Friday, November 23, 2007

More short reviews

R.W. Holder: How Not to Say What You Mean

Please take note: This is a perfect Christmas present for a bookish person. It is, in effect, a dictionary of American and British euphemisms, and it's also an interesting example of how a non-fiction book can have a long and profitable life, subject to periodic revisions and repackaging.

The book began life twenty years ago, published by Bath University Press, a small academic publishing company with which I was then associated. After the hardback edition was exhausted, the rights were sold on to Faber. Faber kept it in print for five years or so, and when the rights reverted I sold the book, on behalf of the author, to OUP.

Well, I say sold. The book sold itself. All I had to do was write the right sort of letter to the right person. OUP brought it out in 1995, retitled and rebadged it in 2002, and it's now in its fourth, revised edition. The Financial Times called it 'a very funny collection', which it is, and the Sunday Telegraph described it as 'great fun, but not for the maiden aunt'. Available worldwide.

R.W. Holder: The Fight for Malaya

At the end of the second world war, the later lexicographer of euphemisms found himself participating in the war in Malaya. The Fight for Malaya chronicles that period, and is subtitled 'The Jungle War of Maurice Cotterill'.

This is an astonishing story. Maurice Cotterill had been in Malaya for fifteen years before the Japanese invaded, and when they arrived he took to the jungle. Working with guerrillas of Chinese descent, he overcame appalling conditions and survived the war.

This is a book of specialised interest, of course, but if you know an old man or woman who remembers Malaya in that period, they are bound to enjoy this book.

It ain't easy to get hold of, being published by Editions Didier Millet in Kuala Lumpur. The ISBN is 978-981-4217-20-0. Select Books offer it online, as do Brendon Books. If all else fails, send me an email (see profile, top of right-hand column), and I will put you in touch with the author.

While you're buying this one for Grandad you might as well buy Dr Holder's memoir of the same period and place, Eleven Months in Malaya. This has been warmly welcomed by many old Malaya hands, and the ISBN is 9814155136. It's a bit more widely available than the Cotterill book: if you google the title you will find it on offer at a number of UK bookstores, eg Blackwells.

David Loye: Tangled Tales of the Book Trade

This is what used to be called, I think, a conceit. It is written by a man who is possibly even older and grumpier than I. It takes the form of a series of reported dreams, or nightmares, in which 115-year-old author Dilbert Dickens describes some of the most famous authors and scientists of the past century as they attempt to achieve publication of their books and ideas in the modern world of high-powered trade publishing. Sad to report, they don't have a lot of luck.

The result is an entertaining sort of romp, but it does reveal, I further regret to say, that the overall author, David Loye, has a distressingly jaundiced and cynical view of modern-day publishing. I cannot imagine what would justify such an attitude.

Tangled Tales is published by the Benjamin Franklin Press, a firm which deserves a moment or two of your time.

Emmett James: Admit One

Emmett James hails from England. He grew up in Croydon, finished his schooling in Cambridge, and in the 1990s went to Hollywood to pursue a (successful) career as an actor. Admit One is a memoir about his early experiences ('as a kid') in the cinema. No, not that kind of experience. It's about the fascination of film. It takes the form of a fond recollection of the films which are most memorable to him, and it links them to the story of his life (so far).

Emmett's theory is that the key to experiencing film is context, i.e. 'the environment, mood, personal history and circumstances in which a person sees a film'. I absolutely agree. Context, in that sense, is crucial to our appreciation of any art form. As I have remarked elsewhere, a joke told in German may be a very good joke, but if you don't speak German it don't actually mean very much.

It is a clever device, imho, to link an autobiographical memoir (is that a tautology?) to a series of films, and I think it works very well.

The book is published through Wheatmark publishing services, an outfit which seems to have done a splendid job.

Clary Antome: Family Blog

Speaking of good jobs, in printing terms, Family Blog is another one, this time produced via Booksurge.

