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Audiobook Review: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard

I’ve decided to highlight that this was the audiobook version I read because it has so many footnotes, it must be at least double the length of the actual book. Around fourteen and a half hours worth of Eddie Izzard’s life story, and I loved it.

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He’s certainly had an interesting, eventful, and quite tragic life. We start the book by finding out that his mum died when he was 6. He was then sent to boarding school with his older brother so his father could continue working. Before this happened he had a lovely time being at home with his family, hanging around with the neighbourhood kids, no idea that he would ever go to boarding school. It’s so sad reading about such a young boy being sent away.

We find out about boarding school life, and then how he spends his 20s trying to make it as a performer. He tried sketch comedy, and street performing, before finally making a success of stand up comedy when he was around 30. This highlights how determined he has been and how he grafted for a decade before getting successful, even though his early 90s rise in stand up comedy if often portrayed as swift.

There is an extraordinary amount of references to the Nuffield Physics syllabus of the 70s that he studied while doing A level physics. The syllabus was unusual in that it relied heavily on performing experiments to learn the theory. He refers back to this Nuffield syllabus at many key moments of his life, when he needed to make a decision. I found this very funny, because as an A level physics teacher, I know the course he’s referring to (as a historical A level physics course – not that I am old enough to have taken it or taught it!!!).

We don’t get many details about his personal relationships. It doesn’t detract from the book at all. Really it’s none of our business, and his life is interesting enough with out these details. We do get to hear a lot about his alternative sexuality, which is his own term for his transgender, or in the 80s transvestite, status. It terribly sad that essentially he’s had lots of issues in life because he likes wearing clothes that are traditionally female, and he likes to wear make up. I dress in traditionally mens clothes all the time and no one bats an eyelid. Society is so fucked up!

I really admire Eddie Izzard’s attitude to so many aspects of his life. I love him when he’s talking about atheism. And his footnotes are well worth getting the audiobook version for. His determination really shines through his entire life and follows him all the way to his Sport Relief mega marathon challenges.

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of his comedy. I will clearly need to seek some out very soon.

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Book Review: How Hard Can Love Be? – Holly Bourne.

Amber is spending the summer, after her first year at college, working at an American summer camp. The camp is run by her recovering alcoholic mother, who she hasn’t seen for two years. How Hard Can Love Be? is a great, easy read. Obviously a YA book and a great follow up to the AMAZING Am I Normal Yet?

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There’s a whole heap of mother – daughter issues to deal with, on top of the usual 17 year old stuff. Amber grew up with her alcoholic mother and when she recovered she left to live in California with someone she met at the recovery centre. Amber has also never kissed a boy and she might be working with some hot American boys at camp. And she has the whole being really tall and ginger thing to deal with too!

This is the second book in The Spinster Club trilogy – the first being Am I Normal Yet? Each book in the trilogy is the story of one of the Spinster Club members: Evie, Lottie, and Amber. The three college friends start the club to discuss feminism and women’s issues. The coming together of the friends is covered in Am I Normal Yet? That is Evie’s story of her dealing with mental illness and starting college. She becomes friends with Amber and Lottie over the first year of college. Amber is the tall, ginger, arty one and Lottie is the clever one.

How Hard Can Love Be? is set after their first year at college, during the summer break. Amber is in California, but she still gets email and video chat support from her fellow spinster club members. I really enjoy this aspect of the book. Amber is frustrated at the full-on, sexually obvious, cheerleader girl who is also working at camp. Her friends discuss this during their Spinster Club meetings and it’s nice that they try to look at her from a feminist perspective and give a different view on lots of the usual teenage issues. I imagine this could be really useful to a teenager reading the book, who still getting to grips with different perspectives.

There’s some Harry Potter references too. What more can you possibly want?!

And I was about to judge her, when she said “I’m so mad they got rid of Slytherin, I mean, Snape was, like, the best one,” as she walked over, and I learned a lesson about not judging people until you’ve found out whether or not they’ve read Harry Potter.

Word.

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me hanging out in Dumbledore’s office

I really enjoyed this book, and can’t wait to read Lottie’s story in the final part of the trilogy: What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

Book Review: Anger is an Energy – John Lydon

I like John Lydon. He is straight to the point and I agree with a lot of his core attitudes and beliefs. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says, and boy, does he have a lot to say. At almost 520 pages this is no quick read. Still, I loved every minute of it. You are fully getting his no holds barred opinions here. Or if he is holding back, you certainly can’t tell!

If you stand up for whatever it is you really believe in, if you really stand up, and be accounted for, people will rate you highly.

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Anger is an Energy on the kindle with some other punk books!

