The modern philosophers Blur taught us many years ago that Modern Life is Rubbish, but why dwell on the bleak? If you want to get depressed you only need switch on the news or look out the window. Reading should be an escape from the politics and the opinions, a daft place of high fantasy and new lives. Reading an increasingly grumpy comedian’s petty observations is not what I want to be doing with my free time.
Dave Gorman is back and this time he is staying put. His days of dashing hither and thither are over. He is now a man of a certain age and wants just to stay put and tell the people how it is. ‘Too Much Information’ is his soapbox on which to stand and rail against the machine that is life. Why is the internet? Who is the website? This is a book of seemingly random rants on all the petty things that get on Gorman’s wick.
Hark back to the days of ‘Are you Dave Gorman?’ and you may remember a book about an eccentric and fun young man looking for his namesake in the days of the early internet. As time has progressed Gorman has Googlewhacked and been on an adventure in American. Each book has been later in his life and traces his decline into grumpy old man. ‘America Unchained’ in particular suffered greatly from being a little bad natured and curmudgeonly. ‘Much Information’ takes Gorman’s bleak outlook even further and with no “fun bet” narrative to lighten up the mood, this is a slightly depressing read for a book that is meant to be comedic.
‘Much Information’ is more like the modern collections of articles you get; a series of better magazine clippings put together. Gorman may spend 4 pages highlighting an incongruity in website design. The type of thing that you would see on ‘Grumpy Old Men/Women’ back in the day. The problem is that these issues seem so petty. If Gorman is really bothered by this stuff he must spend a lot of his life moaning. The dark clouds that gathered in ‘Unchained’ have become a permanent raincloud by this point.
The book is also not helped by how rapidly it has dated. Technology dates fast and so does observations on it. Although only 3 years old, this book already feels like it is talking about some topics that are no longer relevant. I hope that Gorman takes a walk outside sometime soon and smells the fresh air; perhaps then he can get some perspective and enjoy life a little more.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s there was a spate of enjoyable Lad Bet books. The likes of Dave Gorman, Danny Wallace and Tony Hawks all became involved in silly tasks from starting their own country to travelling around with a fridge on their back. On the surface, these were silly little adventures, undergone by people with too much time in their hands, but they all had an additional ingredient; great writing. All three of these men are professional writers/comedians and you could tell in their books as they made something inherently daft and a little selfish, fun. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but if you are going to try and be like ‘I’m Dave Gorman’, don’t be as awful as Jules Segal.
Jules is a man for the 90s, but unfortunately his book was written in 2007. He is a beer swilling, smarmster who has a borderline misogynistic view point. All Loaded magazine and no trousers. He sets off on a quest after a beery night out with a pal. He will compile a list of 500 celebs and within a given time scale try to shake the hand of 100 of them. The bet starts off as something a little bit nasty between mates and Jules realises he has no chance, so in keeping with the cynical nature of this book, he decides to suddenly attempt it all in the name of charity.
There are many things wrong with ‘Greeting the 500’ which make it by far the worst slice of Lad Bet non-fiction I have read. As you can gather from the start of this review, Jules does not some across as a particularly likable man. He is attempting to show his vulnerabilities and give a warts ‘n’ all view, but all this does is expose some of his antiquated views and writing style. If he had the chance to crowbar some mother in law jokes, he would have. The book is adapted from a blog and it feels stilted and actually a bit boring. He takes ages to get going and is never that dynamic. A lot of the writing is not actually about the bet, but set ups for bad jokes. It is a painful experience at times.
Another area that is flawed is the bet itself. It is ill conceived and ill defined. Jules seems to wander around not knowing what he is doing and we the reader find it hard to care. The bet seems to waver and change as the book goes on and you feel it is an exercise in getting Jules a first step on the comedy writing scene and not actually a valid idea. You soon start to feel that the events are plodding along and that a clueless Jules is not going to achieve anything.
Having read all of ‘Greeting’ I find it confusing why it was ever commissioned in the first place. I imagine in 2006 that the idea of blogs was exciting and a perky editor saw Jules’ website and gave him a deal before the book was done. The finished thing is a tortuous and cynical attempt that staples some charity work into it, in the hopes of being relevant. Do yourself a favour and just stick to the wonderfully warm and heartfelt Danny Wallace books instead.
TV tie in books are rarely tombs that will be added to the Booker Prize Short List, but for a fan of the given show they can offer an amusing aside. The ‘I’m a Celebrity… Where’s Kiosk Keith?’ by Mark Cowley should make for an amusing Secret Santa or stocking filler for a fan of the show. First impressions is that the book is homage to ‘Where’s Wally’ and you have to find Keith and various other Celebrity inspired objects/people in the images, but this is only half of the book. The rest is made up of a whistle-stop tour of each series so far. A double spread highlights some of the most memorable antics of that year and fans will enjoy reminiscing.
It is here that the book falters as it would have probably just been better as a Find Keith book. The sections on past seasons are long enough to be a little dull, but too brief so that they do not provide enough information. Fans will feel a little uncatered for, whilst people just there for the finding game will be bored. Proceedings are not aided by some of the photos chosen – stills taken from the TV that have not been formatted greatly for the book.
