Tuesday, December 29, 2015

december 2015 books

End of year book stuff:
The Creative Year (Jane Lee): This book records Jane Lee’s year as an Artist in Residence at St Michael’s+All Angels church, Windmill Hill here in Bristol. It’s clearly a bold venture by the church - which saw it as a new way of connecting with its parish. The book provides an account of the year in terms of the liturgical year (beginning in Advent). By its very nature, the resulting art (which encompasses paintings, drawings, glass, textiles, photography, music and words… from both adults and children) is somewhat mixed… but, as the book emphasises, creative work involves “taking risks”. I found it interesting/encouraging how much the local arts trail (Art on the Hill) featured in the book. Jane Lee herself is a very gifted artist who frequently produces brilliant and often inspirational work. However, I found myself somewhat frustrated at times – often wanting to learn more about the background to a particular project (with additional insights from Lee and some of the other artists), but also wanting to limit other sections which didn’t particularly appeal to me personally(!).     
The Eye In The Door (Pat Barker): This is our Book Group’s next book (published in 1993) and is the second volume of Barker’s “The Regeneration Trilogy” (I clearly need to read volumes one and three!). It’s set in 1918 and centres on the trauma suffered by First World war veterans. It weaves fact and fiction and provides a chilling reflection on the repercussions of that war. Whilst it could be described as an anti-war novel, it also highlights the war's persecuted sexual and political dissenters. In reviewing the novel, Jonathan Coe emphasised Barker’s commitment to the process of reclaiming silenced voices. It certainly does that. An impressive, absorbing and disturbing book.
Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comic Legend (Robert Ross): I’ve always loved Feldman’s extraordinary humour – Buster Keaton was his absolute hero. Always an anti-establishment figure; excluded from numerous schools; sleeping rough on occasions; went to Paris (aged 15) in 1949 to be a writer, artist and jazz musician (as you do); eventually established himself as a writer, initially for radio (alongside his long-time business associate and friend Barry Took)… by 1974, he’d become THE television comedy performer and a Hollywood film star. Alongside his “rock, soul mate” wife Lauretta, he lived a life of frequent wild parties, booze and drugs. Hollywood ultimately took its toll (a five film deal with Universal Studies was cancelled after just two) and he died of “a massive heart attack” in 1982, at the age of just 48. The book provides a fascinating and amusing background to his life as the influential architect of British comedy and I particularly enjoyed reading of Feldman’s experiences with the BBC’s hierarchy (eg. Took+Feldman were paid a COMBINED 125 guineas fee per radio script in 1966 – for work that is today regarded as masterpieces). The book reminded me of my favourite Feldman sketch: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Golfer. John Cleese described Feldman as a “true cultural icon”… and he undoubtedly was.
On The Elgin Marbles (William Hazlitt): Writer/arts critic/biographer/political commentator/philosopher William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was regarded as the “master essayist” of his time and this book provides a series of extended essays – including three on the Elgin Marbles (purchased by the UK government from Lord Elgin and passed to the British Museum in 1816)(and, yes, I think it’s time for them to be returned!). The prose is, obviously, of its time and Hazlitt’s frequent theme is a conviction that it’s impossible to separate art from nature. At times, he comes across as an educator (rather like Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation” TV series of the 1960s) but, he also has a hectoring style that one might more associate with the likes of John Ruskin (1819-1900). Interesting stuff… even if I did frequently feel rather intellectually-challenged and inadequate!
That’s all for 2015!
Footnote: Perhaps not surprisingly, retirement has provided me with a lot more time (and desire) to read! What I DO find a little surprising is that I’ve gone from reading say 5 books a year to reading more than a book a week!
Somewhat pathetically (thanks to this blog – which acts as a memory-jogger as much as anything!), I’ve just worked out that a) I read 69 books during the course of 2015, and b) I’ve read more than 300 books (305, to be precise!) over the past 5 years (61 a year on average)… no wonder our bookshelves are getting somewhat overloaded!

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