It is of course the worst thing a reviewer can do (you know, without stooping to eating babies or licking the saddle of the exercise bike down at the gym; things of that ilk): to begin panning your subject without actually examining it first - a practice which I earnestly hope in times to come will be remembered as 'Pulling a Schembri'. That said, before I sink to this new low, at least allow me the courtesy of explaining myself.
I'm quite willing to extend charity towards book I nevertheless know instinctively to be complete trash, and flip through a few pages before laughing brutally and tossing the offending drivel bin-wards. But sometimes, just very occassionally, I will come across some vile grimoir that I feel at first glance that I must never, ever read, lest it actively make me less human. Despite these misgivings, such dire tomes tend to exercise an unhealthy attraction (much like my fantasy of recreating the butter scene from Last Tango in Paris with the pope), and therefore I feel I must mention them here, in the hopes that someone out there in blogland might manage to do what I dare not: suspend their undoubtedly excellent tastes, investigate the offending items, and report back to confirm or rebut my suspicions.
I spotted the first volume of sustained idiocy just the other day, radiating an aura of pointlessness down at me from the bookstore shelf: Jamie Oliver - Turning Up the Heat by Gilly Smith. M. Oliver stares whistfully out from the front cover wondering, presumably, whether his cut of the royalties will prove enough of a compensation for having had to hang out with someone called Gilly; the back cover, however, intrigues, mystifies and revolts. Jamie Oliver, who I'm sure most of us know only as the effetely lisping pretty-boy whose thankfully misleadingly titled Naked Chef series has become ubiquitous to channel 10's programming schedule, is revealed by the blurb writer as 'the people's champion', who dealt the British government a kick in the pants from which it may never recover. Wha? When did this happen, precisely? Moreover, it goes on to advise that Oliver has 'made capitalism cool' again for todays younger generation. Again I say: wha? Jamie Oliver may be a lot of things, and one of them may or may not be a good cook (I wouldn't know, being of the 30 second pasta school of cuisine: 1. boil kettle. 2. pour hot water over colander full of noodles. 3. eat the result. 4. pray for stomach ache to stop). Nevertheless, I have yet to see him, as he whizzes around the kitchen, skinny wrists a-flurry and such inspiring culinary advice as "Worrrrr!", "Yeee!" and "Pukka!" drizzling from his pouty lips like so much vinegarette, present a cohesive critique of the writings of Marx and Engles, nor explain why a proletarian state unmarred by corruption and tyranny is an implausibility. And besides this, he's a boring little narcissist, a biography of whom I cannot but fail to find interesting. He took tea with Tony Blair? Fascinating! But I'll give it a miss, thanks.
Offender number two is Junior, 5 time oscar winning actor Macaulay Culkin's foray into the literary arts. Junior is supposed to be a 'partly fictional memoir' of the experiences of a child actor strongly resembling Culkin, and his treatment by an overbearring father. From what I've seen and heard, though, the book reads like a) the work of a has-been desperately clutching at the last seconds of his fifteen minutes of fame, b) a maudlin attempt at winning sympathy, and c) entirely pretentious. Besides conveying information I really didn't need to know (were you aware that Macaulay has named his penis 'Floyd'?), the book is written as a' stream of conciousness' in the 'post-modern' vein, where such terms are synonymous with 'poorly-edited' and 'wanky'. Yes, I understand that Junior is meant to be an exploration of the relationship between audience and artwork, and the manufacture of the author as a subjective creation of the former, but approaching such concepts via the ineffable talent of Culkin is an insult to Barthes et al., pure and simple. It's sad, to be sure, that Culkin had a miserable childhood, and suffered severe emotional abuse at the hands of his father, but complaining about his experiences to anyone but a mental health professional and expecting at the same time that said complaints be regarded as art is pushing the boat a leeeetle too far. Whenever I see a copy of this book, it becomes necessary to re-play in my head that magnificent cinematic moment when Elijah Wood finally kills Culkin in The Good Son, or else feel out of sorts all day.
So there you are: two books I will not read, and which will hopefully wend their way to the remainder table and thence to the bonfire in short order. Unless, of course, they are both nominated for the next years Booker short-list, which wouldn't really surprise me one jot.