Reads

Great Lost Albums

Author: 
Mark Billingham, David Quantick, Martyn Waites & Stay Sherez
It's about: 
The Great Lost Albums that hardly anybody knows about but should be much better known. Great Albums like 'Frankly Widow Twankly' Morrissey's Pantomime album, Dylan's & Liberace's 'Las Vegas Skyline', The Velvet Underground & Lulu's 1966 album with their signature song 'I'm Waiting for my Nan' and the one I really would love to listen to, The Kraftwerk Xmas album 'Trans Polar Express'. This book the Rock intelligentsia have been waiting for. Well it would be if it wasn't all made up. The Authors have produced a really funny book that tears apart many Rock & Pop icons (& Mumford & Sons). The attention to detail is fantastic and just the right targets are chosen.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
The 33 and a third books & LLoyd Cole knew my Father
One thing you've learned: 
That 'Dodecahedron' by Gabriel, Collins, Banks, Hackett, Rutherford, Fripp, Bruford, Muir, Wetton, Cross, Gilmour, Waters, Wright, Mason, Wakeman, Squire, Howe, White, Anderson, Evan, Hammond, Barrie, Barlow, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub, Emerson, Lake & Palmer could have been the greatest Prog album ever
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The Paying Guests

Author: 
Sarah Waters
It's about: 
Set in 1922, Frances Wray and her mother are renting out their house in Champion Hill, SE London (very well-known to me.) Lillian and Leonard Barber come to stay, and Frances begins an intimate relationship with Lillian, the consequences of which enfold across the book. Waters writes well about the situation of men after the First World War; social class; the consequences of war for families; and the position of women and their emerging freedoms. TRIGGER WARNING: This starts rather sedately but a pivotal section was so grim that I had to skip it. No spoilers, but not for the sensitive and veers into Gothic horror. Waters also writes brilliantly about women and sex so be prepared if you’re reading this on the bus. The tension (sexual and otherwise) builds unbearably and I ended up getting off the bus and continuing to read it to the end whilst walking down the street, much to the annoyance of pedestrians.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
• Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ trilogy (also ‘Life Class and ‘Toby’s Room’.) • Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’.
One thing you've learned: 
• It’s possible to write about sex in a genuinely erotic way, not some ’50 Shades…’ travesty or some porny lesbo fantasy rubbish. • A bit banal, but war has consequences way beyond the actual event. • All sorts of interesting things happen in Ruskin Park. Who knew? Not me. • The subtle and not-so-subtle shifting class distinctions of post-war England. • Waters writes beautifully about the detail of domestic life and the crushing tediousness of it.
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The Zone of Interest

Author: 
Martin Amis
It's about: 
There was an old fairy tale about a king who asked his wizard to create a magic mirror - one that when you looked into it showed not your own reflection but your soul. No-one could look into it without turning away. In this instance, the mirror is the Kat Zet concentration camp, resurrected from 'Time's Arrow' - except this is a mirror that there's no turning away from. This novel is a love story wrapped up in a black comedy within a tale of human tragedy, told through the eyes of three protagonists and set against the backdrop of industrial scale slaughter and the 'banality of evil' of the reptilian Nazi mind. Quite simply,it reinstalls Amis as one of the leading literary figures of the moment.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
After a long run of disappointing novels, Amis has rediscovered his mojo with a vengeance. This might not quite rank alongside his stunning run of early novels, but it's certainly his best work since 'London Fields'. If you'd written him off as being in terminal decline after the likes of 'Lionel Asbo' and 'The Pregnant Widow', then prepare to revise your opinion.
One thing you've learned: 
As a child in the novel asks - 'What would you rather - know everything or know nothing?' Essential reading!

