Thursday 28 March 2013

the Faber book of reportage Various


John Ed Carey edits a book which takes the best of first person eye witness (in the majority of cases) reportage of disasters, war, sporting events and historical events and puts them chronologically all in one book. Within are many many famous events and famous names and often famous names at events, Churchill, Hemmingway, Orwell to name just 3. It starts in the ancient world and stops in the mid 80’s. Editorial choice is the one bum note here with no consistency, some of the historical accounts are written with modern spelling, some are not, some have translations of the French, Latin, Spanish and other language quotes within (all articled are in English but some have quotes within), others do not, most are eye witness but he breaks his own rules occasionally to put in 2nd hand accounts. However do not let this distract you this is a must read collection if you have any interest in reportage or history. Some of the writing is raw, many of the articles are powerful and some of the writing is purely beautiful. I read in one glut but I feel that this would be best to dip into. It's a massive book (686 pages + notes and index) and I can see how some events have entered our collective consciousness due to the brilliant way they were captured through reportage - Stanley & Livingston, Scott's last diary, the charge of the light brigade etc.

So here's my question - is reportage alive and well and living in blogland or is it dead considering that journalism relies more and more upon press releases and third hand reporting?

The book was published in the mid 80's and I do wonder if there were a Faber book of Reportage 2 what it would look like - would it be blogs and twitter feeds? would it still contain eye witness journalism? Is eye witness journalism a lost art as we all now rely upon TV (and that has changed substantially since the satellite link) & photos, seeing is believing? Who are the masters now in journalism of painting a picture with words?

Overall – Mixed bag, some good, some indifferent but always interesting

the shadow year Jeffrey Ford


I was drawn in by the premise – in the 1960’s a young boy, Jim, awaits 6th grade in a household with an alcoholic mother and a father he rarely sees, an older brother and a younger sister, Mary, who inhabits her own secret world. The boys have created a detailed model of the town, called Botch Town, complete with clay figures. When one night a prowler is spotted the children appoint themselves to investigate and when they discover that when Mary moves around the inhabitants of Botch town this is somehow corresponds to what happens in real life. When a mystery man turns up in a long white car and there are mysterious disappearances the boy’s life gets complicated. We follow Jim through school and his often difficult relationship with his teacher and peers in a semi-typical coming of age style story but with the events of the mysterious evenings, sneaking out to investigate, adding much more interest.

This reminded mostly of wait until spring Bandini with added weird supernaturalness. It is well written but seemed to me to lack something, it’s hard to put my finger on it just felt “light” and not totally satisfying. I enjoyed it and would recommend it but I just felt that more could have been done with it, the premise is cooler than the reality I guess.

Overall – The premise sounded much cooler than the book turned out to be, still a good read though

space captain Smith Toby Frost


Isambaard Smith is a down on his luck former space captain who’s best friend sounds a lot like the alien in predator, especially his penchant for collecting skulls. Smith is offered a ship, piloted by an android who’s only companion is a hamster, to go to a hippy outpost and collect and return a woman who runs a shop. The story wobbily gets started and strikes an uneasily silly tone and it’s not until well into it, maybe the last third that it starts to hang together a bit better and the humour starts to work. It’s the first in a series and I’m tempted to try the second so it wasn’t awful but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Do you like the sillier Carry On films? If so you may enjoy this, the stereotypical bumbling stiff upper lipped English officer who somehow always lands on his feet (like a more comedy version of Flashman, and that’s certainly echoed on the cover), silly alien empire, silly aliens full stop although the sidekick does provide some nice humour when he meets others of his kind, a former sex-bot who can’t help talking in innuendos and a lentil eating tree hugging damsel in distress. It’s not politically correct by any standard, the misogyny of the main character is in danger of being confused with the author, there are in fact some 3rd person parts that are suspiciously misogynistic, and yet despite all its faults I didn’t hate it and was even vaguely amused by the end. The second book promises to be about Tea and is called the god emperor of Didcot which I’m tempted by just for the title! (Didcot is a small town in England that is mainly known for having a very unsightly and dominating power station)

Overall – Very silly but can be entertaining

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