Coal Black Mornings – Brett Anderson

Back in 1996 I fell in love with the pop rock album, Coming Up, by Suede, said music used to keep me company when working nights a few years ago (and also whilst writing this review).  Combining elements of bouncy pop, glam rock, and melancholy laden tracks, to give it a good balance, the album teeters between throwaway music and the poignant atmosphere of emptiness layered tunes.

Seeing this book in the shops, it was a matter of chance that I chose to idly browse through – as well as hum one of the tunes from yesteryear – whilst waiting for the missus to finish shopping for makeup. Owing to a lack of blurb, and viewing the usual positive quotes with suspicion, I was pleasantly surprised with the writing style and how Anderson conveyed his story.

Although Coal Black Mornings stops short of the those commercially popular times for the band, this is a still very much worth the read even for those who have never heard of the band.   Normally I wouldn’t pick up a book such as this but after having a brief peruse through, I was taken with the way Anderson expresses himself and his critical self-awareness.

The majority of the book is about the author’s early life which takes place in the poverty of a working-class English suburb.  The band only begins to form towards the end of the book so there is plenty of insight into Anderson’s childhood and the way his experiences would go on to inform his lyrics and musical style.

The way this is approached was very effective, with honesty, and a lack of manufactured drama that so many memoirs of this ilk provide.  I found it a compelling read due to its simplicity and erudite literary style.  Although it is fair to note that as this is a book written for his son to understand his father more, there is little reference to the more showbiz part of the story with all its assorted vices. Continue reading “Coal Black Mornings – Brett Anderson”

Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei Jr. – Lance Gokongwei/Yvette Fernandez

My father, John Gokongwei Jr., started out as an entrepreneur at age 13, after his father died.  He sold friend peanuts cooked in garlic, and dreamt of one day having enough money to bring his brothers and sisters back to The Philippines.  They had been sent to China after his father passed away. 

When Dad was 15, he got on his bicycle every day to head to the marketplace to sell thread, soap, candles, and other things he felt people needed.  He woke up earlier than anybody else and worked longer than anybody else.  He dreamt of being the biggest salesman in the market place. 

After saving up money from buying and selling these wares, Dad dreamt bigger, and bought passage on a small boat called a batel to head to Manila.  He dreamt of becoming one of the biggest traders in Manila.

Today at age 90, Dad is still an entrepreneur, and heads one pf the largest and most diversified Filipino conglomerates.  He still dreams of being an even bigger player in the global marketplace.

This book is a collection of the things I’ve learned from him throughout the years – lessons on  life, love, family, work, and the courage and determination it takes to fulfil your dreams.

Reading the recent news of the passing of John Gokongwei Jr.  It reminded me that I still needed to review this gem of a book.  Written by his son Lance, Lessons from Dad is an eye opener when it comes to big business, and how it can be done right.

The family first came to my attention when Crissy, (formerly an employee of Gokongwei owned Cebu Pacific) bought me the book in order to help me immerse myself in Filipino culture, and it was a pleasure to discover a genuinely inspirational business story, where people are as important as the bottom line.

John Gokongwei Jr’s journey was one of guts and determination, an inspirational tale, and one of a man who remained grounded and was always looking to give back to society. A huge believer in education and pushing oneself to the limit, he spent plenty of money funding schools and scholarships, believing that education was the only way to make the Philippines more successful. Continue reading “Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei Jr. – Lance Gokongwei/Yvette Fernandez”

The Library Book

Whether brand new or steeped in history, real or imagined, libraries feature in everyone’s lives.  In memoirs, essays and stories that are funny, moving, visionary or insightful, twenty-three famous writers celebrate these places where minds open and the world expands.

Public libraries are lifelines, to practical information as well as to the imagination, but funding is under threat all over the country.  This book is published in support of libraries, with all royalties going to The Reading Agency’s library programmes.

Fetishes, a (natural) death, streakers, and the occasional ram raid by an old lady on a mobility scooter, libraries can sometimes be dramatic places to work, although in the main, peaceful citadels of book worship.  The Library Book, is a celebration of our best free institution, long may it continue.

As books of this nature usually are, this tome ends up being a mixed bag, my favourite essays were the personal reminiscences of libraries from writers such as, Susan Hill, Stephen Fry, Hardeep Singh Kohli, and Val McDermid, to name a few. Even so, many of these memories take on a similar vein and as such are probably best enjoyed over a lengthier time than the two days in which I flew through this book.

The insights featured are mainly focused on British libraries, which makes it as much of a nostalgia trip, as it is a quirky insight into our national character. There are plenty of interesting facts on offer too, for example, during World War Two, a disused tube station in Bethnal Green was turned into a library during the blitz so people could distract themselves with a good book.  Perhaps surprisingly the readers were most interested in Plato’s Republic, Burton’s the Anatomy of Melancholy, as well as Schopenhauer, Bunyan, and Bertrand Russell. Continue reading “The Library Book”

The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow

Mary Anne’s story is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because she was searching for the same things many of us search for: love, understanding and purpose; and extraordinary because she had to go through hell to find them.

