A Quick Book Review: Dreaming the Beatles

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So first up a hello to you all – it’s been a while!

Secondly – re: my last post, I read both of Roddy Doyle’s Paula Spencer books and they were really good – you should read them. Not really my best review but that’s what I’ve got on those books.

So then The Beatles! What you have to know about this book review before I start on it is that I love The Beatles and have done so since a very early age. The first Beatles album that I bought was The Red Album which I got on tape from Woolworths in Whitby and which I loved and played and played over and over to the extent where even today when I listen to Beatles albums I still expect certain songs to follow as per their Red Album sequencing as opposed to the tracklisting of say, Rubber Soul or Revolver. I’d listen to the Red Album at home on my parents’ mother of a stereo or in the car on a radio cassette player – via an ear piece. NB: not a walkman, not a ghetto blaster but a battery powered cassette deck and not headphones, no not even ones with orange foam on them – it was a single ear piece which inevitably got covered in various bits of ear wax and dried skin…

Anyway, I love The Beatles and one of my friends in the world hates them. We’ve been friends for nearly 30 years and I can’t believe that I’ve been friends with some so, so different to me but I genuinely love the guy and this review is dedicated to him.

I have read a lot of books about The Beatles over the years – lots of them! Some have been good, some not so good and when I read an interview with Rob Sheffield about his new book  “Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World” – I was persuaded to put down a history of Evangelical Christianity in the United States that I’d recently started and pick the book about the Beatles up instead and I didn’t regret it one bit.

It’s not your typical Beatles book – it doesn’t start at a fete in 1957 and end with the release of Paul McCartney’s first solo album though both things are mentioned. What this book is, is a series of essays explaining what the Beatles means to various generations and how the relationship has developed in the years since they spilt up in 1970.

The dark days of the 1970s and crap Beatles compilations are detailed and it’s amazing to remember/discover that there were times when the Beatles’ stock was low and various albums were released through budget label ‘Music for Pleasure’ – compare that with today’s meticulous management of the band’s back catalogue. People never stopped listening to The Beatles but neither were they listened to or bought in quite they way that they are today. If you remember watch The Beatles Anthology then you might need reminding that one of the main reasons it came about was that George Harrison was a little bit tight for cash at the time and as Sheffield points out he didn’t half look uncomfortable when interviewed with Paul McCartney.

If you want a Beatles book with newly uncovered Beatles stories or salacious gossip then this isn’t the book you need, it’s book written by a man who loves the band, has done so for decades and will carry on doing so until the day he days. You’ll want to track down the White Album demos recorded at George’s house – do it, they are great. You’ll yearn for the Let it Be film to be re-released but best of all you’ll ask yourself all over again or you a John, Paul, George or Ringo person?*

It’s a book written from an American perspective which leads to Sheffield stating things such as Paul McCartney only becoming known as Macca in the 90’s which will be news to readers of the very British pop music magazine in which he was known as Paul ‘Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft’ McCartney from the 80’s – but any quibbles I have are minor.

I enjoyed this book a lot and polished it off in three settings in less than a day, it’s a book you can disagree with – for the love of God, My Love is a classic of McCartney’s oeuvre – a book that gets you listening to tunes that either you’ve written off or simply haven’t listened to in years and it a book that reminds you why The Beatles matter to so many people and will continue to do so.

Also, go and listen to The Rutles.

* I’m not going to answer that here but Blackbird is my favourite Beatles song and my friend mentioned above recently shared with me a recording of his elder daughter singing a cover of it – it is stunning.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Liz Moore – The Unseen World

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Everybody has a secret – mine is that I scoffed a Twirl before 8:30 this morning and it was bloody lovely.

Anyway, in what literally nobody is calling ‘Gruffsdad’s long awaited return to blogging and book reviews’ I am going to tell you all about Liz Moore’s The Unseen World.

I loved this book.

Ever since I became a father I basically cry at anything, Long Lost Family on ITV every week, Wales doing well in the Euros recently and A Rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues – anything and everything can set me off with the exception of books. Books can make me excited, angry, laugh etc, etc but I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book and found myself with tears running down my face. Only last night that’s exactly what happened as I reached the end of The Unseen World.

Ada Sibelius is the young daughter of David a professor in Boston who specialises in the development of artificial intelligence. Ada was born to a surrogate and is home schooled by David and spends her time almost entirely with her father and his colleagues at the university where he works. One evening during the traditional meal to welcome the new post grads to the university David forgets the answer to riddle that he asks the new students each year and this is the precursor to David’s illness which develops as the book progresses. As David’s succumbs to his illness secrets about him are revealed and Ada resolves to find out the truth about her father and this search for answers forms the backbone of The Unseen World.

Did I say that I loved this book? I really did, it’s not just a weepy story about a kid finding herself by finding out the truth about her life – it’s way more than that. It’s a desperate account about the effects of Alzheimer’s on a person and the people they love, it’s about a young child having the world she knows and loves being torn away from her and about how resilient kids can be when inside they are being destroyed by the events raging on uncontrollably around them. It’s about love, teenage life, the horrors of school and it’s also about the 1980s and how computer technology began to take over all of our lives.

Then as the book reaches the final stages Moore ruminations about what might happen with artificial intelligence in the decades ahead and I found this section fascinating. Predictions about the future can come back to bite authors on the bum but this was different and strangely moving. I know that Spielberg’s A.I. is loved and loathed in equal measure – I loved it – and without giving anything away there were sections in the section of the book in which I was reminded of it – whichever way you feel about the film then please don’t let this put you off! Can machines develop human emotions and what are the implications of that? Moore doesn’t have the answers but those passages and her views on this will stay with me for a long time to come.

The Unseen World leaps from decade to decade, past and present and we see people grow, we see them make mistakes and we see them die. Much to my surprise I found it all incredibly moving and it was during one of sections set in the past that I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as everything suddenly made sense and the reasons for the behaviours exhibited by one of the characters in the book finally became clear and it was genuinely heart-breaking.

I felt relief albeit tinged with sadness – life isn’t all about happy endings, sometimes things go wrong and they stay wrong and we come to terms with that, learn from it and move on with our lives.

I’m sorry to resort to cliché here but I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is book crammed full of warmth, sadness and surprises and I’ll say it again – I really loved it.

Okay that’s my return to book reviewing – a little bit rusty but hopefully you’ve enjoyed and I really, really hope that some of you might be tempted to go and read the book because it really is fab.

Thanks for reading this and thanks to Christian for telling me I should blog again – he still owes me three pints of Coke Zero for last weekend though.*

Have a good weekend everybody!!!

* My Amazon wishlist is still available