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Date: 29/10/05

Brought To Book

This often happens: I go from having no new books to read to having my dressing table piled up with them.

I recently started re-reading my collection of Alan Coren books, for the first time in some years. I came to Coren as a result of a piece of his I'd read in a collection of humourous writing which was published in about 1977. I didn't know (and I really still don't) what it was which attracted me about his style, but there was something there. Over the years, I bought a number of collections of his pieces (originally written for such diverse publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The Listener and Punch, the last of which he edited for some years). The odd one I bought new, having rediscovered him when I started at a sixth form college and found that the college library had a subscription to Punch. The rest I found in various second-hand book shops in Wrexham and Chester down the years.

One of the attractive aspects of his writing to me was (is - I presume he still does it sometimes?) his parodying and amalgamating of the styles of various authors. His parodies of Hemingway in particular are clever and amusing in themselves but, brought to bear on the appallingly sucrose works of A.A. Milne (in a piece called, wonderfully, The Pooh Also Rises), he reaches the apogee of hilarity. Furthermore, how about Five Go Off To Elsinore?

He could still bring you up short with a sharp pieces of real satire bordering on the best sort of journalism: one in which he describes going to try to find a place to live in Harlem in the early sixties is a biting example of role reversal; another, in which he muses on being thirty-five years of age, has stayed with me ever since I read it (at which point I was scarcely halfway to that point myself), especially his delineation of what he called Life's Little Irony Number Eight, namely, "there is no pleasure, however intense, which cannot be flawed by a brief reflection on its inevitable transience".

I've only got through part of his work from the sixties so far, and am starting to worry about whether I'll still find the books from the late seventies onwards as entertaining and provoking as I know I once did. Perhaps I'll let you know...

...or maybe not.

Then, all of a sudden, I have two brand new books sitting waiting for me to get to them.

This is the first:

Cover of 'Going Postal' by Terry Pratchett

Well, OK, it's not actually a new book, having come out about a year ago, but I always wait for the paperback. This started out as an exercise in economy, but has now been superseded as a reason by my infuriating tidy-mindedness: I have all the other Discworld® novels in paperback - it would spoil the run to have hardbacks sticking out of the bookshelf in the midst of the others.

(Not that I actually have bookshelves at all at the moment. My books are strewn around the floor of the back bedroom, because I haven't decided what to do with the third (and smallest) bedroom, having completely redecorated it earlier this year. Do I sand and stain the floorboards, or do I just resort to the expedient of carpet tiles? I had thought of the former (and doing the other upstairs rooms the same), but the amount of work involved has now quite put me off the idea. I'll have to do that for the stairs, though, as one would need the topological acuity of Escher to be able to measure them for new carpet).

Finally, this very afternoon, the latest book arrived:

Cover of 'Margrave Of The Marshes' by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft

It's going to be a fascinating read, not just because I worshipped John Peel just this side of idolatry (as this will ably demonstrate), but because Peel himself only managed to get up to about 1962 before his death, and it has been left to his widow and children to finish it.

I've been unable to resist dipping into it here and there this evening, and Peel's voice can be heard with total clarity in the first part. The second part seems to have been very competently and lovingly done by Sheila. I'm looking forward to reading it all once I've cleared the decks.