Happy New Year …. plus 3 book reviews.

It seems like an eternity since I have written a blog post…..probably because is has been, almost, an eternity since I have written a blog post….or read anyone else’s – Please forgive me. A combination of being busy, being lazy and enjoying reading a few good books lead me to ignore my WordPress blog for far too long. However, a New Year deserves a fresh start.

Lets hope that the horrors of 2020 are behind us and let me wish everyone a hopeful, healthy and happy 2021.

One good thing about covid, lockdowns and a change of lifestyle is that I have had time to read a few more books over the last few months, and I’d like to offer up reviews of the last 3 books I’ve most recently finished reading.

24795888. sx318

The first of which is a large format (coffee table sized) hard cover book by Tom Shone about the movies of Woody Allen, titled Woody Allen A Retrospective. Bought for me for my birthday, by my lovely wife. I’ve long been a fan of Allen’s movies – yes even the bad ones – and am not one to be put off by the bad press he’s received from the “Me Too Movement” and the police investigation into child molestation allegations. Allegations which incidentally were found by police to have zero foundation in truth. Allen even submitted to a polygraph test to prove his innocence…..something that his accuser, ex partner Mia Farrow refused to take. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned….and I guess when ones partner takes up with your adopted daughter, you are going to feel rather scornful. Readers please draw your own conclusions. I realize that some readers will be thinking something along the lines of “there’s no smoke without fire” but please judge the man by his work, not by unsubstantiated rumours about his personal life.

Anyhow, back to the book. There’s nothing earth shatteringly new to be learned in this book, for fans of Woody Allen, but it is a useful reference guide to his movies from the very beginning of his career in films (What’s New Pussycat? in 1965) up to and including the 2015 movie – Irrational Man. So, his last 4 movies – at the time of writing – Cafe Society (2016), Wonder Wheel (2017), A Rainy Day In New York (2019) and 2020 movie Rifkin’s Festival are not included in this retrospective.

His output is quite prolific averaging a movie each year and since very early in his movie directing career he obtained and maintained the independence to make movies on whatever subject and in whatever manner he wanted to. He is a creature of habit and likes structure. Now in his mid 80’s Allen shows little sign of slowing down and will probably die while directing or writing the script of yet another in his long list of over 50 movies. According to the opening paragraph of the book, he rises at 6.30am, gets his children ready for school, endures a short spell on the treadmill, then sits to write at his manual Olympia SM-3 typewriter – which was bought when he was 16 and still works.

The book is full of anecdotes, quotes, movie summaries and photographic stills from each movie covered and is a must for Woody Allen fans. No one could accuse him of being big headed about his achievements – if anything he is self depreciating, but at the same time, appreciative of the fame and ability to live as he chooses, that his career has delivered him. A couple of quotes to illustrate this are “I would hardly call it genius, but I do sometimes have a sudden flash.” – and – “(1973 movie) Sleeper showed me audiences enjoyed watching me, which I find hard to believe.”

He says that if he didn’t make movies, if he didn’t work, then he’d sit at home and brood and think and his mind would drift to unsolvable issues that are very depressing. On the subject of death a couple of quotes sum Allen up nicely one is “I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” And the other is “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” I must say I’m with him on that last one.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, will keep it close to hand for reference, and recommend it whole heartedly. 5 / 5 from me.

The second book is a complete change of genre One Second After by William R Forstchen is a fictional tale about a very real threat, an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that sends catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States of America. It follows the life of one man, a history professor and former US Army Colonel and his family, in a small North Carolina town. One minute enjoying every day life with all its modern conveniences and One Second After an EMP explodes over the centre of continental North America they are thrust back into the dark ages….the electrical grid and society as a whole in tatters.

I’ve read a lot of similar “Prepper” fiction before, but where as the typical prepper novel is about people who are usually prepared for an apocalyptical event, in this novel we take a look at the unprepared. At people who can’t even fathom, at least initially, what it is that has taken out the power grid and also caused all modern motor vehicles to suddenly stop….not to mention make planes fall from the skies.

I believe that it gives a fairly life like look at how quickly and how totally modern life, with all it’s morality, it’s rules, laws and principles, can come crashing down into chaos, anarchy and even cannibalism. It’s an interesting book to use as a talking point to discuss disaster preparedness – whether the disaster is natural or man made – with friends and family. As the preppers say “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

There is no electricity – so no ATM’s for getting out cash, no contactless payments, no transport, no refrigeration of food. Even hospital’s emergency back up generators were fried by the pulse and are out of commission. People die in their thousands in a very short time. There’s no power for pumping stations to supply water to cities. Food, water and prescription medication are in short supply. Things go bad very quickly.

I’m not going to discuss the story at all as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that if dystopian or apocalyptic novels are your thing, don’t miss this book. I read it in two sitting I was absolutely hooked. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have stayed up all night to read it. Even if dystopia and the apocalypse are not your thing, it’s still a good book to read so that you can be aware of how thin our moral thread can be. How fragile civilized humanity is. If you’re not a Prepper before you read it….you will be after.

Read it – another 5 / 5 from me.

And finally…..drum roll please…..book number 3

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell. This is Bythell’s third published book about his experiences as owner of a second hand book shop. The first two being Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller – both former books are told in the format of a daily diary. I personally enjoyed both the Diary of and Confessions of a Bookseller as I am a self confessed bibliophile, eager browser of bookshops and a huge fan of Bythell’s rather irreverent humour….usually at the expense of his customers or staff.

Bythell’s latest offering is a change of format, written in paragraphs and chapters instead of the usual diary entries. He attempts to humorously categorize his book shop customers into various types and subtypes as well as taking a self depreciating look at bookshop owners and staff. I was looking forward to my usual fits of giggles and guffaws that I was reduced to when reading his two previous books. I’m not sure why, but this one fell flat and left me wondering if he’d finally exhausted his big box of bookshop anecdotes. There were still moments that made me smile, but no real laugh out loud moments and I must admit to feeling a little disappointed. As a book, albeit a rather small and thin volume of less than 140 pages, it is an OK read and I knocked it off in one evening. If it had been my first venture into Bythell’s world I would have probably been raving about it, but as a third book – sorry, but it didn’t meet the previous standards. I really do hate to say that, because I genuinely like the guy. I met him when he visited New Zealand’s book town Featherston when promoting his first book – the previously mentioned Diary of a Bookseller – firstly having a nice chat in a bookshop where I was doing a little 2nd hand book browsing (and buying as usual) and then at a speaking event to promote the book. He is a genuinely nice fellow and it pains me to speak badly of Seven Kinds of People.

If you’ve never read Bythell then by all means buy this book before you read the others….read it and enjoy it and then move on to the first and second books for a proper laugh.

Sorry Shaun but only a 2 / 5 for this offering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s