His account of the Sex Pistols days is fascinating and quite sad. He felt alone and disregarded and/or ignored by the rest of the band most of the time. It comes across that the other three (Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook) never really accepted him fully into the band, as they already formed the band before John came along. I have no doubt that John, as he freely admits, isn’t the easiest person to get along with! and he just rubbed them up the wrong way (a theme throughout the book). I would definitely like to read some other accounts of that time period to get some other perspectives on what happened. As you can see from the picture above, I have Steve Jones’ book ready to go.

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L-R Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook.

 

It is fascinating though. That band were truly at the heart of an amazing moment in history. It probably helps that I’m a fan of punk rock. I love his scorn of the majority of punk bands. I share a lot of the same views. So many identikit bands trying to out macho each other. Repulsive. The bands he praises are all stand out bands like the Buzzcocks. He hates that punk quickly became very narrow in its definition: there’s a certain uniform, a haircut, a way of treating people, a sound – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t conform. John refuses to be narrowly defined – especially musically, but actually in every aspect of his life, and so he gets constant abuse in his life beyond the Sex Pistols. A constant minority who seek him out and are angry because he ‘sold out’. In other words, he dared to move on and try new things that musically interest him.

Being open-minded to all kinds of music was Lesson One in punk, but that didn’t seem to be understood by many of the alleged punk bands that followed on after, who seemed to be waving this idea of a punk manifesto. I’m sorry, but I never did this for the narrow-minded. I was horrified by the cliche that punk was turning into.

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The Sex Pistols after Sid Vicious had replace Glen Matlock. L-R Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Paul Cook. 

Earlier in the book we get some of his home life growing up. He’s from a very working class London background. His descriptions of himself at school were great and really clear – I know EXACTLY what sort of student he would have been in my classroom – one of those cheeky, annoying but lovable ones! Frustrated with their lack of effort because you can’t follow their particular interest all the time. Full of questions that are related, but are a distraction to what you actually need to teach that day. Oh, sorry, just having high school teaching flash backs there!

His move from a school to basically a technical college for naughty kids chucked out of school is interesting and there he meets Sid. I love this quote about his time at the technical college. The idea that he still wore his school uniform is absurd, and says so much about his personality!

It was basically just school by any stretch, so I wore my William of York uniform still, because I didn’t want to wear anything that I liked. But it was a bit of a fashion parade. Sidney certainly used it as a catwalk.

After Glen Matlock leaves the Sex Pistols, Sid is brought in and the break up of the band seems almost inevitable at this point. It’s such a dysfunctional relationship they all have.

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Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten (aka John Ritchie and John Lydon)

After the Sex Pistols you get a lot of details about line up and management changes for Public Image Limited (PiL). I’m not familiar with the musicians from this band, and didn’t know any of the many people discussed. It’s still interesting, but in more of a vague way of seeing how all over the place the band and John’s life was. This continues up until the later 90s where you get a Sex Pistols reunion tour. Then in the 2000s there is I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – which I remember watching because Lydon was on it. Followed by a few nature programs he makes. And of course the infamous butter commercials!

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John Lydon by Paul Heartfield from http://www.clashmusic.com/features/in-conversation-john-lydon

At this stage you discover that Lydon, and his wife Nora, begin to parent Nora’s grandchildren. It’s a sweet part of the book where he explains how they had to change their lives to give everything they could to these wild teenagers that they were suddenly responsible for. All the parts of the book where he describes his love for Nora are quite beautiful. They fell in love when they met during the Sex Pistols time, in 1975, and they are still together today.

Overall, this is a great book. It possibly helps if you have some interest in Lydon to begin with, but I imagine you must if you are considering reading 520 pages about him! It’s glorious that there is a note from the publisher at the beginning basically begging you to not sent in grammatical errors from the text – Lydon has his own way of using English and the ‘mistakes’ are just how he is talking!

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‘Don’t let tiffles cause fraction’

Lydon is upfront, unapologetic, harsh, and uncompromising. But he’s also a family man, loyal, a supporter of education, and interested in everything the world has to offer. There’s a place for him at the table of my imaginary perfect dinner party anyway.

Book review: Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

Oh my god. I just don’t give a shit about the pheasant chicks, or the brambles in the allotment, or the hawthorn bush, or the fieldfares in the meadow. Reservoir 13 has 13 chapters, each spanning a year in the life of a Peak District village. It opens with the disappearance of a 13 year old visitor to the village, Becky, or Bex, or Rebecca. She is lost on the moors and no trace of her is found.

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The disappearance is revisited fairly often in the following chapters. A lot of them ending with a statement about her disappearance. There is repetition between the 13 chapters as the girl is still missing, her whereabouts unknown, but life still has to move forward.

We slowly get to know a lot of characters in the village. Some move on, some move in. Relationships start, and relationships end. We get snippets of village life. After around 8 years worth of tiny fragments of village life I started getting who everyone was. They often do the same things year after year because that’s what people do.

