Every 14 Days…(53)

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (Sue Townsend)

I’m getting near the end now.

Now in his mid-Thirties, his celebrity life now over and his two sons either in the army or Nigeria, Mole turns his attention to women and incurring a crippling amount of debt. While working in an antique bookshop, he manages to buy a new-build flat, but switches debt from one source to another; as well as finding himself engaged to a woman to which he has no feelings…except for her sister.

Ignoring the advice of all around him along the way, he blindly walks into a deep hole, all the while convinced that Tony Blair will find weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The older years provide longer diary entries, but the same old idiocy, and humour, ensues.

  • Days to read: 15
  • Days per book: 14.5

Mo’ Better Blues (Spike Lee and Lisa Jones)

“Mo’ Better Blues”, Spike Lee’s fourth film, is a film dear to me as the title track from the soundtrack was mine and my wife’s first dance. So, imagine the joys I felt when I found this accompanying manual in the BFI Shop, on sale as a second hand copy from their library.

There are a lot of pictures in this book; expected as film is an visual media. There are words also, however: Lee’s diary of the filming, the script, writings by his father as to his work on his son’s film soundtracks, among others. But, by far the best comes at the start. Donald Bogle’s extensive foreword looks at the depiction of jazz musicians in cinema. Largely, these have been poor misinterpretations , or less soulful in the focus on casting/lead characters. Indeed, music can take a sideline to run-of-the-mill love stories, or how a(ny other) white man try to commercialise it.

As such, Lee wanted the music to be the main focus; the two love stories second to the main love of music. Music is the main focus in this book, looking at the training each of the actors received from professional jazz musicians to “appear” to be playing the instruments correctly.

This book is more a collection of separate pieces written about the film, as ever with this sort of companion volume. The film itself, like much of Lee’s films, is very reminiscent of jazz: chaotic and frenetic in places; slow and mournful in others. He does succeed in his aim to make a true jazz film, as expressed in the book, and it’s certainly one of the stronger efforts in his career.

  • Days to read: 9
  • Days per book: 14.4

The Guest Cat (Takashi Hiraide)

The Japanese certainly seem to have a thing about novels featuring cats. Either that, or one was successful and publishers sought translations of similar works to cash in. “The Guest Cat” is another in the long line of this type of book from Japan, but this alley cat strolls around peacefully and relatively unnoticed.

A couple in their late Thirties with no children, renting a guest house in the grounds of a larger estate take in their neighbours’ cat after it enters their garden from the maze of alleys that surround. Quickly they develop a routine with the feline, unbeknownst to its owners, behaving as if they are joint owners themselves.

On the news of the cat’s death, the male half of the couple approaches the owners to offer his condolences; writing about the experience in a local publication. This is something not warmly received by the owners themselves.

There is a lot of odd mechanics woven into Hiraide’s writing along the journey, with very specific details included. There are often tangents delved into, musing on philosophy and the arts. And overall, “The Guest Cat” is a series of musings, not ending with a overly satisfying whole. It is an incredibly relaxing read, that will see you drift off, moving at a snail’s pace, but ultimately will not see you get very far.

With the married writer pondering his relationship with the cat in a publication – referenced as culminating in a book – one wonders how much this is based on Hiraide’s own life, but “The Guest Cat”, while well written in parts, didn’t create enough intrigue to make me do the research. 

  • Days to read: 7
  • Days per book: 14.4

Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This is a book that simply has to be enjoyed on the name alone. Sadly, however, despite Marquez being a writer I have previously enjoyed, “Love in the Time of Cholera” just wasn’t the right medicine for me.

Following the death of her husband, Dr Juvenal Urbino, after a rather strange incident involving a parrot, Fermina Daza is visited by former fiancé Florentino Ariza, trying to rekindle their love after decades apart. We are then told the tale of the trio across the years as they grew into the elderly, and how their relationships progress. And what we discover is that they are all twats.

