Category Archives: What I’ve been reading lately

What I’ve been reading lately, part 21

Who Sent the Sentinels? — Andrew Rilstone

A short but brilliant analysis of Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s classic graphic novel Watchmen (see below). Rilstone peers at the original comics and the 2009 movie from many different angles, supplementing his observations and insights on these works with more general thoughts about comics derived from reading golden-age DC and silver-age Marvel.

What emerges is a profound but fragmented view on the whole Watchmen phenomenon, arrived at not by following a single careful train of thought but by the gradual accumulation of understanding from multiple perspectives and the progressive accretion of a synthetic view.

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 20

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — J. K. Rowling

By this point, Rowling has hit her stride — which is both good and bad. Having sold millions of copies of her first three books, she had evidently outgrown the commercial need for editing … but not the artistic need. As a result of Rowling’s power by this stage of her career, Goblet of Fire is flabby where Prisoner of Azkaban was taut. If you recount the plot beats in each, the two stories turn out to be about the same length — as testified by the running times of the movie adaptations, 141 and 157 minutes repectively. Yet the book’s 636 pages take literally twice as long to tell that story as the 317 pages of Prisoner.

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How does this happen? Events are stretched out. The writing becomes indisciplined, indulgent. Minor school events that in earlier books would have been skimmed over in a half a page are drawn out into multi-page scenes with each aspect described in detail. As a result, the book is somewhat slow-moving, and I didn’t find myself drawn propulsively through as I did with the earlier books.

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 19

THE COMPLETE BEYOND THE FRINGE — BENNETT, COOK, MILLER AND MOORE

I re-read this compilation of the scripts of the Beyond the Fringe sketches because I was also re-reading Roger Wilmut’s history of early British sketch comedy From Fringe to Flying Circus (see below). As with all cultural movements, it’s sort of arbitrary where one draws the line and says “this is where it started” (were Black Sabbath the first heavy metal band, or do we go back to the Kinks’ You Really Got Me?), but a fair case can be made that the 1961 revue Beyond the Fringe was really the starting point of modern sketch comedy: a show written entirely by the performers, with minimal set and props keeping attention on the words, and combining satire with surrealism.

Cast of Beyond The Fringe, by Lewis Morley, resin print, 1961. Left to right: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett; front, Dudley Moore.

Cast of Beyond The Fringe, by Lewis Morley, resin print, 1961. Back row, left to right: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett; front, Dudley Moore.

From this beginning, and from subsequent Cambridge Footlights revues such as A Clump of Plinths (retitled Cambridge Circus for the West End), came most of the distinctive British sketch comedy of the late 1960s, 1970s and 80s — including The Goodies and Monty Python’s Flying Circus — and later narrative comedies like Fawlty Towers and Ripping Yarns. But in truth, it’s not at all obvious from the Fringe scripts that all this creativity was waiting to burst out. It’s clearest in the work of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore duo, which is more prone to veer off on surreal tangents than that of Alan Bennett or Jonathan Miller. But there is a distinctively upper-class quality to the performances of all four (ironically given the relatively unexalted origins of both Bennett and Moore) — which makes it all the more strange to think that Beyond the Fringe was perceived as dangerously iconoclastic back in 1961.

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A quick question on the “What I’ve been reading lately” posts

Folks,

You’ve probably noticed that, in among all the politics and TV reviews and suchlike, I have several long-running intermittent series on the go: detailed Paul Simon album reviews, Desert Island albums, the annual What I’ve Been Listening To posts — and What I’ve Been Reading Lately.

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None of those posts get a lot of comments. In particular, the WIBRL posts seem to mostly drop into a void. I wonder whether in part it’s because I tend to talk about ten or so books at once. If I posted shorted WIBRL entries — say, three books each — do you think they would be easier to read and engage with?

What I’ve been reading lately, part 18

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

Evil under the Sun — Agatha Christie

Like And Then There Were None, this is set on a smallish island off the south coast of Britian — in fact, apparently, it’s a slightly differently fictionalised version of the same island.

The real Burgh Island Hotel, with the rest of the island behind it. From the hotel's own website.

The real Burgh Island Hotel, with the rest of the island behind it. From the hotel’s own website.

This time, though, it’s a bit more civilised, the island is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide, and Poirot is there to sort out what’s going on before too many victims succumb. Lots of very neatly laid false trails, well-planted clues, and a resolution that I didn’t at all see coming but which made sense once it was explained. One of the better Christies, though not in the very top rank.
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What I’ve been reading lately, part 17

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

Happy Christmas, everyone! (Or, for those of you prefer a different holiday greeting, please read it as the one you prefer.) Thank you all, sincerely, for reading my wildly varying musings — and thank you even more for commenting and discussing. I deeply appreciate you all, including (sometimes especially) those of you who disagree with me!

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And now, on to the last WIBRL of the year!

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 16

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

And Then There Were None — Agatha Christie

Arguably Christie’s most ridiculous plot — it strands its principal cast on an island and features ten murders and a suicide. Yet also, oddly, one of her most successful books, both commercially and artistically. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, it’s not only Christie’s best-selling book, but the fifth-best selling single-volume book of all time (surpassed only by The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Little Prince and, er, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. All seven of the Harry Potter books make it into the top 20).

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Is it worthy of that level of popularity? Well, no, of course not. Continue reading