2008 was not a good year for me, book-wise. One way or another, I never seemed to find the time to read. However, in the very last week of the year, I suddenly started devouring books again. Here are my last three reads of 2008:
Doctor Who: A Critical Reading of the Series was a gift from my brother-in-law (along with some TARDIS socks – I'm spotting a trend here). It is, in essence, a light-weight academic take on the series, most especially the first 20 years, from its launch in 1963, through to the Peter Davison years. The last five years of the original run are skated over, perhaps due to the fact they don't fit well into the narrative Newman is building, perhaps because he, personally, doesn't like them.
However, Newman builds a compelling argument for a series that has to continue to reinvent itself to survive. The inspired regeneration mechanism that allows the lead actor to change also gives licence for the series itself to regenerate into new forms to meet the prevailing themes and televisual styles of the day. That's why the latter years of the original run get such short shrift – Newman dismisses them as more pastiches of the series than reinvention. That said, it would have been nice to see more analysis of the attempted reinvention of the Doctor that we see in the final two years of the show's run and why it failed – Newman all but ignores that.
Still, a thought-provoking, if brief, read for any fan of the series.
It's not often I impulse buy a book any more (the weight of my unread books presses on my conscience), and rarer still that I buy a book on impulse in a supermarket, but when I saw this book on sale in Sainsburys, I couldn't resist. The Various Flavours of Coffee is a nice bit of medium-weight fiction, that covers everything from the economics of the late 19th Century, through the battle for women's suffrage to legacy of slavery, while hanging it around the development of the coffee industry in the UK.
And if you read this book and can still voluntarily buy instant coffee afterwards, you're a better man than me.
The narrative takes a little while to get going, taking care to establish its main two protagonists, before splitting them up for a number of years, and driving them both through harrowing ordeals of very different natures. Oh, and throwing in the odd, reasonably explicit sex scene, along the way.
It's a long time since I've had the desire to use the word "unputdownable", but this book really was. I demolished it in a little over 24 hours and enjoyed every second of it.
I ended up with the Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole almost by mistake. My brother and sister-in-law bought it for my birthday, as Mark seemed to remember Mum hunting around for other book in the series for me. In truth, I haven't read an Adrian Mole book since I was in school. Somehow those books seemed to be very much of product of their Thatcherite times, and I wasn't really interested in seeing Mr Mole and his supporting cast once his teenage years were done.
On the evidence of this remarkably slight read, I was right.
I had the uncomfortable feeling of the comfortable middle class sneering at the working classes reading this book. Satire doesn't just mean poking fun at something – it implies an attempt to reveal a truth hidden or missed by many in people's actions. And I just can't find that in this book. I laughed three times while reading it – and I can only remember the reason for one of those moments. After he's forced onto a council estate, Adrian goes to the local newsagents and asks for a broadsheet newspaper. He's told that the only one they have in has already been bought by the local vicar. I laughed only because much the same happened to me in Knowle West in Bristol – only they never stocked any of the broadsheets.