Saturday, 30 August 2008

Ingrid Bergman by CHARLOTTE CHANDLER (Pocket Books, £7.99)

I'm really enjoying reading biographies and autobiographies these days and this one has proved to be a fascinating account of a fine actress and natural beauty. I particularly like the way Charlotte Chandler doesn't intrude into her books but lets the subject speak for themselvesthroughpastinterviews, letters and diaries.
Having seen Ingrid Bergman interviewed on occasion, she appeared to be funny and self-deprecating - but this book shows she was also courageous. She bravely stood up to the critics of her relationship with film director Roberto Rossellini and their daughter Isabella commends Charlotte Chandler for showing the world how fine and "beautiful" her parents were "and still are". I was impressed by her sheer grit and determination to soldier on filming the life story of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was obviously very ill.
I was left with the impression from this book of a gutsy lady, a good mother and a natural beauty who also gave some excellent film performances.
I like Charlotte Chandler's style and look forward to finishing her biography of Joan Crawford before settling down with "The Girl Who Walked Home Alone", her biography of Bette Davis.

Imagine This by JULIA BAIRD (Hodder, £7.99)

I was given this book by a friend and really enjoyed the account of Julia Baird's search for her own real identity which led her to the amazing discovery that she was John Lennon's sister. It is a very frank book, not afraid to tell the truth about John's often painful, lonely childhood. Poor John was sent away from his mother when he was only five - though we all know how he cared for his beloved Aunt Margaret (Mimi). In effect, he was to lose his mother twice. How tragic that, just as they were getting to know each other again, she was run down and killed outside Mimi's home by an off-duty policeman.
I was also impressed by Julia's kindness and consideration for her adoptive parents, deliberately waiting till they had passed on before attempting to trace and contact her real family.
Alas, it meant she never met John but she feels great happiness and comfort from the fact that he had hired detectives to find her and remembered her in his will. Yoko Ono also made contact with Julia and met her on several occasons.
This was a very involving and moving account of John's life and, of course, Julia's own life, too. I couldn't help wondering how different things might have been for everybody if Julia had been able to keep her children. Surely two of the saddest words in the English language must be "If only..."

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 - Hunter S. Thompson

I bought this book about 2 years ago but gave up reading it after about a hundred pages because I thought it was too heavy...So why I decided to start reading it again is anybody's guess, (although I suspect that it had something to do with a subconscious desire to get away from history books). But I feel like my efforts have been rewarded because, although it is still very heavy, it is actually quite a funny and well-written book. Anyone familiar with Thompson's writing style will know that his sense of humour was savage so perhaps what I think constitutes "funny" in this book might not be everyone's cup of tea, (but I defy anyone not to laugh at the idea of someone sending a gin-soaked wino to a politician's press conference so the wino can grab said politician's leg and demand more gin live on national TV.). But, jokes aside, this is a very important book, not least because it shows the US democratic process up for the sham that it really is...Perhaps one can argue that this is a well-established fact and that it doesn't really matter here in the UK and they might be right. However, the relevance of this book as far as I can tell, (in terms of the US being on the cusp of change as well as trying to oust a mindless little weasel) cannot be underestimated. After all, whether we like it or not, what happens on the other side of the Atlantic has consequences for all of us...

So, if you can get past the (sometimes unnecessary) political jargon and the copious amount of references to illegal substances, then it is time well spent reading this. At the very least, you might get a better understanding of why the US needs someone like Obama as their president. But, as is probably very obvious, it is not for the faint hearted, or for those who have a limited interest in politics. You really have to persevere with it and the jargon is hard to negotiate. And that's a shame because it raises some very important points and is, in places very entertaining. But there are parts of the book, certainly towards the end, where the pages of typed telephone conversation become tedious, (I had to very try hard not to skip these pages and only kept reading because I thought I would miss something important - which, it turns out, I didn't) and, much like his other books, some parts are just impossible to read, mostly because they make you feel like your brain's been wired incorrectly.

Saying that though, if you are a marijuana/cocaine/mescaline fiend, they might make sense. And once I had got my head around most of it, I found it very hard to put the book down.