Saturday, 27 March 2010

What I've been reading

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This Sceptered Isle: The Twentieth Century
by Christopher Lee

narrated by Anna Massey and Robert Powell
"This audiobook continues the award-winning BBC Radio 4 series of the story of Britain, from the start of the 20th century to the present day. Christopher Lee's history of Britain, This Sceptred Isle, provides the definitive radio account of the nation."
So far I've listened to the first two in this 20th century series, covering 1901 to 1919 and 1920 to 1939, very inconveniently dropping us just at the outbreak of the Second World War. Anyone who's familiar with this series from the radio will know how beautifully it is presented, in little chunks of history with politics mixed in with social comment. Squeezing a decade into 90 minutes means it's pretty selective, and an awful lot is left out, but what's in there is informative, interesting and addictive listening. I have the next in the series (1939-1959) waiting on my desk.

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Blood and Sand
by Frank Gardner

narrated by Alistair Petrie
"On June 6th 2004, in a quiet suburb of Riyadh, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner and cameraman Simon Cumbers were filming a programme on al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia when they were ambushed by Islamic gunmen. Simon was killed outright; Frank was shot six times in the shoulder and pelvis, but against all the odds, he survived."
I remember the reports of the shooting, and of Frank Gardner's miraculous survival and rehabilitation. Despite being paralysed below the waist, he has returned to his job at the BBC, and occasionally appears on TV news. He actually started out in banking for the oil industry, having done a degree in Islamic Studies at Exeter University which allowed him to spend a year in Cairo. The switch to journalism came much later. The main disappointment with this book is the narration. The abridged version is narrated by the author, but is only 2½ hours long, and I would hardly ever choose an abridged book to listen to. This unabridged book is 12 hours long, but has been handed over to a most inferior narrator. Nevertheless, well worth reading.

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One Hit Wonderland
by Tony Hawks

"'You don't have to do it,' said Victoria, from the end of the phone-line. 'It was only a bit of fun. Drunken high spirits and all that.' 'No, I want to,' I said, keen to move the conversation on to a discussion about how we might go for a drink together soon. 'And by my reckoning, the terms of the bet should allow me enough time.'"
Tony Hawks seems to be building up his sideline of making bets and writing books about the ensuing hilarity. This is his third, and the bet is that he has to have a top twenty hit record in any country around the world within two years. He has a go in Nashville, Ireland, Sudan, Romania and Albania, and it's an easy read, which is all I can manage at the moment - all my other reading is done from audio books in the car. The bit at the end when he's in Albania with Sir Tim Rice and Sir Norman Wisdom made me laugh out loud, although knowing that Norman Wisdom has dementia now is a little sad, because you can tell from his behaviour that he was probably in the first stages back then.

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