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February 5th, 2004


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11:23 pm - 3 down, 47 to go
Three quick book reviews.

Downsize This! by Michael Moore.

I read this because it was part of the Christmas gift from my paternal uncle's family to our family. Probably meant for Dad, but never mind.

Moore's first book has 35 short pieces, mostly attacks on aspects of corporate America and the US media of the day (1997, when Bill Clinton was in power). Some of the pieces are far better than others; the piece about the poor state of America's labour unions was particularly good, the piece about the show trials he has dreamt (including killing the board of directors of the NRA in a haze of bullets) particularly lazy. Overall, though, they tend to offer little new other than some extra detail. The book is also fairly light on proactive, positive solutions, though I give it credit for featuring some at all, and the angry style very seldom tickles my funny bone. The writing style is very simple indeed, though I guess this book shows the extent to which his later TV Nation really represents an improvement. I agree with much of what he has to say and enjoy Michael's TV work, but Downsize This! is a profoundly annoying book.

It strikes me that Michael Moore could probably use similar sort of material as source for a very good weblog, though no better than yours, but http://www.michaelmoore.com/ isn't it.

Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman.

I read this - or, rather, huskyteer and addedentry's copy of this at their flat! - because I was a big fan of the original trilogy.

This is a short story - I'd guess abut 5,000 words or so - set in Lyra's world, following on some time from the three originals. Lyra's character is developed from what we already knew of her, but her changes are happily, logically small. Lots of pleasant throwbacks to familiar characters from the past, but little more. Or so it appears on the surface. However, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on things not being what they appear and an attractive fold-up map, accompanied by period advertising from the book universe, is a large part of the appeal of the book. The map clears up a few confusions; I think people who don't know Oxford would appreciate more specific mention of the whereabouts of Jericho, which exists as a district name to which reference is sometimes made but little more. There are hints at these support materials having deeper meaning, but not exactly what.

Case one suggests a teaser for a trailed further novel-length work to follow, assuming Pullman doesn't die before finishing the work and taking its secret with him to his grave; case two suggests that there might be some sort of Masquerade-style hidden treasure which Pullman has chosen not to spell out. Wouldn't that be fun? I say we perform an experiment to test case two: ignore the story, draw lots of lines on the maps and concoct a reason to dig up Pullman's back garden. If he runs out of his house screaming that no such treasure exists, as well as shooting, then we've got our answer right there.

I'd love to know what the HDM fandom are making of the book and whether there is a mystery to be solved; the only thing I've seen to this extent is Adrian Hon's fascinating analysis from http://www.mssv.net/ (whose three parts are syndicated as mssv_massive, mssv_middling and mssv_tiny). Hard to come to an opinion on this book until we know more about it, but the signs look extremely promising. A must-read for His Dark Materials fans, if not necessarily a must-buy.

I note with amusement and interest that Keble is not a college in Lyra's Oxford; some of the colleges in Lyra's Oxford University are the ones we know today, some aren't. Can we establish some definite year at which point the divergence occurred, or did Keble simply not make the cut because the titular John Keble was a churchman? I fear the latter!

McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy.

I read this because I once worked with Pete McCarthy for a day on his BBC Radio 4 geography game, X Marks The Spot, trying to do the job of a friend who had to be in Montreux for the TV festival that day. Seemed like a nice guy.

Pete McCarthy isn't Irish, but spent much time there on holiday while young and wonders whether there is some sense in which he could "be" Irish after all. He visits part of Ireland for a holiday and sees an advert offering the chance to go on a three-day pilgrimage of purgatory, involving considerable amounts of fasting, prayer and walking barefoot. He returns to Ireland in a knackered old car and drives all around the country getting into lots of wacky scrapes (while obeying the "rule" Never Pass a Bar That Has Your Name On It, hence the title of the book) before the big pilgrimage at the end.

Very nicely-written book; you do get the opinion that he has spent a great deal of time editing his chosen phrases and picking them carefully. I didn't get the belly-laughs from it that some readers did, but certainly every couple of pages did inspire a genuine, gentle wry smile. Accordingly, this book sets out to do what it intended to do and can only be recommended as a success. The last couple of pages did seem a little like a bolted-on conclusion where none were really necessary, but that's hardly a major flaw. The follow-up, The Road to McCarthy, goes straight on the wish-list.
Current Mood: accomplishedinterested

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:quiz_master_man
Date:February 5th, 2004 06:51 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Did you read the Hardcover or the Softcover "Downsize This!"?

-M
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:February 8th, 2004 05:39 pm (UTC)

Re:

(Link)
The softcover. I rather liked the sad little note at the end of the last chapter, just before the poem, acknowledgements and appendices:

Good People to Know
I don't know many good people, but if you do let me know - I'll put them in the paperback edition.

Evidently no good people exist. Whoops.

Thanks again! :-)
[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:February 6th, 2004 01:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
some of the colleges in Lyra's Oxford University are the ones we know today, some aren't. Can we establish some definite year at which point the divergence occurred, or did Keble simply not make the cut because the titular John Keble was a churchman?

Alas, Jesus College gets in as St Michael's. Lincoln is the obvious omission, but it's so small it may just be hidden by the other colleges.

As the language of the map catalogue suggests, the divide is some time in the late 19th century. LMH (St Sophia's), Somerville and St Hugh's (Wordsworth) make it, suggesting post-1886; but Keble, St Anne's and Mansfield are missed out, suggesting pre-1870. Good, I like contradictions.

I'm happy to give Lyra's Oxford the same status as Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:February 8th, 2004 05:29 pm (UTC)

Re:

(Link)
Well, the logical next step is to work out when the last college to retain its original name was, presumably excluding Somerville as an outlier, and whether there are patterns about which colleges have and have not been renamed.

Lyra will go on to found Keble College herself in book eight. Even money whether it's called Belacqua College or Silvertongue College. The latter sounds rather grand, doesn't it?

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