Posted by: billpurdue | September 30, 2010

A really good read

If I were asked what in my opinion is a really good read, I would say it’s a book that the more of it you read , the more you want to read; a book which is so absorbing and captivating that you really don’t want to get to the end. Now for me, these attributes would mainly apply to fiction, but just once in a while a non-fiction book comes along which I find difficult to put down and when I get to the end I feel that I need something else as good as that to put my bookmark in.

Just such a book came along earlier this year, when I read The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder, the story of how these two backpackers were held captive by guerrillas in the Central American jungle. That of course was a story, but a true one. Now I’ve discovered an author who can write general non-fiction that is truly un-put-downable: Bill Bryson .

I’ve just read and thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson’s At Home: a short history of private life [Doubleday £20 9780385608275]. Using the different rooms of his Norfolk home, a former rectory, as a base, he ranges far and wide over the history of all things relevant to the history of home life: food, sanitation, furniture, gardens, architecture and so on. To illustrate his narrative he looks at the lives of the many and varied people – and events – that through the ages have had some influence on the way we live today. There are the well known innovators such as Capability Brown, who transformed the grounds of many a stately home and Thomas Edison, who perfected methods of producing and distributing electricity on a large scale. But then there are others less well known, like Bryan Donkin, who perfected a method for canning food. Bryson writes about the lives of these people too, many of which are not without a whiff of scandal and are often eccentric in some way or another.

But this book is not a list of inventors or trend setters : it’s a history told in the most entertaining way, with humour, insight and lots of asides. In fact it’s tempting to wonder if Bryson is wandering away from the point in some places, but eventually the reader realises the reason for the apparent digression. It’s thoroughly well researched too, with a 26 page bibliography. If anyone can write non-fiction which really captivates me, Bill Bryson can.

Bill Bryson appears to have two official websites; one for the UK and one for the US (?)

Another new release

I’ve always found Alexei Sayle quite funny, though I appreciate he might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So I was interested to hear that he has just brought out his autobiography called Stalin ate my Homework [Sceptre £20 978-0340919576 ]. Frank Cottrell Boyce, writing for The Reader Online says “it’s a warm, affectionate account of a tiny family (Alexei was an only child) who were remarkable not so much for their beliefs as their individuality and their adventurous spirit” His father Joe, worked for the railways and made good use of his free pass to take his family on holidays, not just to the seaside, but abroad – even behind the Iron Curtain, so in a way the book is a memoir of some lost worlds. The book ends whilst Sayle is still a teenager, so perhaps we can expect a further instalment.

A new-ish release

Listening to BBC Radio 4’s “Pick of the week” last Sunday, I heard an extract from an interview with Craig Jurisevic, a surgeon from Adelaide who decided to offer his services in Kosovo in 1999. Not long after his arrival he found himself joining forces with the Kosovo Liberation Army,  performing operations at the front and leading night-time missions behind enemy lines to retrieve injured Kosovar villagers. The interview on the BBC World Service was harrowing enough to listen to, so his book which was published earlier this year, Blood on My Hands, a surgeon at war [Wild Dingo Press 9780980757002] is definitely not for the faint hearted.

As yet, the book is not available in the UK, but you can download the first chapter from the Wild Dingo press website. For more information on Craig Jurisevic, try his Facebook page


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  5. Bill Purdue recently got some well deserved praise for his own work and not before time as I have discovered. He is well pleased and so he should be. As a writer who came to the craft rather late in life, I’m a bit flummoxed at the praise that’s been heaped on my books. Bill reviewed the first one YO’D MEK A PARSON SWEAR! and said some nice things about it. Further, to my utter astonishment, in Dec 2010 he went on to nominate it as his best -local – and I stress LOCAL book of the year. Phew, praise indeed from such a man. Now he too has been recognised more fully for his contribution to the literary world, he maybe understands how I feel at his recommendation of my own humble work. Thank you Bill and long may you reign. Joy James

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