Almost every other sentence is a statement about what the natural world is doing at that time of year. Good god, it was tedious.

At first I wondered if I wasn’t enjoying it because I was listening to an audio book version of it. I’ve never really done audio books (except the Harry Potter series about 10 years ago when I had a particularly long commute to work) but the kindle version and paper book versions were really expensive, so I’ve got an audible trial. I needed to read it this week because it’s my book club read and we are meeting this week (review will be published as we meet!). I’m now really glad I didn’t read this myself because looking at some reviews, there are hardly any paragraphs and speech isn’t distinguished from any other text?!

Other reviews of Reservoir 13 are full of praise. I just can’t join in. I’m so glad it’s over and feel a bit mad that I wasted my time on it. Perhaps I’m supposed to see something deeper. The reviews would have you believe that you really should. Well, I obviously like my fiction to be upfront and interesting at face value. I don’t want hidden depth behind a boring story.

I need to add in something positive… at least I know what a fieldfare is now.

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**spoiler alert**

 

You don’t even find out what happened to the girl. There is no story, no protagonist, nothing. It’s a monotonous, repetitive soap opera about some ordinary village folk who basically have the most depressing lives.

Urghhh

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

I am a quiet person. I’m an introvert. I get frustrated with people who mistake quiet for shy. Some people assume that everyone who is quiet is a wannabe extrovert who’s just too afraid to be loud. I’m quiet and I’m happy. And I don’t want to be loud and the centre of attention. I will do karaoke in front of strangers when I want to and I speak my mind (when I feel it’s appropriate). I’m not crippled by my quietness. And I don’t want to be an extrovert. Thank goodness for Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Thank you Susan Cain for writing this book.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree).

I went into Quiet knowing I would love it because it’s entirely set up to big up (so to speak) introversion and point out how introverts have enormous amounts to offer, and should be seen as just as important as extrovert voices. The ‘extrovert ideal’ world we live in is flawed because it tends to diminish and ignore the introverts. What we need is the balance that both offer.

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Quiet is an interesting book that can give you insights into both the introverts and extroverts around you. It’s serious, but also quite funny. Reading (introvert) Susan Cain’s descriptions of attending a Tony Robbins seminar to help you be more outgoing are hilarious:

“But I’m not an extrovert, you say!” he told us at the start of the seminar. “So? You don’t have to be an extrovert to feel alive!” True enough. But it seems, according to Tony, that you’d better act like one if you don’t want to flub the sales call and watch your family die like pigs in hell.

and getting a tour round an fMRI machine:

Before Schwartz opens the door, he asks me to take off my gold hoop earrings and set aside the metal tape recorder I’ve been using to record our conversation. The magnetic field of the fMRI machine is 100,000 times stronger than the earth’s gravitational pull – so strong, Schwartz says, that it could rip the earrings right out of my ears if they were magnetic and send them flying across the room. I worry about the metal fasteners of my bra, but I’m too embarrassed to ask. I point instead to my shoe buckle, which I figure has the same amount of metal as the bra strap. Schwartz says it’s all right, and we enter the room.

Quiet goes on to describe how introverts and extroverts like a different level of stimulation from the outside world to feel comfortable. Introverts get easily overstimulated and so need to retreat to a less stimulating environment more frequently. I’m massively oversimplifying the description here – it covers several chapters in the book. We tend to seek out the right level of stimulation for ourselves, naturally. By having an awareness of what is happening it can help you plan your life, social interactions and navigate relationships.

Quiet gave me some insight into why I found being a high school teacher so incredibly draining. What was I even thinking? A job where you are interacting with hundreds of people everyday. Where you are in a conflict situation frequently. It’s so clear now why I had to change things after 8 years. I now work in a sixth form college. All of the teaching and subject teaching I love with none (well, hardly any) of the conflict. So much better for my mental well being! Wish I’d finished Quiet when I vaguely started reading it (in 2011, according to goodreads)!

I knew Quiet would help me feel empowered and help me see more of the strengths I have, but I never foresaw that it would help me understand my 4 year old daughter more. My daughter shows all the traits of being quite an extrovert and honestly, I find her completely exhausting. Reading Quiet has enabled me to understand her more and has helped me be more tolerant to her loudness, sociability and constant need to be accompanied and busy and noisy! I hadn’t considered this might be a feature of Quiet at all, and it’s been quite a revelation.

I recommend this book for introverts, extroverts, everyone.  And if you can’t be bothered reading the whole lot, have a look at the conclusion chapter, it’s a beautiful summary of all of these ideas. Here are two of my favourite parts of the final chapter:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don’t worry about socialising with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.

