- Firstly, a collection of three autobiographies by the late jazzman / raconteur / writer / bon viveur, George Melly, 'Owning Up'. I adored this trilogy, which features his first three autobiographies in chronological (rather than published) order: Scouse Mouse (pub 1984), Rum, Bum and Concertina (1977) and Owning Up (1965). His honesty (or, at least his skill for spinning a damn fine yarn) is certainly admirable and often breathtaking, and provides a snapshot of his life with a crisp, fresh clarity. Of all the books, I enjoyed 'Owning Up' the least, which is not to suggest that it was necessarily the weaker of the three, just that perhaps someone that appreciates Melly's particular milieu of jazz more than I would enjoy it even more.
"It would be absurd not to admit to the obsessive spirit in my remembering so minutely the contents and decoration of an unremarkable terrace house some fifty years ago, but I have always tended to understand people initially through the objects they accumulate and the manner in which they display or conceal them."
What really struck me was the author's absolute lust for life, twinned with the ability to look back without regret, making this book both inspiring and thoroughly entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading the final instalment, 'Slowing Down' to learn just how to milk every last drop from the flagon of life. Have a lil Boogie Woogie on his behalf!
- Next up, a wonderful debut from Jane Elmor, 'My Vintage Summer'. This has two stories running alternately, one from the narrator's descent into teenage awakening and one from the present day, her life full of creature comforts but hollow inside. The two stories have as their central theme the adoration, worship and, ultimately, understanding of an older girl, Vonnie, and how Lizzie (the narrator) reacts to her defiant, magnetic prescence. Whilst the detail certainly evokes life in the late 70' / early 80's, it isn't a syrupy nostalgia fest, and explores themes of family, friendship, marriage and music with an understanding touch that will be familiar and illuminating at the same time. It made me think of the best bits of 'Flashbacks of a Fool' in its attention to detail that seemed accurate rather than sepia-tinted longing, although I had far more empathy and warmth to the central character Lizzie than I did for Flashbacks' Joe Scott.I loved it and look forward to reading her most recent book. (you might also enjoy this interview.)
- From the Cor Blimey, to the sublime and now onto the, umm, well, something different. Now, buying a book on thrift may seem to be a non-sequitur, but often it can be a case of 'speculating to accumulate'. I'm not entirely convinced by India Knight's concept of 'Thrift', but, if you consider it as a companion to the wonderful, often unashamedly glam 'The Shops', you shouldn't be disappointed. 'The Thrift Book' has a lovely section celebrating the current craft revolution (that is sadly rumbling over my head like a giant wave at the mo, rather than me harnessing its energy and riding a body board whilst laughing like a deranged hyena, but that's a whole other story for a whole other time...), in particular Etsy and the joy therein. This book is less about how to live cheaply, basically and beautifully, and more about 'If you have to spend money, you might as while spend a bit more on something decent', an idea I agree with on principle, but sometimes you just don't have the choice and have to make the most of what you have. I think the section on 'Camping' made me realise, once more, that Ms Knight and I move in very different circles: she recommends a Feather Down Farms holiday, I recommend you bag a tent of ebay (I recommend Outwell tents) or borrow one from a friend: we camped near Land's End, in the middle of August, for £16 a night for a family of four. That, my friend, is thrift.
- Whilst on said thrifty holiday, I devoured the first in Henning Mankell's 'Wallander' series, 'Faceless Killers'. This is the first crime book and I loved it. Admittedly, I was eased in into them through my adoration of both the english and swedish tv adaptations, and found that the books gave another dimension to an already interestingly complex character. Actually, is Kurt Wallander a complex character, or is he infact torn between duty to job and family, resulting in a man desperate to find a balance but failing miserably? I think he's a fascinating chararcter: you really feel for the poor sod, whilst simultaneously wishing he wasn't quite so his own worst enemy. But then, it wouldn't make such a delicious story. Wallander is called out to a horrific and seemingly motiveless murder whilst his private life is still in turmoil after a recent divorce. As layers are gradually peeled away, racism is revealed and Wallander must find the facts underneath the mask of fear. Its seemingly slowpace is misleading as, before you know it, you'll have read 10 pages without breathing.
I also loved my own juxtaposition, reading this dark, bleak tale set in wintry Sweden whilst sitting on a beautiful warm, sunny Cornish beach in the middle of August. There is a greyness that I find utterly absorbing and I can't wait to read the next book, 'The Dogs of Riga'.
What are you reading?
(ps: apologies for the bizarre layout: it wouldn't let me leave a space between books, thus creating a large bed of words that would have put me off, at least: Grrrr!)