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Showing posts from October, 2009

A Fraction of the Whole

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Has any prize done more damage to the medium it celebrates than the Booker Prize? Somehow, somewhen, it gave birth to the cliché of the unreadable "Booker book", a po-faced account of a middle-aged widowed playwright, say, who ventures into the mountains to discover that the secret of life is to renounce plot and spend your days in aimless introspection. In short, boring.

Much of the fault lies with the rules. Each publisher is allowed to submit no more than two books, which keeps the numbers manageable but also forces the publishers to second guess the judges. The obvious strategy is to submit the most portentous books they have - the Booker books. So the cliché feeds itself. And for as long as these monsters win the gongs, they send a clear message to would-be booklovers: literature isn't for the likes of you.

It comes as quite a surprise, then, to find that many Booker prizewinners are actually genuinely good books. And they can even be (whisper it) enjoyable to rea…

If Chins Could Kill

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The first year at university is a rite of passage in many ways, and never more so than when the unsuspecting fresher enters the strange, liminal world of Cult Films. I vaguely remember that one night we watched The Evil Dead (or was it Evil Dead 2?). Not just a cult film, but a cult horror film, which is about as culty as you can get. I'd like to say that it changed the way I viewed cinema forever and left me hero-worshipping the star, Bruce Campbell. But this would be unfair to the truth: I hated it. And I hated him by association (whoever he was).

It wasn't Campbell's fault though. I hate horror films as a genre. I get squeamish at the sight of blood, and more squeamish at the sight of severed limbs with motive power of their own. Nowadays I'm desensitized compared to back then, but I still tend to avoid them if I can. Sorry, horror fans. It's my loss, I'm sure.

So what was I doing reading Campbell's autobiography? It's another selection from the lib…

Miss Tschörmänie

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If you're a theoretical chemist with a passable command of German and a secret lust for power, this is the book for you. Miss Tschörmänie (pronounced "Miss Germany") is a comic strip depiction of the life and times of Angela Merkel, the current German chancellor.

The story starts with her early years as a scientist in the East, but really gets going after reunification, when her political career began. She soon signs up with the centre-right CDU party and by 2000 has taken charge. Five years later she has eliminated all other pretenders and become the first female chancellor of Germany. The aim of the book is to show you how she did it.


The story sticks closely to the facts, though there is some room for the authors to speculate about private conversations and thoughts. It's also very respectful to Merkel, who is shown time and again outsmarting her political enemies, both outside the party and within. The only really biting comments come from Gerhard Schröder (her …