Tag Archives: Book club

July Book Club

At the beginning of the month Caitlin Moran released her first novel called How to Build a Girl. I felt a bit strange reading it because even if I wanted to change who I was as a teenager it’s a bit too late now, but there was enough to enjoy regardless. I will also admit that I can’t write a better review of the book than John Crace’s digested read in the Guardian which gets to the crux of the problems with the book.

The main character Johanna Morrigan lives with her large family in Wolverhampton doing the usual teenage things, but after winning a poetry competition and embarrassing herself on local TV with an impression of Scooby Doo she decides to reinvent herself. She gets interested in music, goth culture and changes her name. She’s also really interested in boys but there’s no boys willing to help her find out more about sex so Johanna spends a lot of romantic time with herself. A lot of time.

Photo: Published by Ebury Press

She moves on from writing poems to writing music reviews for a national magazine. This career feat gives her the opportunity to become a lady sex adventurer. This is Moran’s rebuttal to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, but I think it works best as a chance to explain to young people what sex is actually about, the precautions needed to make it fun (there’s a chapter about coping with cystitis where every word made me wince) and how it isn’t always romantic.

Eventually Johanna realises she needs to allow herself to actually be a teenager, but by this point I think the rest of her family are more interesting. They all seem to struggle so that Johanna can have what she wants, this includes having their benefits reduced as she’s earning now but continue to lovingly support her.

The strangest thing is Caitlin Moran says the book is not autobiographical, there’s even an opening page to explain that, but there’s a lot of similarities to her career and moments in her life that she’s spoken about in How to be a Woman. All of her stories tend to involve a huge family in Wolverhampton with the main female character doing something different, if that was the case then Caitlin Moran wouldn’t be so different to everyone else. I really enjoyed reading it but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting. This could be that I’m too old for the book, or I grew up agreeing with a lot of these values. Mostly I think it didn’t hit the same stride as How to be a Woman, whether that was because it was fiction or something else, but I would recommend How to be a Woman over this book.

Last month Monty Python performed on stage for the last time at the O2, so as well as watching old shows, documentaries about the group I decided to read Michael Palin’s diaries of The Python Years. This first volume covers 1969 to 1979 which goes from Python getting established to the controversy surrounding the release of the Life of Brian.

It was interesting to see how the team worked together, and there would usually be squabbles and at several points it seems Monty Python was on the verge of splitting up. Then they get together to write something, have a pleasant chat and everything seems happy again. He also writes very honestly about his family, and makes no apologies that his diary entries sometimes miss a momentous piece of Python news for sharing a day out with his family instead.

Personally the best bit in the diaries was when Palin met Brian Winston, who is an instantly recognisable name for anyone who’s been to the Lincoln School of Journalism.


Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War was a fascinating read, after studying history I knew a lot of the main events of the first World War but Paxman has lots of anecdotes from the time. He wanted to challenge the perception that the generals just sat back and got a lot of things wrong which meant a lot of young men died, and show that the approach to war and fighting was changing. However, I think the best parts of the book was dealing with the emotional side effects of war. The chapter detailing how families dealt with missing men after the war was particularly touching, especially how the public reacted to the tomb for the unknown soldier.

While Paxman’s book is a good for those wanting to start finding out more about the war, Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is a little bit more advanced than I was anticipating. It deals with the way Ancient Greek and Roman history has been collected, from the sounds of it mostly by people with little understanding of the Greek language or a bit too keen to make places into tourist destinations. For my A levels I studied Classical Civilisation and thought that would help with the book, but I largely studied Ancient Greece, buildings and the prose whereas Mary Beard’s book is mostly about the Romans. This just means it’s more of a challenging read and I hope it gets me reading more about the subject.

August’s reads

After reading about the war, feminism and classical civilisations I fancy some easier reads this month. I’m tempted to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because it’s fantastic and I haven’t read any of the books since I was a teenager. My brother is also very good at finding cheap yet good books for the Kindle and found me Where do comedians go when they die? A journey of stand up by Milton Jones for 99p. Maybe a light-hearted classic as well, we’ll see what I fancy on some of the long train journeys I have this month.

Book club: May

Last month I decided I would pay my respects to Sue Townsend by reading more of her books. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole books but there are plenty of other characters that Sue Townsend wrote about. The woman who went to bed for a year is a sweet and funny portrayal of family life.

Eva’s twins leave home to go to university and Eva decides to take to her bed for a year. She takes stock of her life and realises that her husband who she doesn’t love is having an affair, her brainy children are unable to cope with the real world and she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

From the confines of her bed she manages to bring the family back together, whether they like one another is a different matter, and they create this varied supporting cast. Eva now has the time to just talk to people and ends up hearing people’s problems. Word gets round that she’s lucky and people from around the world end up just sitting outside her house hoping to catch a glimpse of her. I don’t know if Eva learnt a lot from staying in bed for a year but she reset her life, and I was left kind of hopeful.

Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace, image from Random House.

I’ve been looking forward to the new Danny Wallace book, called Who is Tom Ditto?. This is the second novel from Wallace, it’s a bit more grown up in comparison to his earlier books like Yes Man and Join Me. I thought his novels would be jovial and happy-go-lucky too, instead Wallace seems to deal with men who’ve lost their way.

Who is Tom Ditto? starts with Tom’s girlfriend leaving and insisting that he should carry on as normal. Understandably he tries to understand what has happened to her and discovers that she’s a follower. She has no personality of her own and just follows the lead of strong people. But rather than being an annoying person who agrees with everything you say she literally drops people to follow the next person. That can even mean ditching everything to move to Paris. Tom ends up wrapped up in the idea of following too, initially as a distraction, but realises it can help him out.

At points the book started to get a bit unbelievable, and it is a bit bleak to be following a character who doesn’t want to help himself. Luckily the supporting characters are good and they take charge in Tom’s life where he can’t. There are lots of funny stories too, Tom works at a radio station where someone ends up having a sweary meltdown on air about jam.

A good book to dip in and out of is The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. It’s all about the terms used for interesting English phrases — most of them we use unconciously but didn’t know they had names. Each short chapter deals with a term, explaining it using old and a few modern examples too.

It’s approach to language reminds me of the book For who the bell tolls by David Marsh. They both explain complicated language terms and show how the Beatles manage to use several of them in their songs. It’s enjoyable not to be told off for using language in a poor way but to be shown the interesting and powerful ways that it has been used, and sometimes without even realising how they’ve done it.

What to read in June

I’ve been on a bit of a book splurge, all classics for hardly anything at all, just need to make sure that I actually read them. I’m hoping to sit down and enjoy the sun reading outside over the next few months — but I have to see if the weather agrees with that idea too.