Life after the State

Author: 
Dominic Frisby
It's about: 
I’d have to admit that the idea of a stand-up comedian writing about a serious topic doesn’t sound all that promising, but Dominic Frisby has managed to pull off a quite startling achievement; he has written a book about the economy that is actually a pleasure to read. ‘Life after the State’ seeks to address these basic questions: What is money? Who controls it? What happens as a result of that control? His central argument is that our fiat monetary system (in which governments, regardless of their assets, print money whenever it suits them) doesn’t just encourage massive debt or stifle innovation and self-reliance; it is doomed to fail. The book reaches some alarming conclusions about the massive Ponzi scheme that is the western economy and argues that we have to end the racket of central banking by separating 'money' and 'state'. To sum it up in a sentence: the closer you are to the people who control money, the better off you'll be.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
It should appeal to anyone who is concerned about where crony capitalism and the deficit spending model of government is taking us. The author describes himself as a ‘bleeding heart libertarian’ and unashamedly espouses that libertarianism to champion ideas that would be familiar to many 'progressives' (although it's fair to say that most of his proposed solutions will be anathema to those of a statist disposition).
One thing you've learned: 
I've learned some interesting ideas about taxation and about how having the freedom to choose between competing currencies might begin the process of rolling back the power of the state. I've learned something about fractional reserve banking and I'm now afraid of the phrase 'quantitative easing'. I'm also more inclined to believe that politicians really don't have a clue what they are doing and that, sooner or later, fiscal reckoning (a.k.a. 'reality') is going to raise its ugly head.
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Animals

Author: 
Emma Jane Unsworth
It's about: 
The opening line tells you most of what you need to know: 'You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.' This is the story of two thirty-something anti-herione flat-sharers and their friendship. It’s very good on the co-dependence, loyalty and tensions within female friendships, and the deadening nature of work (and not writing your novel). The writing is particularly powerful on the reinforcing (and dangerous) nature of friendships based on booze, drugs and dodgy men. But it is best on the crushing nature of female conformity- when women get to a certain age, the pressures to settle become overwhelming, particularly around marriage, babies and family. Unsworth also writes very perceptively about the reality of sex- the ick, the stink, the mess and how it’s really rubbish sometimes (especially when sober). It’s written at a breakneck speed and I got through it in a very enjoyable afternoon.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
For those who partied hard at any stage (however long ago) it’s very easy to recognise a younger version of oneself in it, and the male characters are reasonably well-written (although slightly flat and foils for the women, really). In the end it’s a woman’s quest for agency and independence and its consequences. Might appeal to people who enjoyed: Caitlin Moran’s books; ‘The Lemon Grove’ by Helen Walsh; Possibly Irvine Welsh: the drug descriptions are spot-on and less stomach-turning.
One thing you've learned: 
• Drugs are baaaad, m’kay? • Pop fact: Emma Jane Unsworth is Guy Garvey’s ex. I wonder if he bears any resemblance to Jim, the globe-trotting musician? (Also a lot of ‘The Take-off and Landing…’ was written about her, I think.) • A girl needs a room of her own.

How to Build a Girl

Author: 
Caitlin Moran
It's about: 
It’s the 1990s, teenager Johanna Morrigan lives in a Wolverhampton council house with an unemployed father, a depressed mother and four unruly siblings. Her only way out is to reinvent herself as savvy, sassy, cynical rock critic Dolly Wilde. But that’s not easy when you have to borrow CDs from the library at 20p a time. Imagine Adrian Mole meets High Fidelity as written by Tony Parsons, narrated in the audio book version by Noddy Holder and you’ll have just an inking of how this book reads. Sharp and true to life, like all the best coming of age stories it veers between toe curlingly accurate and snort-coffee-down-your-nose funny. It has some of the most hilarious sex scenes you’ll read anywhere. Above all How to Build a Girl truly captures the trials of breaking away from the family shadow and becoming your own person.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
If you like Nick Hornby or Sue Townsend or Jonathan Coe you'll enjoy this.
One thing you've learned: 
An interesting new use for a roll-on deodorant.
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Watching the Door: Cheating death in 1970s Belfast

