A(nother) Rambling: A New String to My Bow

Taking a break from reviewing a book this week – to talk about my favourite topic outside of books.
(Me)
I did something new yesterday, something a little bit nerve-wracking, but ultimately fun. It’s also what stopped me from reading, at least stopped me from reading anything new – hence no review.
(I do like the word hence. Makes me feel posh)
At WHSmith, we’ve been working on erasing stigma around mental health. The company has done shitloads (that’s the technical word) to raise awareness within the company, as well as this year doing huge amounts of fundraising for – along with Cancer Research – Mind.
As part of our activities, last year Bryony Gordon came to Swindon for a Q&A session – hosted by publicity goddess George Moore.
It went down so well, we arranged another one for Matt Haig – to coincide with the launch of his new book (How To Stop Time – read it!) and to get a male perspective on the challenges faced by those who suffer from poor mental health.
I know what you’re thinking – How come he’s not talking about himself yet?! Give the people what they want!
Ok, ok!
Well, guess what mug offered to step in and host the thing – with absolutely no prior experience of having done something like that?
You guessed it. This guy.
I spent the last week reminding myself of the events of How To Stop Time, I re-read Reasons to Stay Alive, and I monitored Matt’s tweets closely to see if they would raise any questions I wanted to ask.
Then. I got up on the stage, sat opposite Matt – and introduced us both to what felt like an enormous crowd, but was in reality closer to 30.
How to stop time indeed.
Matt had the hard job – he had to talk for twenty seven out of the thirty minutes – I just had to sit there and listen to him, and make sure I didn’t ask a question he’d just answered.
But boy was it hard – I didn’t know where to look. Did I look at the audience like a loon? Matt was (NOT like a loon, I hasten to add), but then he was talking to them. I would just be grinning inanely at them.
Should I instead just ignore them? But that felt rude, and besides if I didn’t look, how did I know if they were still awake – or even there?
At least I know why Graham Norton drinks now.
In the end, it went ok. Neither myself or Matt said anything stupid, I had some positive feedback from people afterwards (not that I believed them of course), and we all learnt a little bit more about mental health (and turtles) as well as hearing about a great book!
What’s the point of me telling you all this? I have a new skill! I can interview people – so let me tell you now, Graham had better watch out.
He’s ahead in the interviewer-skills race (for now) – but I can match him drink for drink.

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A(nother) Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (yes, THAT Tom Hanks)

This is going to be a short review.

 

With the new collection of short stories from Tom Hanks, I have learned that short can sometimes be sweet.

 

Uncommon Type features a range of stories set all across America and a span of times. They are all connected by – of all things – typewriters.

 

Hanks is famous for collecting different types of typewriters. Well, that’s a lie – he’s famous for many, many films, but he is known by some to be a collector of different typewriters, and it’s through these machines that we view the different strands of Hanks’ collection.

 

This isn’t a book about typewriters though, it is – as I suspect most short story collections are – about the human condition. Perhaps most books are about that, but I think it’s more prevalent, more obvious in short stories.

 

There are some that are clear – like the one that is about a woman moving to a new neighbourhood and learning to look past her pre-conceptions – while there are others that take a little more thought, where their meaning is more subjective.

 

Some are thought-provoking, some are funny, but all of them are nice, distracting little vignettes.

 

When I wrote about Tin Man – I cited it as a short book, a mere two hundred pages – but the stories in here average about twenty pages, just a tenth of the size.

 

Short stories are not something you’re going to lose yourself in, it would be hard to lose yourself in their worlds for an extended period of time, but for those of us who don’t have much time, or want to fall in love with reading again this might be the place to start.

 

Uncommon Type is a beautiful collection of tales from a surprising – yet unsurprising – source. After all, is anyone truly astonished to discover that Hanks can write as well as everything else he can do?

 

Uncommon Type is published on 17th October by William Heinemann

A(nother) Review: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This Is Going to Hurt is an unexpectedly politically charged memoir from Dr Adam Kay. It starts with Kay being struck off the medical register – this is the story as to why he’s being struck off.[1]

 

Kay tells his story in diary form, all entries from his diaries at the time – although I suspect some entries have been omitted – with footnotes[2] added for context. [3]

 

Each section of the book takes us through Kay’s career in obs and gynae[4] job by job and brings us stories that are touching, bizzare and sometimes downright hilarious.

