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On contrariness (and trying not to be preachy)

Now, I am aware that I have a bit of a tendency to proselytise from time to time, and I imagine it's bored the hell out of a lot of people down the years. I remember being once asked (via an intermediary) why I was "so angry all the time" (this after a run of particularly virulent Facebook statuses about the then government, like it was going to make any difference).

I'm not, you know, not really. well, okay, a bit. But by and large I'd like to think that I'm nearer the reasonable end of the scale than unreasonable. And so that comment did make me wonder precisely why I can get het up about things, and why I feel the need to then publicly vent. It's not as if I have a huge platform or following (and if I'm sure of one thing, it's that I'm self aware enough to realise this) or that my opinions are particularly novel or interesting. It can certainly be a bit outrage by numbers at times (though hopefully not to the extent of the eternally offende…
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Book 13: Awaydays, Kevin Sampson

Disastrously behind schedule (though that rather depends on your definition of what constitutes a disaster) I scoured the shelves of the local charity shops for a slim volume I could whip through in next to no time. Confronted by a sea of Tom Clancy and Maeve Binchy I wandered home, dispirited. I had, of course, forgotten the first rule of those who hoard book: there's always a tonne of stuff at home you haven't actually got round to reading yet.

And that was the case with this nasty but exhilarating little volume. An account of the bad old days of football hooliganism it features our protagonist, Paul Carty, a nice enough young man from a decent family whose less pleasant weekend hobby is going away with the Pack, Tranmere Rovers' organised firm of hooligans, and smashing the living bejaysus out of some poor provincial town centre.

The book opens with violence, and is punctuated by accounts of fights in various beknighted spots in the lower reaches of the Football League.…

Book 12: The Nasty Bits, Anthony Bourdain.

The death of Tony Bourdain earlier this year came as a nasty shock to the global food community. All those of us who make a living from cooking, running restaurants, writing about food, even from eating it, felt we'd lost one of our own. No writer had ever better expressed the somewhat marginal, slightly out of kilter life of the professional chef with more verve or accuracy, and few have done as much to make us feel as proud of what we do. Bourdain was real, he was a proper cook who came up banging out covers in restaurants of varying degrees of quality, a world away from the idealised aspirational plates of the Sunday supplements, or the latest gushing broadsheet review of some high concept place you'll never in a million years be able to afford. He was emphatically not a celebrity chef. He was a cook. Who along the way acquired a degree of celebrity.

He understood in his bones that sometimes it's just about getting it done, and this book collection of his journalism and…

Book 11: Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson

An so it came to pass that with two thirds of the year boxed off your humble correspondent threw up his hands and declared that all the year's lofty aims were coming a horrible cropper. Which, of course, they were always going to. However, it's hard to get too down-heartened about failing in the tasks I've set myself when the attempt contains gems like this.

It's stretching the no re-reads rule a trifle, because I have indeed read this book before, but it was that long ago I reckoned an exception could be made, and I'm very glad I did. What seemed to me to be unnecessarily tricksy when I was a tedious undergrad who wasn't half as clever as he thought he was has turned over time into a glorious flight of fancy (or rather, I've turned into someone who can get his head around it). Concerning the adventures of Jordan, an abandoned child discovered on the banks of the Thames (two rivers already, with all the intimation of travel and impermanence that they imply)…

Book #10: Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

A brief bit of backstory, as a fairly lonely, reasonably odd and resolutely outsiderish boy, my absolute favourite author in the whole wide world was Terry Pratchett. But my favourite Terry Pratchett book wasn't solely written by him. Good Omens, co-authored with Neil Gaiman, struck precisely at the absurdist but dark sweet spot which was guaranteed to satisfy me. The shade that Gaiman brought to Pratchett's flights of fancy tempered the book to what was, to my mind perfection.

Since then Gaiman's been a figure that's been lurking around the "must get round to reading" parts of my hind-brain. An engaging presence on Twitter, I've been dimly aware that he's been racking up a serious count of books, So when I found myself one sunny morning in Southport's fabulous Broadhurst Books (it's the bookshop of your childhood dreams, tiny rooms, twisting stairs and corridors, walls packed floor to ceiling) it seemed to be the right time (I was looking for…

Book #9 Small Island, Andrea Levy

As Coastalblog falls ever more drastically off the pace when it comes to the business of getting through fifty books in a year, let me at least take the opportunity to hail reading this book, because in doing so I fulfilled in part one of the main aims of the challenge: catching up with stuff I really should have got round to by now. Prize winning in 2004, defined as a "book of the decade" in 2009, finally got round to by your humble correspondent in 2018. Particularly shaming as I suspect I borrowed it off my mate Celeste in about 2008.

But get round to it I did, and I'm deeply pleased that I did so. This is an exceedingly satisfying read. Levy's command of tone and voice is convincing, and impressive given the range of characters she inhabits in this book. As with Richard Georges' poems, it would be presumptuous to say that I fully understand, but Levy's depiction of the intrinsic racism of post-wart Britain reads convincingly. We've all met a Bernard B…

Book#8 Make us all Islands: Richard Georges

Been having to sit on this one for a while, as my review of this book for Stride Magazine was sat waiting for its turn. Having been published I can now, finally get round to blogging it (yes, yes, I know it's been over a week, that's quite quick for me though). I won't retread that here, if you want close reading, click the link.

When my review copy came through, I initially thought this wasn't going to be my cup of tea at all. My poetry reading tends towards the school loosely described as linguistically innovative. I rarely read poetry this straightforward, so I wasn't sure I quite had the toolkit to deal with it. But I realise that I'm getting less dogmatic as I age (there's probably a blog post in there somewhere, so I shelved preconceptions and got stuck in.

Having fretted already about the preponderance of middle aged white blokes in these pages, Georges' starkly lyrical poems, harshly lit by a pitiless Caribbean sun came as a healthy counterbalan…