.

***Her picture was not really that shocking. It's the equivalent of going behind a fence with a "No Visitors Beyond This Point" sign on it and having someone take a picture of you beyond that point--which I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever been a teenager has done.


British Television: Poldark Poldark OMG POLDARK!

If you can't tell from the headline, I'm just a bit excited that the BBC miniseries Poldark, based on the Poldark series of novels by Graham Winston, will start to air in the U.S. on Sunday, June 21.

Happy Father's Day to all you women out there! We host a little midday FD get-together at House CR, and I love doing it*, but next Sunday night, when Poldark begins, I am going to stop cleaning up and let Mr. CR tuck in the CRboys. Poldark Poldark OMG POLDARK!

Actually, I've seen previews and snippets, and it already looks like it won't live up to the books. (For one thing, the heroine, Demelza? She's a brunette with dark eyes, NOT a blonde with light eyes, like the woman who's been cast as her. Boo hiss. Although I have no complaints in re: the casting of Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark.) But it would be tough to live up to the books; they're so awesome.

Can't wait to see this one--further bulletins as events warrant.

*For introverts, throwing parties trumps going to parties every time. You're surrounded by people who come talk to you, because you're the host, and most of the time you're just trying to keep on top of logistics, so you don't have time to be nervous.


Very British Problems...

as a Twitter account* posting such items as the below was more than enough. I really don't know that it needed to be made into a book.

"'Right, well, anyway, good, I suppose I should really probably soon start to think about maybe making a move" - Translation: Bye" [Note: Evidently, this sort of thing is considered a "very British problem."]

And there you have it. My brevity may not be the soul of much wit, but it is all I have the energy for tonight. Have a great weekend, all.

*p.s. I still don't understand Twitter, and honestly, I think I'm happier that way.


Reading experiences of 2014: Best

So last year I found the literary equivalent of the biggest box of the tastiest bon-bons ever.

Best reading experience of 2014: Hello, Poldark!

Also known as the Poldark Saga, written by Winston Graham (incidentally, I'm not linking to the Wikipedia page on the series because there are spoilers there). The first book, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945, and the last book in the series (#12!), Bella Poldark, was published in 2002. Somewhere in the middle of the series' run, a very popular BBC series, also titled "Poldark," ran from 1975 to 1977.

On the surface of the matter, the Poldark series looks like just another historical fiction saga. Set in Cornwall during the years of 1783 through 1820, it follows the fortunes of one Ross Poldark,* a Cornish squire who returns from the American Revolutionary War (so strange for an American like me to think of British soldiers returning home from that) to find that his father is dead, his ancestral home is in a shambles, and the woman, Elizabeth, to whom he thought he was engaged, is preparing to marry his cousin Francis. Hilarity does not ensue, but an entire Cornish soap opera does: over the course of the series, the relationships between Ross and Francis and Elizabeth, and then Ross and Demelza (a woman about ten years his junior, who he first rescues from a too-rowdy country fair and then employs as a kitchen maid), and then Ross and his family and George Warleggan (a local banker and self-made man, and Poldark's arch-nemesis).

The plot is not really the point. As noted: it's pure soap opera. But the characters are notable: Ross is one of those noble souls who sticks his neck out for the little guy (incidentally, I've noticed this sort of thing usually turns out a lot better in fiction than it does in real life) and inspires both strong loyalty and strong antipathy, and Demelza? Well, Demelza is a revelation. She puts up with too much from Ross but other than that I simply LOVED THE HELL OUT OF HER. Even Graham's female characters who I did not like (Elizabeth chief among them) ended up inspiring something like respect from me. And although their stories were intertwined with the mens', they seemed to have their own inner lives and did not serve primarily to "reveal glimpses" into the souls of the male characters. What a treat that was, for a change.

There's lots of other good stuff in the series; there's a lot in it about mining that I found interesting (and which gave me a lot to think about when I later read the book Blood Diamonds, also about mining in Great Britain), and even the storylines about the poorer characters in the books held my interest.

I'm ashamed to tell you what I all neglected while I plowed through all twelve books in this series.** The house went uncleaned for weeks, I made some horrible ready-made meals, and I let CRjr and CR3 tackle each other until (inevitably) too much ha-ha led to boo-hoo. But oh, it was time deliciously spent. So worth it. Right around Christmas time I realized I had forgotten to request the next book I needed in the series from the library it time to take it along to my in-laws', where we stayed for a couple of days, and I actually felt despair at having to pause in my reading.

It was a thoroughly great reading experience, and I'll always think fondly on 2014 for it.*** I also look forward to waiting a few years and then re-reading the entire run of books. AND, total bonus, soon I'll get to see an updated TV version, thanks to the BBC. Awesome.

*Every time I say his name I follow it with a catchphrase I enjoyed from the otherwise entirely forgettable Ewan McGregor movie "Down with Love": "Ross Poldark: ladies' man, man's man, man about town."

**I almost never read series fiction. I might read the first book in a series just to see what it's about, but very rarely do I make it through ALL the books.

***Incidentally, if you know of readers who enjoyed the cult classic The Cowboy and the Cossack, I think this series, or even just the first book in the series, might be a good readalike for that book.


Each subsequent chapter sadder than the last.

At least, that's sort of the way I felt as I made my way through Catherine Bailey's history book Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years that Changed England.

All Anglophiles and general history readers should check this one out; it's the story of Great Britain's Fitzwilliam dynasty, based at the [unbelievably huge] Wentworth House estate in the Yorkshire region of England. Starting with the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, born in 1815, this book traces the family's intrigues, economics, and, above all, its geneaology, although the bulk of it focuses on the 7th and 8th Earls and their lives in the twentieth century.*

The family was immensely wealthy, and their wealth derived from the vast number of coal mines they owned and ran. So in addition to being a history of the very rich, this is also a history of the very, very poor. I read this one over the course of a few weeks, and whenever I did, I went to bed glad that I am not a coal miner. Holy shit. Dangerous job, unhealthy job, very poorly paid job; and often undertaken for rich families that might or might not be decent employers. I will say this for the Earls Fitzwilliam: particularly in the case of the 7th earl, "Billy," he did try to treat his people somewhat decently (enough so that he was remembered fondly in the neighborhood, and most of his workers never voted for strikes against him).

Although: the lives of the rich people don't sound like a whole lot of fun in this book either. Billy himself was the target of a campaign by his aunts to disinherit him; he was born in Canada and it was alleged that his father, who died before his own father and therefore was never an earl himself, took steps to replace the baby girl that was really born to him with a Canadian baby boy (so that he could inherit the title and wealth). Good lord. The whole "only males can inherit" thing has really messed up a lot of lives.

But I digress. It's an interesting book. Not a great one--it skips around some in time and that makes it a bit tough to follow, particularly when you consider that all the earls are named some variation of William something, and it all gets a bit confusing. But it was an engrossing read; if you're in an area of the country where there's still just a bit of winter left, this might be a good thick book to settle in with by the fire until spring really arrives. (Oh: and be glad you didn't have to dig out the coal to light for your fire.)

Other reviews: The Guardian; Kirkus

*And there's even a bit about one of the earls and his love affair with Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, sister to JFK.