Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Book 56 - Sexual Perversity In Chicago

Book - Sexual Perversity In Chicago
Author - David Mamet
Year - 1974
Genre - Play
Pages - 52
Lent to me by Alex Campbell

Hot on the heels of the previous update, I decided to continue and read the second play in the anthology of Mamet plays that I have borrowed, Sexual Perversity In Chicago.  Immediately, you notice that it is a very different kind of a play.  Instead of the two old chaps on a park bench talking in vague metaphors, the play starts with a description of a ridiculously over egged description of a weird sex act.  Not really the same kind of thing at all.

However, despite this opening, and despite the title of the play, it isn't a particularly sex orientated play.  It follows a relationship between Deb and Danny from start to finish, and the bad downturn that it takes.  Whilst sex is alluded to throughout, it is not the main thrust (sorry) of the story.  It instead serves as more of a backdrop to what is a tale of a relationship - not a particularly over dramatic or special relationship, but instead one that is quite natural, if somewhat doomed.

As ever, Mamet writes in a way that is very easy to follow.  Whilst these first two plays of his are not especially deep compared to some of his later work, they hold up quite nicely, and this strikes me as a play that would not need the greatest amount of interpretation to produce effectively, and therefore would last some time as a play.

7/10

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Book 55 - Duck Variations

Book - Duck Variations
Author - David Mamet
Year - 1978
Genre - Play
Pages - 43
Lent to me by Alex Campbell

When I was at university, I had to read a section of a book called True and False by David Mamet, which is the playwright's book on how to be a better performer.  Despite only having to read a few pages of it, I found it so interesting that I read the whole thing there and then.  This is especially strange, as I pretty much managed to go my whole degree without reading anything that I was supposed to.  Although I can remember little of it now (a possible future Book Challenge read perhaps) I remember it particularly striking a chord with me as a book by a man who thought the same as me about theatre.

So it was interesting when Alex lent me this book of plays by Mamet, and asked me to read the first two.  I had not read any of Mamet's plays, so when I saw pretty much straight away, that the first play is very similar in style to that of Beckett's Waiting for Godot - my favourite play - I was pretty excited.  It is nowhere near as polished a piece of absurdist drama as Godot unfortunately, but was quite an interesting read nonetheless.

The premise of the plot, is that two men are sat on a park bench talking about ducks.  That is the total sum of what happens.  However, I am sure there is more to it in terms of depth (although that may not be the case, as that is the kind of thing that this type of drama can fool you into believing).  For what it's worth, I think that the two men are trying to say something to each other about the world, and what kind of a place it is, but through not having the right words to explain themselves, and through a certain awkwardness, they keep ending up talking about ducks instead.  Take what you will from it, and I am sure that a dozen different readers could come up with a dozen different ideas - all of which may be different to what Mamet intended - but that is my thoughts.

It is interesting as a play goes, and I think I'd quite like to see it performed on stage, but not the greatest play I have ever read, nor the greatest of even its kind.  But it took me about half an hour to get through, so can't hurt for a bit of a mind teaser if you like that sort of thing.

7/10

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Book 54 - Stone Cold

Book - Stone Cold
Author - Robert Swindells
Year - 1993
Genre - Young Adult Fiction
Pages - 135

When I was a child - probably about nine or ten - I first read this book, and I can distinctly remember the effect that it had on me.  I had never before read a novel that had such an effect on the way I thought about something in the real world.  As a kid, all I did was read, and had gotten through hundreds of books already, but they had all been a little bit twee in comparison to this I felt, because suddenly I was presented with the life of someone who could be real, and was put in bad circumstances.

The story follows Link, a teenage boy who is forced out of his home by an abusive stepfather and moves to London to live on the streets.  At the same time, we also see the journal entries of Shelter, a former soldier who now sees it as his life's job to rid the world of the homeless.  As you may guess, the two paths meet, and therein lies the plot.

However, this not the part of the book that is truly brilliant.  Whilst I suppose you need a plot like that to let the book work - and to make it exciting enough for younger readers to want to get through - it is the story of Link, and both how he became homeless and how he deals with it that is what makes this book so special.  It struck me then - and now on my reread - just how easy he falls into homelessness.  The Christmas that his family buy him a sleeping bag because it will be useful as he is sleeping rough serves as a reminder to him that his family don't care, and indeed the fact that both his mother and his sister own their own houses and yet can't see themselves to help him is both shocking and saddening to me.  Followed as it does by the stark reality of how hard it is living on the streets, and you receive a new appreciation that not everyone you see on the streets is a drunk or a druggie, and actually there are some genuinely sad circumstances behind some of their problems.

I would have this book down as a must read.  It is aimed at young adults, but there is so much to be gained from it, and it is a light read, that it is worth anyone picking it up.

9/10

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Book 53 - God's Smuggler

Book - God's Smuggler
Author - Brother Andrew
Year - 1968
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 291
Bought for me by John Gompers

This is not the kind of book that I usually read.  I am not a Christian, but when John bought this for me for my birthday, I thought that it would be interesting to read it.  It has been a massively influential book, pushing the growth of Christianity in places that persecute against the church, but I wanted to read it simply as a book, and not a piece of religious promotion.

