Reading - June 2014

Fame In The 20th Century by Clive James (1993)
As full of insights and pithy phrases as ever, but because these are the scripts to the TV episodes from which this book was a spin-off, it doesn't flow as well as James's usual writing. At times it seems like a series of potted biographies rather than a reflection on the changing nature of fame, which is a shame because what he has to say about the subject is as interesting as ever. The full text is online, although I bought the book second-hand.
Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov (1982)
What's remarkable about Asimov is how little his style has changed over the years. Comparing this with The Stars, Like Dust, which I read last month, it's just as chatty, just as full of good ideas. It's a lot longer though - I wonder if, come the 80s, his editor told him that big books were what the market wanted?
The Week (7 June / Issue 974)
Rock Stars Stole My Life! by Mark Ellen (2014)
Reading this hugely enjoyable autobiography, I can hear Ellen's voice in my head from the Word podcasts; childishly enthusiastic about both the music he loves and the words he uses to simultaneously describe it and satirise some of the excesses of the industry. His unassuming self-portrayal masks the fact that he  - with David Hepworth - has defined mainstream music journalism for a few decades and successfully edited the best music magazines we will probably ever see. That's no mean feat. He's very amusing about his life in magazine publishing but I do worry slightly about him - now that The Word has shut down, what is there in a shrinking industry for the man who edited magazines like Smash HitsQSelect and Mojo? I hope he's OK.
The Week (14 June / Issue 975)
I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But ... by Simon Cowell (2004)
Part memoir, part extended self-justification, part manual. All ego.
Get Fit: Running by Owen Barder (2005)
Second reading as revision and in order to vary my training plan. An excellent and compact primer on running for fitness. See also the author's extensive web site, which includes a slightly different version of this book and many other useful items.
Foundation And Earth by Isaac Asimov (1986)
In the introduction to Foundation's Edge, Asimov explains that his publisher commissioned these two novels at a specific length. This one, while full of the usual good ideas and a lot of sometimes stilted exposition, also reads like he was told to include more sex. In Asimov's case, this mostly comes down to talking about sex. Still, nice to have the whole thing tie back to Daneel Olivaw and the author's much earlier robot series of stories.
The Week (21 June / Issue 976)
About A Boy by Nick Hornby (1998)
Last time I read this, I don't think I had children. This time, I have a 12 year old boy, just like Marcus in the story. I enjoyed it more this time. It's so well observed and so well written - unobtrusively well written, too, a very easy read. The ending fizzles out slightly - effectively "and over the next couple of months everything got slowly better", but that's probably more true to life.


I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But ...

Simon Cowell

Part memoir, part extended self-justification, part manual ... all ego

For every successful singer, there are hundreds who didn't make it. This applies in all fields, of course. It's tempting to look at the winners and conclude that whatever characteristics they possess are the reason for their success; tempting, but largely wrong. Just because Simon Cowell, who just happens to be very blunt ("rude", "honest", "tactless" - all euphemisms for the same thing), has done well, doesn't mean this is necessarily the reason for his success.

Since, like most successful people, he is unwilling to give enough credit to luck, Cowell has decided that it is this feature that has contributed most to his success. But, to gather from the amount of time he spends justifying his behaviour, he's still not really comfortable with it. When he's not doing this, he's patting himself on the back for having such wonderful insight into the public's taste.

What's interesting to note is what isn't present in the book: much evidence of a love of music. There are occasional glimpses (he's a big fan of disco), but when he does discuss what he considers to be good music, it's mostly in the context of how successful it was or what it achieved for the singer's career.

Biggest unintentional comedy moment: given a list of ten then-current celebrity relationships, Cowell (having just controversially declared that some celeb affairs are only done for the publicity - gasp!) decides whether they are merely PR fodder or "true love". Those in "true love", according to the oracle, include Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, and Madonna and Guy Ritchie. Only one of the couples, the Beckhams, are still together. Beyonce and Jaz-Z are described as "dubious". Still, one out of ten is probably a reasonable hit rate in the pop world.

I picked this up for free and despite having only seen the briefest of glimpses of Pop Idol or other schlock, I found it interesting, as a pop fan, to read about the behind-the-scenes machinations. The book itself is well-written and well-tailored to its likely audience. As such, I doubt that it was actually written by Cowell himself, but no-one else is listed. Still, a quick and interesting read.