So Christmas TV was pretty shit this year, right? Elaine 'world's most annoying woman' Paige on Strictly, the terrible mess that was the Open All Hours new episode and a Doctor Who with a storyline so impenetrably dull and nonsensical it could've been a film on SyFy. And of course repeats. So many repeats.
On the plus side, more time for books. I read three cover to cover over the holiday (and started another, of which more at some point in the future) so here are some potted and uninsightful reviews for your convenience... (Spoiler: I like autobiographies.)
Maajid Nawaz - Radical
Maajid Nawaz is a very interesting character. Currently head of the counter-extremism group Quilliam (of getting Tommy Robinson to quit the EDL fame) and a Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate, he spent much of his earlier life as a die hard believer in political Islamism. He was a prominent member of the Islamist group Hizb al Tahrir, something which landed him with a lengthy stay in Egypt's notorious prison system including one of its secret torture jails.
Radical is his autobiography. It deals with the entirety of his relationship with Islamism, including how he became involved, his experiences as an HT member and how and why he came to disown the ideology of extremism. It's undeniably an interesting and compelling story. It's a very vivid and well written illustration of the way Islamism works and how it can become so pervasive so quickly.
What it's not is anything new. If you're looking for new insights into how extremism works and what we can do to counter it - which I think it's reasonable to expect given the author - then you'll be disappointed. This is especially so if you've read Nawaz's friend and Quilliam cofounder Ed Husain's excellent The Islamist and we're expecting something similarly rigorous. I was and felt a bit short changed.
As a piece of autobiography it's worth a look though. Just make sure you pick up The Islamist at the same time.
Nick Offerman - Paddle Your Own Canoe
If Ron Swanson - Offerman's phenomenally awesome Parks and Rec character - had written an autobiography it would definitely not be this book.
Although there are plenty of woodworking tips (the book's title is both a literal and figurative instruction - he does describe how you would go about building your own canoe) and odes to red meat and facial hair, this book is not some kind of Swanson's guide to life. It's much more rounded, almost as if Nick Offerman and Ron Swanson are not in fact the same. Who knew?
Canoe is the very funny lifestory of an actor/carpenter combined with some very funny ranting on topics dear to the author's heart. The autobiographical part of the book (each chapter is split, part autobiography part rant) is genuinely interesting, genuinely funny and genuinely touching in parts. And Parks and Rec fans won't be disappointed by the on-set anecdotes about Chris Pratt and his ability to craft model vaginas from candy floss. The topic specific rants were my favourite part though and I agreed with almost every one, from the importance and pleasure to be gained from making things to this perfect summation of my views on organised religion:
Rob Delaney - Wife. Mother. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.
Yeah, the title of this book pretty much sums up its humour and why it's awesome.
Rob Delaney's ('the funniest man on twitter') excellent autobiography is the first book in a long time I've read in one sitting. And I can't emphasise the word 'excellent' there enough.
I expected this book to be hilariously funny and it didn't disappoint. The dark, dirty, slightly surreal comedy Delaney specialises in on Twitter is evident throughout. One of the bits that made me giggle like a loon was his description of how he learned to masturbate whilst suffering from two broken arms. If this sounds like your sense of humour also then a) we should be friends and b) this book is for you.
What I possibly didn't expect was how touching this book would be too. Delaney has struggled with alcoholism and depression and offers a very honest portrayal of both. His take on depression and the way it effects people physically and emotionally will ring very true for anyone who's either experienced this awful illness themselves or watched a friend or family member suffer with it.
A great read from cover to cover. Buy it now.