A  woman of old fashioned virtue, Fermina Daza leads Florentino Ariza along, before family involvement see them pulled apart, and she goes along with her father in rejecting him, marrying Dr Juvenal Urbino, while not really loving him initially. Florentino Ariza, while claiming to have held a touch for Fermina Daza throughout the years, spends the intervening time shagging whoever he meets, with sometimes disastrous consequences. But of course, truly he loves Fermina Daza. And, naturally, Dr Juvenal Urbino has an affair.

From early on, I didn’t find myself liking the characters, and as such didn’t slip into the story. I know there are perhaps many truths about what people claim as love and how their actions contradict their words, and maybe I’m missing the point, but for a writer I have enjoyed in terms of the flow of his words and building an atmosphere with them, this is more of a bland recount of endless love affairs. Perhaps “Love in the Time of STDs” would have been a more befitting title.

I should have gone for “One Hundred Years of Solitude”…and then I got off the bus.

  • Days to read: 26
  • Days per book: 14.5

Ticket to the Moon (Richard Sydenham)

Winning the European Cup isn’t for everyone. Nor is getting relegated five years after being European Champions either. And that’s the inspiration for Richard Sydenham’s book. This isn’t a book about the 1980-81 Division One Champions season or the 1982 European Cup triumph in Rotterdam.

Rather this is the story of how a team that in 1970 were relegated to the third tier of English football – in a run of eight straight seasons outside the top flight – and found themselves only a decade starting a league campaign which saw them finish Champions of England; becoming Champions of Europe the next season. With relegation then five years down the line, this is a meteoric rise followed by a monumental fall.

One point made about Villa is that they don’t make the most of being a European Champion. Not enough imagery is shown around the stadium and the addition of the star to the badge is only in recent years. One potential explanation for this is that Doug Ellis, becoming a director and eventually Chairman in the Sixties was at the helm for close to forty years, apart from a brief period when he was ousted, missing the club’s greatest success. For him, it perhaps didn’t happen.

But Sydenham doesn’t make Ellis a scapegoat: a number of things contributed to Villa’s downfall and further need for a rebuild. With Ron Saunders brought in to gain promotion in the Seventies, he focused on creating a team of young players who would sing to his hymn sheet. He wanted no star names, and much like Alex Ferguson after him, if a player believed they were bigger then him, they were out. The winning team, therefore, was something of a long-term work in progress, with gradual additions and subtractions as the seasons passed. This was a team, not a collection of stars.

As such, with Saunders’ fall out with the Board and leaving during the European Cup campaign, players either began to age or were not getting the star recognition they felt they deserved on the international stage. Added to a couple of devastating injuries, the winning team began to crumble. With Ellis’ subsequent return after a few years out, his cost saving approach influenced subsequent managers. Quick sales were made, rather than negotiating better deals, in order to balance the books. As such, a return to a reliance on youth and cheap signings saw the team drift and drop out of the top flight.

But, at least something was won when at the top of the game. This could have been a nearly story, but instead is a story of success. The problem, however, is one often felt among Villans: Villa have a history of failing to capitalise on a good thing. Villa are not a Man Utd or Liverpool, or Chelsea or Man City in more recent times. When further investment was required, it simply didn’t come. Ron Atkinson, Brian Little and John Gregory met similar frustrations in the Nineties, followed by Martin O’Neill circa 2010. And with today’s Champions’ League establishment, will they ever be able to get to these heights again?…Probably not.    

  • Days to read: 18
  • Days per book: 14.5

Emergency Questions (Richard Herring)

Whenever I go for a poo, I like to ask myself some pretty searching questions…but that’s not why I read this book.

If my failing memory recalls, starting off with asking comedians if they’d ever tried to suck their own cock on Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast (RHEFP!), the emergency questions phenomenon continued on to his Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP!).

Originally received as part of a KickStarter campaign for RHLSTP (RHLSTP!), this is a collection of the favourite questions from the podcast, but also some very, very spurious attempts to create some sort of question that would provide an interesting answer. Previously flicking through it here and there, needing a new toilet book, I took the plunge to read it question by question.

Some are hilarious, some odd, some just silly, others just plain lazy.

My response to each was shit…

  • Days to read: 70
  • Days per book: 14.4

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