Book Review: The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

By some miracle of my own cultural ignorance I had no idea what the plot of The Girl on the Train was. I knew it was very popular and also a film now. I hadn’t read anything about it because I knew it was a thriller, so didn’t want to expose myself to any plot twists which would ruin any eventual reading of it.

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I enjoyed most of it. There’s a slow build up that fills you with questions about different characters. You get past a slowish middle and then when the action really begins it took me a while to put together the Who in the Whodunit (mainly because I had wild theories about what I hoped had happened). It becomes exciting and fulfils all the page turner requirements I really wanted it to. Then by the end I felt flat. Disappointed. I’ll explain why later on after I’ve given some big old SPOILER alert warnings.

I have to admit I tried to read this book last year. I thought I’d tried to read it. I was slogging through a completely tedious book, wondering what the fuss was about. It’s extremely rare for me to abandon a book once I’ve started (I can’t actually think of any I’ve outright abandoned – many I’ve just shelved for finishing ‘later’). How could this be a big, gripping bestseller? Turns out I was reading a book with a title that is one minor word away from Girl On The Train. And I hadn’t paid enough attention to the author name…

I’ve definitely read the right book this time. There’s a girl, on a train, and thrilling events take place. The girl, on the train, is Rachel. She’s a mess. An alcoholic. Her husband left her 2 years ago for the women he had an affair with. She can’t let go and move on. She sees their house (her old house) every day on her train commute into London. She also sees the house of their nearby neighbours. She doesn’t know them, but has made up a  perfect fantasy life in her head for the strangers a little way down the road.

THERE’S GOING TO BE SPOILERS FROM NOW 🙂 So, if you have somehow existed in a cultural void, like me, and think you might want to read this one day, look away. Thanks for reading my blog, now go and read the book, then come back and we can discuss it.

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It was all going so well. I wanted to finish it so badly once I’d got to the finale part of the book. I even hid myself away from my family to try and finish it, undisturbed. It was all going so well. I love the premise. We all watch people. Can probably all pick people out from our daily journeys to work. People we see all the time, don’t know and make up little stories for. Rachel is an utter mess. She’s pathetic and annoying, but it works for the story.

The reveal of what happened on the night of the murder is where it all went wrong for me. It was just such a tedious, boring, depressing reveal. Essentially, the women are all pathetic, weak, damaged, needy and desperate. The men are all violent, controlling and jealous. Rachel’s reveal is gaslighting 101. The love of her life is actually a manipulative twat who made her think she was violent during their relationship, when it was the other way round. The murdered girl has a right final night. Violently assaulted by her boyfriend, she escapes to meet her violent fling, who kills her. Even physically it’s all so cliched. The women are pretty and slim, the men are handsome and physically imposing.  Urgh. I was so hoping one of my more imaginative theories was going to be true. One that gave some interest to these characters. But no, *yawn*, the inconvenienced man murdered his bit on the side because she was pregnant and going to threaten his *real* relationship.

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The Girl on the Boat – P G Wodehouse. I don’t know anything about this book, but the change of transport has possibly made this more interesting. 

Short summery of the book: women are stupid; men are violent. I really need to read a book where people are nice to each other next. Or where there are horrible people but they aren’t so cliched. I really enjoyed Gone Girl because the reveal was unexpected, a bit unusual and it made the characters interesting! I’m convinced this book is so popular because we can all recognise aspects of the abuse in this story from our own lives, or from that of people we know. Even just glimpses. How depressing.

Also, mild annoyances, but the completely unprofessional police woman was awful. I hope police don’t go winding people up and stirring like she did! Also, the structure meant I kept having to flick back to check dates. pfft.

Anyway, I have to go. 2015 is calling and wants it’s book of the moment back…

Book review: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Oh wow, I loved this book. Unbelievable that it was published in 1953, it felt like it could have been written last year. It’s also written in beautiful poetic prose.

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reading at my desk at work.

Guy Montag is a fireman. Firemen set fires in this dystopian future where books are banned. If books are discovered, the firemen are sent in to find them and burn them.

The population are kept busy with frivolous soaps and constant meaningless, shallow entertainment. To think deeply is not ok. When recounting their society’s history, it is said:

‘the word “intellectual”, of course,  became the swear word it deserved to be’

There was a race to make everyone feel like no one was their intellectual superior, and books were banned before they knew it.

Guy begins to realise he is unhappy with his life. He is utterly disconnected from his wife. A war is going on for reasons he can’t recall. He remembers dimly knowing that firemen used to put out fires, not start them…

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It’s scary how current this all feels. Attacks on facts and science and intellectualism seem to be rife in politics, especially in America. I know I’ve been shocked by political events this last year (Brexit, Trump, ffs! ) and perhaps I’m realising how much of an echo chamber I exist in.

This book read like a warning that we could all do with. I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.