There is hope in the Find Keith sections, but these too are a little disappointing. Firstly, they all have the same obvious setting – the jungle. This was always going to happen, but try as he might Cowley is unable to make the scenes look that different. The illustrations themselves are very colourful and look good. There is certainly fun to be had finding all the hidden elements. What I did find a little odd was the generic looking characters. You are asked to find a certain celeb doing something, but the drawing is just a character and does not really look like them.
‘Where’s Kiosk Keith’ feels like a tie in book were a decent amount of thought and effort has gone into it, but a little more could have made it fun for both fans and non-fans of the show. Simple things like varying the setting or adding lookalike celebrities would have helped. Also the book is a large format, but not quite big enough. A little more room would have allowed the fun drawings to pop even more. As it is, the book caters for those that it should do – the fans. They will get a fun diversion with the Find Keith illustrations, as well as a trip down memory lane. However, none fans will be left with nothing much, but would they really want to pick up this book? With great Find Keith images, they may just have done.
It was the 90s. The era of ‘The Word’ and ‘Eurotrash’. One show that had a similar attitude to these, but with some added intelligence was ‘Michael Moore’s TV Nation’ and on this show was a young documentary journalist who looked like one to watch. Louis Theroux has gone onto make many serious docs on the dark underbelly of the US and UK, but betwixt ‘TV Nation’ and now he is best known for his ‘Weird Weekends’. This show was a must watch as Louis spent time with gun nuts or porn stars, always willing to push things a little further than in a straight documentary. ‘The Call of the Weird’ represents the period between his weird and his straight phases and follows our intrepid adventurer as he returns to the US in search of some of his most memorable subjects.
Like a football player, ‘Call’ shows that it is not always best to go back. The book is an almost diary-esque book about Louis trying to find where people got to and what they are doing now. Each chapter highlights a given subject from the dodgy seller of millionaire seminars to a Neo Nazi mother. You are given a small recap of what happened the first time and then follow Louis as he sets out on their tail. For fans of the originals shows, reading about them again is not that interesting and in most cases finding them again is not that great either.
There are exceptions, the Neo Nazi mother and her wannabe popstar daughters is an interesting revisits as are the former cultists. However, in most cases the new visits don’t give much further insight and are unwarranted. Indeed, there are many dead ends in this book as Louis ends up chasing people on the phone or sitting in a motel room waiting for something to happen. It is here that the book gets interesting.
Hidden amongst the recaps of odd characters is an interesting study of a man trapped between his older work looking at leftfield subject matter and his later work as a serious documentarian. In hindsight, you get the feeling that this book was written during a turning point in his life. What kind of person has the ability to pick up everything and wander the US looking for memories? A journalist yes, but one with no ties. There is a sense of loneliness in the book that chimes with the sadness of many of the people that Louis meets. He himself does not seem at his most content.
Without the self-discovery elements in ‘Call of the Weird’ this book would be almost entirely superfluous. As a fan of the ‘Weird’ series you only get to learn that things did not turn out that well for many people, better left alone. It is the moments in which Louis shows himself in the book that things become interesting. Like is documentary style, it is often the glimpses we see of him that make the subject so watchable. This was a flawed experiment designed to fill in space between his projects, but fans of his will still find it appealing.
Sometimes the truth is far more exhilarating than fiction and this is certainly the case with war books. As much as many readers don’t want to admit it, we read about World War 2 not only for the historic knowledge, but also the action. The best historic fiction novels blend the two so that you feel you are getting a slice of intelligence mixed in with your pulp. However, unlike genres such as science fiction or fantasy, wars did occur and had real consequences for people. Sometimes an author loses sight of that and produces something uncomfortably disrespectful. Better to get your information about the war from primary sources whilst you can. These tales will have the hair standing up on the back of your neck, not only because they are exciting, but because they actually happened.
‘Tales from the Special Forces Club’ by Sean Rayment is a collection of interviews between the author and real member of the Special Forces Club. This was set up after WW2 as a place that people who partook in covert operations during the war could actually talk to someone else about it. Fast forward 70 years and many original members are no longer alive and those that are, are more happy to talk about it. Enter Rayment, himself ex-forces and now an author, he was able to glean some interesting and exciting stories that paint a picture of the time.
What is nice about ‘Tales’ is that is runs the gambit of what Special Forces did from the home front to behind enemy lines. Both sexes are involved and the introductory story is actually that of a women who worked to train operatives to go behind enemy lines. This was a very interesting story, but also a great introduction to what to expect. A lot of people who joined the Special Forces did it as a way of seeing some action. As long as they could think on their feet, they may get in. The first tale shows the amount of work needed behind the scenes to try and get them ready.
Rayment interviewed a good spread of heroes that covered many of the war fronts. Those stories set in Africa give the best indication of life was like, but those in the Pacific are the most harrowing. In all the stories there is a sense of everyday bravery, but what the soldiers had to see when fighting against the Japanese is particularly spine-chilling. This is not a book for the voyeuristic and you get the impression of real dread.
Throughout proceedings it is clear that Rayment has a great respect for his subjects, but at times this effects the writing. Imagine that you are given privileged access to interview a group of veterans. You would want to give each person’s story the same level of importance. Unfortunately, this means that there are several repetitive moments, especially in the training sections. It is hard to discount the start of someone’s journey, just because you talked to someone earlier who had a similar tale. This is a small detail and overall the true tales are fascinating and a little bit scary. The type of thing that makes you respect veterans, but also hope that another World War does not start.