And to that end it is actually not bad.  It is the story of Brother Andrew, a very poor man from Holland, who has some bad experiences in the war in Indonesia, and becomes a Christian.  He then decides that it is his calling to become a missionary, and smuggles Bibles into Communist countries where they would otherwise be outlawed.

There are moments that become pretty preachy, and even the occasional part that outlines a story where God provides Andrew with exactly what he needs at exactly the right moment, that my brain cannot help but believe is exaggerated for the effect.  But at the heart of the book is a fantastic story about a man who cares so much about something that he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to help others to see what he sees.  There is something pretty inspirational about that for Christians and non-Christians alike.  It also gives a very nice - if somewhat focused - view of life behind the Iron Curtain.  This is an area of history that didn't seem to have enough of an impact on Britain to be taught regularly in schools, so my knowledge of the rise and fall of Communism in Europe is pretty small.  Whilst looking it it primarily in terms of its impact upon the church, there is still enough in there to give an idea of the situation, and I would like to read more about it.

This is a book aimed at Christians, but certainly not accessible only by Christians.  When you allow for the incredible readability of his work, Brother Andrew has written a book that, whilst it may not change your life, is interesting enough to take a look at.

7/10

Monday, 14 November 2011

Book 52 - Dreadful Drama

Book - Dreadful Drama
Author - Rachel Wright
Year - 2000
Genre - Children's Non-Fiction
Pages - 142

I don't know if any of you have seen it, but there is a brilliant show on children's television called Horrible Histories.  The kids at my school love it.  It is an educational sketch show based on the children's books of the same name.  It involves things such as a rap about all of the King Georges, or a Elizabethan Wife Swap scene.  Not only is it brilliantly educational - the number of intelligent things I have heard the kids say about history that has come simply from this programme is incredible - but it is also one of the most genuinely funny shows I have seen on the TV for quite a while.

It was this that inspired me to try a book along the same lines.  There are loads in the series about history, but I happened to spot this, and as drama is my thing, I thought it must be worth a read.  As it goes, it is a very clever little book with a lot of useful information.  Everything that a child would need to know about the theatre at such a young age - a history of theatre, how we light the stage, what an actor does in his average day - is there, and nicely explained.  As a book to introduce kids to drama, I could give nothing to this but a 10/10.

However, as a grown up (!), I don't think I could.  Whilst the TV programme mentioned above has managed to find a way to make an educational show that is quite genuinely just as funny to adults and children, this particular book comes nowhere near.  I can put myself in a child's mindset unsurprisingly easily, but I still didn't think that it was anywhere near as funny as the show.  This may be my fault for having too high expectations from what is - at the end of the day - a kids book, or possibly Horrible Histories on the TV for being too good to follow, but I was still disappointed, and the book that would have been an easy 10/10 when I was 10, loses several marks.

6/10

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Book 51 - Daisy Pulls It Off

Book - Daisy Pulls It Off
Author - Denise Deegan
Year - 1985
Genre - Play
Pages - 48

Daisy Pulls It Off is sometimes described - alongside Top Girls - as a drama teacher's dream.  It is a play that is suitable for schools, with a cast made up almost exclusively of girls.  In a world where girls still dominate drama classes, this is an absolute godsend.  I thought however, that I would give it a bit of a read to see if it is actually any good.

And it turns out it is.  The play is set in a 1920s girls boarding school, and is written in a very unusual style.  The repeated 'I say', 'O Jubilate' and 'what japes' give the play a dating which, being written in the early eighties, you don't expect.  However, you soon get used to it, and it becomes a very endearing part of the proceedings.

The story concerns new girl Daisy finding her feet as the first elementary scholarship student at a posh girls school.  Whilst there, she gets caught up in the mystery of some missing treasure, and gets into all sorts of scrapes.  It is so reminiscent of an Enid Blyton novel - my favourite ever writer as a child - that it is so easy to get completely caught up in the plot, and I whipped through this whole play in a very short time as a result.

In what is possibly a first for me, I imagine that I would even prefer the reading of this to the staging.  Whilst there is a certain quality about it that would lend itself well to interpreting however you should wish - the number of asides explaining who each character is, and the occasional use of Daisy as a narrator work nicely - I can imagine that something is lost int he staging.  However, I would be interested to see for myself should I find a production taking place.  In the meantime, what an enjoyable little read.  Jolly hockeysticks!

9/10

Book 50 - Bad Girls: The Musical

Book - Bad Girls:  The Musical
Author - Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus (book) Kath Gotts (music and lyrics)
Year - 2006
Genre - Musical
Pages - 86

Plug plug plug!  I am playing Jim Fenner (boo!  hiss!) in DAODS production of this in February.  Come and see it!  Details are on our website.  And yes, that is me in the picture there.  Although not the legs.  They are Ellie's.

It seems a little unlikely premise for a musical.  Many are based on classic books such as Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera or old operas, such as Rent and Miss Saigon, and as an increasing trend, there are even many based upon huge Hollywood films such as Shrek, Legally Blonde and Big! The Musical.  However, I am not sure if there are a great deal of musicals based on ITV series from the early 2000s.

