Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Christmas Reading: Amy Poehler, Katherine Boo, Stephen Fry, Hilary Mantel and George Orwell

One of the things I inevitably do a lot of over Christmas, other than eating until I feel sick and watching way too much TV, is get stuck in to some serious reading.

This year I managed five and a bit books in three weeks (two of holiday, one of being ill and off work with a horrible chest infection) which I consider very much time well spent. Here’s what I thought of everything I read over my festive and sickness period, in case you were wondering.

Amy Poehler - Yes Please
Cards on the table: Amy Poehler is my personal goddess so if you’re looking for a reasoned critique of her book then you best go elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, I loved every page of this. Part memoir, part manifesto, with some poems and photos thrown in for good measure, this is a supremely entertaining read. The memoir parts are interesting and enjoyably self-deprecating, the manifesto parts are right on. I loved the chapter on how you should treat your career like a bad boyfriend. Preach sister! Highly recommended for fellow Poehler fans and Parks and Rec obsessives, people interested in breaking into comedy and anyone who thinks they would enjoy haikus about plastic surgery (ie everyone).

Katherine Boo - Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Regular readers will recall how much I loved the National Theatre’s stage version of this and the book is equally, if not more, gripping. Undoubtedly the most absorbing piece of longform journalism I’ve ever read, the book rivals the best novels in its storytelling prowess (great word). Completely worthy of the multiple glowing reviews that litter the front and back covers. You don’t need to have seen the stage version to love the book, but if you have you will enjoy it on another level. (And if you haven’t seen the stage version then what are you waiting for?)

Stephen Fry - More Fool Me
This book demonstrates the law of diminishing returns when it comes to autobiographies. This is the third autobiog Stephen Fry has released and it’s by far the most self indulgent and least interesting. With the main narrative thrust being his 1990s cocaine addiction, though this is frequently forgotten, the book is an enjoyable enough read - some great Kenneth Branagh anecdotes were my personal highlight - but I don’t really understand the purpose of it. If you want to read a Fry autobiography, ignore this one and pick up the fantastic first volume, Moab Is My Washpot, instead.

Hilary Mantel - The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
This reminded me that I’m not a huge fan of short stories. A collection of Mantel’s more recent offerings in that genre - the titular, controversy baiting, tale is the only new offering - it’s a good read nonetheless. Some of the stories are great, particularly Harley Street which has a fantastic and genuinely unexpected twist, some of them are so-so but certainly none of them are anything like poor. They’re also not anything like as good as her novels though so if you’re looking for a Mantel book to read I’d suggest you start there. Speaking of which…

Hilary Mantel - A Place of Greater Safety
Ok, so I didn’t read the whole 800 pages over the Christmas break but I did finish it off and it’s superb. Telling the story of the French Revolution through the eyes of three of its protagonists (Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton), this is Mantel at her historical fiction best. The characterisation is razor sharp, the action is fast paced and vividly drawn and, even though it’s a long old read, it’s a supremely rewarding one. Not quite as good as Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, but not far off.

George Orwell - Animal Farm
I picked this up as a stopgap in between finishing APOGS and getting new books at Christmas, which was an ill-judged move as it’s so short and so readable that it lasted me barely a day. More accessible and less harrowing than 1984, this is considered a classic for a reason and one everyone should read at some point in their lives. One of my favourite characters was the spoiled, precious pony who flees the farm at the first sign of socialism, which probably gives you a pretty accurate insight in to my psyche.

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