 

Some of the entries are only a few lines long, but often hysterical, others are longer but all of them are illuminating peeks into medical life that the likes of Holby City and Casualty[5] can’t quite deliver.

 

When I say hysterical, I cannot express how much I laughed at this – from the mildly amusing game of spotting the minor Harry Potter characters[6] to the exploration – literally! – of the different objects that people insist on inserting into themselves.[7]

 

There is only one problem I have with this book.[8] But I can see the reason why, I can begrudgingly accept their use here.[9]

 

Sadly, there is a reason why – other than sheer exhaustion – that Kay decided to leave the profession and the book gets less and less funny as we start to move through the years. I won’t spoil anything, but the book ends with an open letter addressed directly to Jeremy Hunt.

 

As a layman, this book seriously brings into focus the challenges our medics face, and how much we as a society take for advantage.

 

I was going to say that next time they go on strike, they would get my full support[10] but actually they shouldn’t have to go on strike. They shouldn’t be working 90+ hours. We should be spending more money on our NHS to help support these people. These heroes.

 

Sorry[11] for getting all political on there, but you should count yourselves lucky, the first version of this blog was mostly a political rant.

 

This Is Going to Hurt is published by Picador on 7th September 2017[12]

[1] The truth is, he resigned back in 2011, he hasn’t practiced for six years and his qualifications have lapsed. All of that is revealed in the opening paragraphs, so no spoilers, I was just trying to create a sense of intrigue.

[2] That’s these things at the bottom of the page

[3] Something I’m experimenting with on this blog post – and for this blog post only. Don’t worry.

[4] Vagina doctor

[5] Don’t get me wrong, I love the ‘Holby Cinematic Universe’ – a phrase that Marvel uses, and that I have borrowed – but they don’t quite always ring true. There can’t be THAT many gay doctors. Can there?

[6] A trick Kay uses to avoid mentioning real names, thereby avoiding lawsuits

[7] My favourite the person who put a condom on a remote control.

[8] The footnotes. I hate them. In most books. I mean they’re seriously distracting, I tend to lose track of what I’m reading each time I turn the page and see there are footnotes – because I’m then skimming ahead to see where the footnotes appear.

[9] The only use of footnotes, I actually liked were in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde – a series set in an alternate version of Swindon (really) in the 1980’s, where literature is alive. Thursday Next ends up using a device called a footnote-phone to have conversations. In this instance, the footnotes actually progress the story.

[10] Not that they didn’t last time, but I’ll mean it more this time.

[11] Not sorry.

[12] Buy it.

A(nother) Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I’m not sure whether to be offended or not.

 

I was recommended this book by someone (I shan’t mention her name, because she reads the blog, and it’ll annoy her that she doesn’t get a direct name-check) – on the basis that the main character reminded them of me.

 

In fairness, before I even read it, they clarified it was due to her strong opinions on sausage rolls and little else, still…

 

Eleanor Oliphant is, contrary to the title, NOT completely fine.

 

She is, truth be told, a little odd when we first meet her. She stays odd throughout, by the way, but we grow to love her.

 

We see the world through her eyes, and because the socially awkward things she does makes perfect sense to her, they make perfect sense to us.

 

We meet her just after she’s been to a concert, something that has happened to her completely by accident, but there she falls in love with the lead singer of the support act.

 

She decides, despite not having met him, that they are destined to be together, and it’s this that kick-starts her into exploring the modern world and learning how to live in it.

 

It’s through this exploration that we begin to learn more about Eleanor, but Eleanor also becomes more exposed to how the world works.

 

It seems like a really simple story, quite basic, but it’s the character of Eleanor that makes this an un-put downable, page-turning novel. It’s not about whether she meets Johnny and makes him fall in love with her, it’s about Eleanor falling in love with herself.

 

There are a huge number of laugh out loud moments, but there are some equally sad moments too, which is what sets this apart from other novels.

 

It’s the type of novel that I could recommend to anyone, there is no set genre, but the one novel I’m reminded most of is Elizabeth Is Missing not, I think, because of the content, but because of the feeling I was left with at the end.

 

Definitely one of the better reads of 2017