Her life was turbulent. Born in a decaying northern town to a dysfunctional family in the 1960s, Mary Anne had to endure mental, physical, and sexual abuse and cope with the devastating effects of parental alcoholism and suicide. She had her self-esteem and confidence crushed by two disastrous marriages, and she lives with the emotional and physical scars caused by a surgical procedure which has become the medical scandal of our age: mesh implants. But, despite everything, she always remained determined to endure and to find something better.

It’s not often I get to post about a book on the day of its release but it’s always nice to be able to do so and feel like I am a bit special.

From the very beginning the reader will find this memoir to be an unflinching and brutally honest read.  Within the pages of TGoaN you will find a range of instances of abuse, both physical and mental, it’s a relentless and a challenging read.

At the heart of the book is one woman’s attempt to make sense of events, and of the motivations for said events. The repetitive cycles of cruelty and abuse, endemic both inside and outside the family, and worst of all having this dismissed by others, or feeling so sidelined that Willow felt she couldn’t approach those in authority. Continue reading “The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow”

A Pound of Paper – John Baxter

In rural Australia of the fifties where John Baxter grew up, reading books was regarded with suspicion; owning and collecting them with utter incomprehension. Despite this, by the age of eleven Baxter had ‘collected’ his first book The Poems of Rupert Brooke.  He’d read it often, but now he had to own it.  This modest purchase marked the beginning of an obsession that would take him all over the world…

This is the book to devour. It has inspired my many forays into mass purchasing, the impact of which had waned somewhat, but has now thankfully been reinforced on rereading this.  A Pound of Paper, is not only a call to read, but to read widely; to gather, and appreciate the book as a whole, not just for the words therein.

It’s always a delight to discover how a fellow reader started, and carried on their journey. Details of their collection, and their escalation is both an encouragement  – as if any were needed – and pure literary porn. This reader ate up Baxter’s enthusiastic retelling of his adventures, which range between  comic and cringe with alarming regularity.

One of the best things about A Pound of Paper is the forays into, and finding beauty within, the obscure, even the badly written.  There is an element of snobbery here, one could argue, but it doesn’t spoil anything, and I for one enjoy the jaunt into the arcane passageways of literature that I would have  otherwise missed. Continue reading “A Pound of Paper – John Baxter”

Full Metal Cardigan: Adventures on the Front Line of Social Work – David Emery

Full Metal Cardigan is David Emery’s first book and chronicles his adventures in social care, from enthusiastic volunteer to feral frontline worker, taking in abusive popstars, chanting cults, drug runs and interviewing a corpse.

He recounts how he gained international notoriety for cheating in a pancake race, encounters with the supernatural, High Court appearances, accidentally booking someone into Dignitas, one-inch death punches in Woolworths, waterboarding, psychotic psychopaths, plunger-wielding pregnant women and suicide attempts with rhubarb along the way.

A dull profession, social care is not so on approaching a book like this my first thoughts were about the humour and how it would work in situations that deal with individuals who have so many sensitive problems.  It is safe to say Emery has achieved a fine mix of both the serious and the downright funny which I devoured in a couple of sittings.

A sense of the comical is definitely needed in such high pressure work, and with responsibility comes the never-ending paperwork, training sessions, and the unexpected.  The relentlessly humorous anecdotes are told with a light-hearted, amiable voice, which in itself is pretty impressive when the National Health Service is involved.  For those of you who don’t know what this institution is, it’s a chronically underfunded, overstretched service staffed by people working long hours doing the best they can for the nation’s health.

The comical recollections are a delight to read but these are blended with the sad and serious cases.  The emotional balance is spot on as the stories keep coming in rapid succession so the reader appreciates the sober nature of the work, whilst not feeling guilty for enjoying reading about it.  That is the beauty of the book, whilst the struggles of both the workers and those needing help are always centre stage – and handled respectfully – the counter balance of the quirky and therefore human aspects clearly shine through. Continue reading “Full Metal Cardigan: Adventures on the Front Line of Social Work – David Emery”

Working with Penguin Random House

A while back, I hinted at some good news that I had to share, and now that it has all been confirmed and no jinxes can put a stop to it, I can finally, and with certainty, reveal said news.

The wonderful folks at the Chinese arm of International publisher, Penguin Random House – you may have heard of them – recently reached out to me, concerning my review for Proust’s Days of Reading. Having first expressed an interest, they have since acquired the non-exclusive rights to the review, which I have been reworking into an introduction for the Chinese language version (translated by somebody else) of this entry into Penguin Great Ideas series.

It feels really good to be getting paid for something I love doing and with possible future jobs being hinted at it, there has been much raising of confidence and spirits (as its rainy season in Ph and we are experiencing our sixth straight day of almost constant rain).  I have been working on this blog for years, and working is the right term as well, although it started out as just a hobby to simply chat with bookish folk around the world, it has become so much more than that.  Partly, it is through my own drive to pick up more challenging books, to attempt to read into obscurer subjects, and widen my reading circle.  More than that though, it is because of the standard of writers whom I come across daily and not only provide thought-provoking interaction but also source of inspiration as well as a standard with which to measure myself and keep me on my toes.  This allows me to constantly add to my writing style with new techniques and perspectives, so thank you!  My next iced Americano will emphatically be raised to you!