Author: 
Kevin Myers
It's about: 
Myers was a drifting journalist who found himself in Norn Ireland just when it went off in the early 1970s. He worked for RTE, wrote for various posh papers, and lived and loved (and nearly died) as he interviewed, cuckolded and drank on both sides of the Sectarian divide. He develops an understandable PTSD, and his knee-jerk student radicalism is car-bombed and kneecapped by reality as he sees the psychopaths and vindictive prejudices that are shared by the Republicans, Unionists, and pre-PC British Army regiments. Nobody comes off well by this book, least of all the author. I'm pretty damn sure the thinking that maintained the brutality on all sides is generalisable to wherever there is an interminable and apparently intractable conflict, whether it be the West Bank, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Any reader of books on terrorism, Northern Ireland's "troubles", or, in my opinion, P J O'Rourke's writings on war zones ("Holidays in Hell", "All the Trouble in the World", etc.).
One thing you've learned: 
People who support terrible things mostly try to get useful idiots to do the dirty work so they can have plausible deniability. These people can end up as MPs and representatives of the managerial boss-class a few decades later. I knew this, but it never hurts to be reminded of the fact.

Weird Scenes inside the Canyon

Author: 
Dave McGowan
It's about: 
The Laurel Canyon (in the L.A. hills) scene in the 60’s and the U.S. military intelligence connection to major names in the music and cinema industry like - Zappa, The Doors, The Byrds, CSNY, The Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees, America, Gram Parsons, Poco, the Beach Boys, and a host of others. It tackles the question: "Did the hippy, sex, drugs and rock and roll rise up organically as an affront to the status quo... or did the US intelligence machinery take steps to implant this phenomenon into Laurel Canyon L.A. so as to distract any anti-war/anti-government fervour and turn it into a mess so it could never get the traction it needed to make any difference? It’s a very enjoyable, intelligent and fascinating read. The facts really do speak for themselves. There are too many common threads in the lives of Laurel Canyon inhabitants back then to be dismissed as mere coincidence. McGowan’s style is quite funny and totally unputdownable.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Books about 60’s musicians, books about popular culture, music from L.A. based bands in the ‘60s, The Black Dahlia, the Easy Rider movie, The “Young Turks” actors of the 60’s, books about the Manson murders, conspiracy books with evidence, the occult...
One thing you've learned: 
I don’t look at the 1960's in the same way. Bands considered to be ground breaking and part of rock history seem to have had a whole lot more going on than just a chance getting together. If the sixties was partly manufactured, what are they capable of now? It boggles the mind. If you're happy with the accepted view of rock and pop music culture as being "4 lads who get together to write songs", beware of this book!

The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings (A false memoir by Dan Stuart)

Author: 
Dan Stuart
It's about: 
Why Green On Red front man Dan Stuart wanted to make music. Sort of. Dan takes a snapshot approach, tracing his journey from Tucson punk to New York psychiatric patient by providing a series of vignettes that are by turns hilarious and horrific. It's a bruising ride and you're not going to finish the book liking him, but if you were a fan of Green On Red back in the day or feel you would enjoy a brutally honest autobiography dressed up as a pack of lies, this is for you.
Length of read: 
Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Green On Red, Dan Fante
One thing you've learned: 
Dan thinks he's been faking it. He'll probably be a lot more comfortable in his own skin when he wises up to the fact that everybody else is too.

Rock Stars Stole My Life

Author: 
Mark Ellen
It's about: 
How he (and lots of people like us) became so obsessive about music, how it has changed over the years, how different the world of rock music is for artists and fans these days....
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
The Word
One thing you've learned: 
A number of the tales and anecdotes had been touched on in the Word and on the podcast, and yet there's a surprising amount of detail and more fun still to be had. I've also learned I can't read his book without his voice reading it to me in my head, which slowed me down a bit. It was like an imaginary podcast.

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