The first exposure I had to the show was watching the DVD of the West End production.  Aside from a couple of questionable casting choices - I would say that anyone cast in a West End lead should be able to at least hold a tune: the casting directors of this show seem to disagree - it certainly is an interesting show.  At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it - I have never seen the programme, and I wondered if it was going to be as goofy as I expected - but as the play goes on, it becomes more and more involving.  You find yourself really rooting for the good guys, and really hating the bad guys.  Some of the lines - and in particular the songs - are incredibly funny, and there is a real feel good vibe about the show, even allowing for its darker moments.

We are currently rehearsing the show, and I am having a great time.  We have a great cast, and it really allows for a good company feel doing a show such as this.  If you are interested in the show, then please take a look at our site linked above, or get in touch with me.  It's going to be very good (if I get around to learning my lines!)

9/10

Book 49 - The Death of WCW

Book - The Death of WCW
Author - R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez
Year - 2004
Genre - Wrestling History
Pages - 335

Firstly, I wrote this blog once already, and Blogger crashed without saving it.  Thanks Blogger.  So if it comes up a bit bitty, then sorry.  Of course, as a wrestling book, I imagine that most of the people I know who read this blog will skip it anyway, so maybe no damage caused.

In 1984, Vince McMahon set out to make himself a monopoly of the wrestling industry in the United States.  His ruthless takeover of the country's regional system by his then WWF left most other promotions in tatters, and his company as the biggest in the country.  However, led by Ted Turner, the media mogul, WCW was his one remaining opponent.  Throughout the early nineties, WCW was a rival that was still regularly beaten, but with the advent of the nWo - led by a newly heel Hulk Hogan - WCW overtook the WWF by a long margin.

However, what followed was the complete destruction of WCW from within.  Bad booking, an old boys network, and a huge amount of money wasting led to WCW crashing and burning a few years later.  It stands as a perfect example of how to not run a wrestling company - or any company for that matter - and this is a book that explains how that happened.

There has been mention that this is the kind of book that a non wrestling fan can enjoy - from memory a Forbes review - due to it, in essence, being about how mismanagement of a company can lead to its death rather than in wrestling.  However, I would suggest that you would have to be a pretty big business fan to wade through the sheer wrestlingness of the book and enjoy it without a pretty good knowledge of all of the major players.

If you are a wrestling fan however, then this is a great read.  Written as an actual history, you would expect it to be a bit of a slog - and indeed there are whole pages dedicated to comparing viewing figures that to a Brit who doesn't understand the American rating system isn't the most thrilling thing in the world - but the sheer humour of the authors means that it isn't too hard at any point.  I have been a reader of Reynold's WrestleCrap website - a site that chronicles the very worst angles in pro-wrestling history - since I was in the sixth form, so I knew he could be relied on to be humorous.

I think that first time I wrote this I had loads of other humorous things to say about the book, but it is a slog to rewrite something like this, so they shall have to be lost to the annuls of time.  In conclusion, if you like wrestling and can remember WCW, then give this a read.  If you don't like wrestling, read something else.

9/10

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Book 48 - Crazy For You

Book - Crazy For You
Author - George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics) Ken Ludwig (book)
Year - 1991
Genre - Play
Pages - 124

Following on from the barnstorming success of DAODS production of Guys and Dolls the week before last, our next show at the Orchard Theatre is Crazy For You.  Whenever we start a new show or play, I always try and make a point of reading the source of the show (nearly every musical is based on something else - saves these musical types from thinking of anything new).  However, as a compilation of Gershwin songs, Crazy For You doesn't have a specific source material, and so I decided to go ahead and read the show itself.

The basic plot outline is this - Bobby wants to be a dancer, but the greatest theatre producer around, Zangler, will not give him a shot, and thus he is left working for his wealthy mother's bank.  She sends him on an errand to Deadrock, Nevada, to repossess a theatre there, and he falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly.  However, when she finds out who he is, she slaps him and so he plots a crazy scheme to win her heart by pretending to be Zangler.  This, obviously, doesn't run smoothly.  But will he save the day, protect the theatre, and win the girl.  Well, I'm not telling you, but just a little reminder that this is a musical theatre show.  I am sure you could have a good guess.

It's pretty tough to review a show - particularly one that you are auditioning for tomorrow (!) - simply by reading it.  The bulk of the show is made up of songs, and only really by watching what is going on can you get a good appreciation of the show.  However, this script has a lot going for it.  It reads well, and you can tell that it will translate onto the stage very nicely.  There are a few nice laughs in it - although obviously musical theatre-y laughs - and I think that as a show it is going to be a lot of fun.

Obviously, this review means nothing really though.  As a great man one said - probably a baker - 'the proof is in the pudding'.  In this case, it means, 'come and see the show'.  So, come and see the show.  It'll be wicked.  Unless I fail my audition tomorrow and don't get in.  Then it'll probably be rubbish.

8/10

(For all of you picture fans out there, it'll be here when someone puts the flier for the show up)