Tag Archives: 2017 year of reading

November – Read a Comedy

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The ‘2017 year of reading’ plan directed that November would be a comedy and so I bimbled around the library until I came across Life and Laughing by Michael McIntyre.

This the second autobiography of a comedian I’ve read in the last 12months and I enjoyed it even more than the first. If Graham Norton was the comedian I grew up with mainly through my late teens and early twenties with doggy-phone and So Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre is the one I’ve watched most recently over the last few years (this book is several years old now and takes you to the point where he began appearing on TV a lot).

Like Graham Norton’s book, I read ‘Life and Laughing’ in Michael’s voice – some of the sentences I could actually hear him saying and imagine him delivering them in one of his routines, head bobbing, cheeky grin and lots of running around the stage. I found – because I read it pretty quickly – that I also began throwing his style into my daily life, speaking to people at work in similar voice, which I had to stop pretty quick – my work life is just not that fun or exciting to justify impersonating a comedian as part of the daily grind.

Life and Laughing was funnier for me than Graham Norton’s book – although I laughed so loudly someone came to check I was OK when I was reading that, I chuckled, ‘lol’ed and SALTS (smiled and little then stopped) at this one all the way through. The observational comedy style that McIntyre has meant that virtually every page had funny-isms dropped onto it; he was writing about his past, but with his comedy eyes wide open all the time – even describing the set up and process of getting his writing room started at the beginning was good (if you’re interested, I’m writing my review on an old MacBook Pro c. 2011 13-inch-ish screen, which has a small crack in the right hand corner where I closed it on a book a couple of years ago – for safety purposes Magic Tape has been applied to prevent any tiny bits falling out).

My favourite thing about this book, behind the review of his life seen through comedy spectacles, was understanding how hard it is to achieve success as a comedian. Norton had similar struggles in his book and perhaps reading the two so close together brought this into greater focus for me. McIntyre shows you the true past behind the success – the long slog of years on a circuit of ‘jobbing’  stand-ups, multiple visits to Edinburgh Festival and everything in between where there’s little money coming in and lots going out as you try to achieve what is essentially a dream. How close must he have come to giving up on this, in order to have a ‘normal’ job that paid the bills? Perhaps it is passion or ambition, drive or something else that carries people to success – Michael seemed incredibly determined in his approach to his career, taking a booking for 12 months time and working in between to hone his skills.

Perhaps it takes someone so determined to succeed that they can live on an edge of huge debt without doing what many must do and ‘get a proper job’. It feels similar to being a writer in this sense – you can sit at home, writing away with no job trying to make it happen (or even in a coffee shop, a la J K Rowling), but many more must not be able to cope with the risk to home, comfort and the ability to eat something that isn’t a Tesco value meal…

The end of the book really made me think. McIntyre is a very positive, flexible comedian – he can do naughty as much as he can entertain families on his ‘Big Show’. Reading his story really made me appreciate what it must have taken to have held out and push to where he has gotten to today. I went into this book as a fan and came out really liking the man he seems to be (despite his revelations of being a stalker). I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of his comedy and also to people who are not ‘biography’ readers – I’m not myself generally, but this one was really worth it.

Rating: 5*

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January – Read something you read in school…

Yes, I know it’s February now – but I did read the book in January, I just didn’t get time to do the  post until now 🙂

So… ‘read a book you read in school’ was the instruction and I decided that loosely this could mean anything from high school through to my post-grad stuff, which gave me quite a lot of choice. At the same time, I was already halfway through the month and in the middle of reading a couple of other books, so I didn’t want anything too heavy. Don’t worry, you’re not about to read a post about an Allan Ahlberg book, although they are pretty awesome.

In the end, I opted to read some poetry. Partly because it is was faster, but also, I don’t often read poetry – I suppose I don’t really consider myself a ‘poetry person’, even though I have no idea who I would be defining as such. Anyway, as a ‘not really a poetry person’ person, there are only a few poetry books on my shelves and I have a limited list of poets I would say that I enjoy reading. So, my choices were Robert Lowell, who I discovered in my contemporary literature class (I think!) in 3rd year at uni or Ted Hughes, who I first read in high school with things like ‘Crow’ and ‘The Thought Fox’ (for which I can still clearly the images in the poem, despite not having read it in years).

birthday-letterI ended up going with Ted, but re-read his collection of poems Birthday Letters, which I had read at the end of university, after watching the film Sylvia. Birthday Letters is probably my favourite poetry book (if I don’t count Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll). I remember reading both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in high school and again for A-level. I didn’t ‘get’ most of Plath’s poems – the bleakness and images she returned to over again, were perhaps not easily accessible for a younger, immature reader – someone not familiar really with the pain life can inflict. I still don’t enjoy them, but can appreciate something different in her poetry now as an adult than I did before.

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Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow as Ted and Sylvia in 2003 film Sylvia

Whether you enjoy the film Sylvia or agree/disagree with the presentation of Hughes and Plath’s life together, what I found for me was that it gave me a context for reading Birthday Letters against. If you’re interested in knowing more on this, check out Wikipedia pages on the book here. Most people believe that the poems collected in Birthday Letters are Hughes’ response to Plath’s suicide and their relationship as a whole – published in 1998 shortly before his own death. Compared to the ‘nature’ poems we had focused on at school, the poetry in Birthday Letters feels to me more personal and precise, like the words have been worked over repeatedly not to create the perfect poem, but to enable the poetry to properly express what had been worked over in someone’s mind, heart and soul over and over again, before making it on to paper.

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Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

As I found Plath’s poetry more vivid and painful re-reading it as an adult, I felt the same about reading Birthday Letters compared to Hughes’ other poetry. When you read these poems you are being taken on a journey, one that is emotional and real – not to tell you a purely fictional story created in their imagination.

Whilst the poems have an autobiographical slant, talking about real events, they are still being interpreted through the medium of poetry. It feels like someone try to write through grief and perhaps bend it to the format that they felt most comfortable with. My own experiences with death have always been that I can express myself better on paper than I ever can out loud – like things make sense of how I’m feeling when written down, instead of being talked about with others or floating around in my head.

Of the many poems in Birthday Letters ‘Visit’ is one of my favourites. However, it is The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes that I’ve posted below for you to enjoy, if you’ve not come across it before. I’m sure it will ‘speak’ to the writer inside you, which I think is why it has stayed with me so long, since I read it over twenty years ago in school…

THE THOUGHT-FOX

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near

Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,

A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

The page is printed.

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