Book Diary – December 2014

‘The Potter’s Field’ by Andrea Camilleri

Wednesday 3rd December – Wednesday 10th December

I won’t go into too much detail here as I think I have already written everything there is for me to say about Andrea Camilleri’s novels. Even then, I am probably repeating myself.

What I enjoy most is not so much the story as the opportunity to spend time with the characters. Even though I’m not sure I’d like them as much if they were real people, I enjoy reading the books a great deal and it’s always because of the characters rather than the pretty grim stories.

‘Art as Therapy’ by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Wednesday 10th December – Friday 19th December

This was a bit of treat with the rest of my leaving-present voucher. It had first caught my eye in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam back in the spring.

In this book, de Botton and Armstrong argue that art is consumed in the wrong ways currently. That we are often left unimpressed because we are told that a painting is impressive without a proper explanation as to why. They contend that we need different art for different purposes and that carefully selected pieces can make us more rounded, balanced individuals.

This is the kind of argument that at first reading can sound like the ramblings of delusional intellectuals or the insight of someone who is capable of looking from a different angle and declaring that in fact the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Their arguments are certainly persuasive, not least because at times they managed to articulate something which had nagged at the back of my mind when visiting galleries – that a piece of world-famous art isn’t actually all that engaging.

‘The Outsider – A History of the Goalkeeper’ by Jonathan Wilson

Friday 19th December – Thursday 1st January 2015

I don’t think I’m stumbling across anything new when I say that certain writers write a certain way. I don’t think George Pelecanos is capable of writing anything other than a crime novel that ends in a violent shoot-out (and the bad guy inevitably dies), and I don’t think Jonathan Wilson is capable of writing in a different style from this. It suffers from the same flaws as ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You’ but has the same redeeming qualities too. As ever, the level of research that has gone into this book makes me wonder if Wilson ever sleeps (knowing as I do that he combines his time between South America, Africa, the UK, editing the Blizzard magazine and writing for any sports website/publication that will pay him) and there is lots of interesting information conveyed to the reader throughout.

As mentioned above, it does have flaws: the slightly dry style, a common theme with ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You’ and the inclusion of some rather dated and seemingly pointless anecdotes which led me to believe that the text was being padded somewhat. As a result, I would question who decides that this book needs to be written as a book, Wilson himself or his publisher. In the end the book goes from a history of the role of goalkeepers in general to a succession of detailed pen-pictures of significant keepers over the last century or so, loosely grouped according to the theme of the chapter. I guess this is where the book comes from – it’s too long to make a readable article on a website (and probably requiring too much research to make such a prospect profitable for JW), but probably lacking enough material for the full-length book to be an outright success.

Perhaps I’m casting JW in the role he identifies the goalkeeper here and picking up on a few mistakes rather than highlighting the many successes of this book. It is successful in analysing the origins of the role and identifying why it is regarded with such wariness by most people, and charting the subsequent evolution of the role, influenced by the changes in rules and tactics over time. In all, it should be applauded for covering all the angles and not remembered for straying from its line occasionally.

Book Diary – February 2014

‘Live By Night’ by Dennis Lehane

Friday 31st January – Monday 10th February

As with ‘The Given Day’ this took me a little while to get into, but once I did, I read 80% over the course of a weekend, and finished it off at the earliest opportunity during my lunch hour on the Monday.

I think in the past I’ve been a little dismissive of Dennis Lehane’s ability as a writer (and I would still maintain that he is my least favourite of the group of writers from The Wire) but time and time again he is proving himself to be well capable of writing an intelligent page-turner. His more recent, epic novels are also showing that he is making a significant improvement from book to book.

My main criticisms this time would be a lack of what I would consider to be balance in the story. The catalyst for many of the events is the disappearance of a significant character from the early chapters. It’s pretty obvious that this character will reappear, but when they do, they are promptly and summarily dismissed from the story never to return. The second criticism would be the very sudden ending, in which another significant event occurs in the space of the last three pages. I was left wondering where that had come from and why, and then the next page was the acknowledgements.

‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You: Brian Clough, the Biography’ by Jonathan Wilson

Tuesday 11th February – Sunday 9th March

I honestly don’t know how it has taken me so long to get around to reading this book. After all, it is the most complete record of the life of the most iconic person in the history of Nottingham Forest, written by my favourite football journalist, Jonathan Wilson.

Perhaps my reluctance to start turning the pages was down to the fact that I have read several books on Clough, including his autobiography and so I felt I would spend a long time covering familiar ground. To a small extent, this proved to be true, but Wilson’s incredibly detailed research and clear re-telling of the familiar stories showed me just how little I actually knew and how distorted the tales had become.

The greatest difference that was revealed by this book was between my impression of Clough and what Jonathan Wilson convincingly depicts as the reality. A lot of Forest fans I know, swayed by the anomalous success he brought our club, are still in a thrall to Clough, years after his death, and the impression given is always that of a charismatic eccentric. However, he is revealed as an arrogant, erratic and unpleasant man, deviously manipulative and given to provoking confrontation for his own satisfaction and amusement.

The greatest compliment I can pay Jonathan Wilson’s writing is that for 547 out of the 550 pages of NESTY, my sympathy and respect for Brian Clough was completely eroded by JW’s unbiased and unsentimental portrayal of Clough’s awkward personality, and then, in the final 3 pages, he managed to claw enough back for me to pity Clough.