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Monday, July 20, 2015

I am still busy reading the Karl/Jerry Marx biography. However while I have been reading the book I have been busy doing the South Down's Way by bike with my friend Tim.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson

I feel like I should have heard of Jon Ronson before but I confess he's a new name to me. He's an investigative journalist mainly for the Guardian (a paper I buy sometimes) I think and he's written a few books. Lost At Sea is a collection of articles which have appeared in his name around 3-4 years ago.

There's no discernable order to the articles which is one of the alluring points of the book. The articles can literally be about anything, but nearly always are about unusual people and/or unusual situations. Some of the articles are excellent, a few are less good but there's not a bad article in the whole book. I award Lost At Sea 9 out of 10.

The title story is about a fairly normal person, who disappeared on a cruise voyage and the cruise-line have been very unhelpful at getting to the truth. Most of the articles though are about people who live bizarre lives like the real life super heroes on America, there are a couple of game show contestants who go to extreme lengths to get on shows and win them, and even a trip to Alaska to find the town where  it is always Christmas. Ronson in every case goes and talks to the people involved and sees for himself what the story is.

Ronson is a great writer and very funny on occasions - he's also very good at getting to the point without being boring. I'll definitely have to read some more of his stuff. Unfortunately my own rules forbid me to take anything else by him out should it crop on another bookcase! When I've finished this challenge he'll be high on my list to return to that's for sure.

Next up is book 43, which is the first full scale biography of a major historical figure, Karl Marx. I must admit to having a soft spot for the Nineteenth Century and have read a few biographies from this period especially of British people in the heyday of our nation.  Marx was German but he lived in London for a large part of his life and largely made his name here to the best of my recollection.

I'll be interested to read about Marx - and his wife who is also the subject of this book. I'm not especially interested in his politics, more about his life and that of his wife. Good biographies allow you to live the lives of others vicariously and you can learn things from them which you can apply to your own life. Two books ago I read another biography, about Alfred Wainright, and it helped to put parts of my own life into perspective. Alfred Wainright was a minor figure though in the grand scheme of things - Marx is one of the giants of the Nineteenth century and one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

It's a 700 page book so I may take a couple of weeks to read this one!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Wainwright: The Biography by Hunter Davies

I'd heard of Book 41's subject Alfred Wainwright of course, but have never read a word he's written or seen him on TV - to the best of my recollection. I suppose you wouldn't normally read a biography of someone you had such a tenuous knowledge of, but such is the nature of my library challenge that I am often plunged into the covers of books I would not normally open.

That said, I was glad I read Wainwright, who sounds like an enigmatic character. A man, who appeared gruff and taciturn on the surface, but underneath was a romantic. For a man who spent hours alone on the hills he had an amazing number of women friends, yet barely spoke to his wife, who he treated like a housekeeper!

Wainwright is the biographer's dream because he wasn't much of a speaker, yet was a prolific author of letters as well as over 50 books which he didn't start writing until well in his forties! He practically wrote everything down which happened to him. There must have been an enormous amount of material to read in order to write this book, which maintains interest throughout and is rarely boring.

I am an obsessive so I could identify with Wainwright who embarked on such a ludicrous challenge that few would have expected him to complete it - only an complete obsessive could do so! Writing his guide books entirely by hand was bizarre even in the 1950s, something that probably hadn't been done since the Middle Ages.

Yet to the people around him he paid little regard. His wives and son had to fit in around Wainright's life and he had very few friends who he spoke to. Nobody was allowed to walk with him, except on rare occasions, but if they did they weren't allowed to speak - even his second wife!

Although Wainwright is not a massive figure of the Twentieth Century, even in the UK, he's still an enjoyable character to read about and Hunter Davies is a very good author. I award Wainwright 8 out of 10.

Next up is book 42, which is another work from the biography section.

I think this book is not a true biography, more a kind of book about things Jon Rowson has come across during his time as a Guardian journalist. Let's find out.