Here we have the twenty-first-century equivalent of the eighteenth-century epistolary novel: Family Blog is 'a humorous modern-day saga of an uprooted European family, told through a medley of blogs that each member is writing without knowledge of the others'. There are three sisters and two parents here, and each of them has a skeleton or two in the cupboard -- sorry, closet. You get, as with Rashomon, several versions of the same series of events.

Clever, and well done.

Clary Antome, we are told, 'is a young Southern-European female hominid with some experience of being tossed around the planet'. Family Blog is her first novel. Poke around in the material provided by Ms Antome, e.g. the advance reviews, and you will find some seriously weird stuff.

Andrew F. O'Hara: The Swan

Andy O'Hara very kindly sent me a copy of this book, but he asked me not to review it. OK, I won't. But I will mention it.

Mr O'H is the driving force behind the Jimston Journal. The Swan, subtitled 'Tales of the Sacramento Valley', is a collection of stories inspired by the people who live in the valley today. The author says that he was delighted to find that at least one of his stories was highly offensive to a few people, so I think he must be doing something right.

Details et cetera here.

Peter Anthony: A Town Called Immaculate

A Town Called Immaculate is the latest in the Macmillan New Writing series (actual publication date 7 December). This series has usually featured a remarkably high degree of professionalism in what are, by definition, first (published) novels, and this one is no exception.

The book is set in small-town, rural America, where a Vietnam-traumatised and bankrupt farmer, Ray Marak, is beginning to become unhinged. And it's Christmas Eve.

This book is, I think, harder to categorise than many MNW books, and it belongs, I suppose, in that old-fashioned mainstream novel slot which seems to be out of favour with most publishers. The author himself says that he likes to think of the book as literary fiction, but perhaps it could fall under the family saga or the thriller category as well.

For more detail, excerpts, and so forth, go here.

Bill Liversidge: A Half Life of One

Bill Liversidge will be known to some readers of this blog as the author of another blog, View from the Pundy House. He began that blog about two years ago, with the express intention of putting his novel A Half Life of One in front of the reading public by one means or another. And as it turns it, he's succeeded rather well.

What's the novel about? Nick Dowty is 'trapped in a happy marriage, and staggering beneath the burden of being a good husband and a loving father'. But disaster strikes. What is the half life of a nuclear family in those circumstances? One hour? A week?

As you will see if you visit Bill's blog, he has gathered together some very good reviews of this book from the likes of Maxine Clarke and John Baker, both of whom I would rate as no mean judges. I see from the dedication page that Bill has also had encouragement from Lynne Scanlon, a lady who would not, I suspect, encourage any but the talented.


Mary Witzl said...

I have seen 'How Not to Say What You Mean' and considered getting it for my sister. After reading your review, I'll have to look at it more closely and, now that I know it is inappropriate for maiden aunts, possibly even buy it.

Sadly, the only man I know who might have appreciated Maurice Cotterill's story, a former POW captured in Singapore back in 1942, is no longer with us.

I have a question: how do memoirs of former POWs do commercially? I am corresponding with a man who hopes to sell his own POW memoir, and though it is chock-filled with amazing stuff, I just wonder about what the market is like for such books.

Gladys Hobson said...

If the 'offensive story' in O'Hara's The Swan, is the one I think it is, I would say it is likely the best tale in the book. It is a cleverly woven story of conflict and hypocrisy and, sadly, reveals that justice is not always done: not only can the law be an ass, but a bucking bronco at that — kicking at its own law enforcement officers!
Just one of the excellent collection of stories that form part of the tale of the Sacramento Valley.

Anonymous said...

"...asked me not to review it." An act of mercy to us both. I realize how full your mailbox is and, more importantly, I long ago learned not to take my writing seriously.

My freedom from enslavement came the day I rose before a group and confessed, "I'm a writer and I can't stand James Joyce."

moonrat said...

re: cynical attitude toward publishing: it's hard not to have one sometimes. but what are we going to do? stop making books? yeah right. besides, i think most of the industry's problems have more to do with too many people trying to publish too many books. i do honestly believe that the stuff that really deserves to be out there gets out there eventually.

thanks for the review ;)

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