The A to Z of Skateboarding

I should have believed the reviews. This is not a good book. A few light sniggers and that’s about all.

The conceit is that Tony Hawks, writer and comedian, gets fan mail for Tony Hawk, celebrity skateboarder. He writes back.

I’ve loved many of Hawks past books but, despite only paying 99p for this one, I still feel like I overpaid for it.

Two Brothers

It’s been fascinating watching Ben Elton grow as a writer. I read his first book, Stark, when it first came out. It was political and funny, as you might expect for a stand up comedian. It wasn’t terribly well written, though.

Next came Gridlocked, which was better written but not as funny.

I’d argue that he finally hit his stride with Popcorn, which was a real page-turner, with structure and humour and it was well written.

Two Brothers dispenses with the humour almost entirely, but keeps the drama and everything he’s learned about story writing. The rise of the Nazis provides a familiar structure but the believable characters and unpredictable twists are what makes it work.

His first couple of books may have had me close to tears of laughter. This one has emotion and I was on the verge of very different tears. I say this without hyperbole.

Overall, highly recommended.

Grenoble


It’s a Monday night and no one that lives here goes out for dinner. Most of the restaurants are shut for one thing.

It’s dark and starting to get a little cold so I don’t feel like wandering around for too long. I manage to find somewhere open on a square near a tram stop.

The restaurant is pleasantly busy. There’s a family and a few couples. There are also three men, other than me, dining alone.

One arrives after me and finishes his meal super-humanly quickly. Then he fastidiously counts out a large pile of coins on the table and pays the bill with them. I don’t think he enjoys eating out alone.

Another has a huge fist of rings. I wonder what he could possibly do for a living. I invent a backstory for him, which includes a leadership position in an organised crime syndicate. He’s unhurried, finding plenty of entertaining activities on his phone. As you might expect of a mobster.

Meanwhile, the family wish their daughter would find their phone entertaining. She enthusiastically moves around non-stop. They keep shushing her and finding new programmes for her to watch, largely unsuccessfully.

The couple next to me speak English to the waiter, French to a waitress and German to each other. They eat their burgers with a knife and fork. I suspect they’re Swiss.

Me, I read on my phone and people-watch. I laugh when the waiter notices my English accent and automatically brings me ketchup rather than the mayonnaise he’s brought for everyone else.

Toll

If you read my thoughts on the first book in the Kestrel series, “Changer” you’ll have a good idea of my thinking about the second, “Toll.”

It’s an entertaining, light read. I think that’s the intention, so I don’t mean that as a back-handed compliment.

Compared with last time, the MacGuffin didn’t bother me as much. What jarred were the constant info-dumps.

“[Barcelona is] the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. Within Spain, it is second only to Madrid. But globally, it does not appear in the first ninety.”

I didn’t choose to read Wikipedia! There are even discussions about climate change and Brexit, which I’m not sure is a good idea. The former, at least, is relevant to the story-line (if a bit preachy) but the latter stands only to date the book.

Anyway, none of that is really a big problem. After “Guns, Germs and Steel” I needed something less strenuous and this totally hit the spot.

Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond’s door-stop of a book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Maybe not quite since it was released over twenty years ago but probably not far from it.

The gist is pretty much there in the title: in the last 13,000 years, the most successful societies used guns, germs and steel to conquer others. Why, for example, was it Europeans who had world-wide empires rather than Africans or Americans or Chinese?

The ideas are laid out in the first few chapters and the rest are used to justify it.

In that sense it’s a very academic work. It’s very, very thorough, perhaps too thorough for a “pop science” book. It could have been half the length without losing any significant ideas.

Like much academic text, the writing could have been better; there were quite a few awkward sentences. But it was clear and the anecdotes livened it up, meaning it wasn’t just a very long paper.

I was aware that some sentences made me cringe a little. I wondered if it had dated badly or just that it’s difficult to write about race without sounding at least a little politically incorrect. Worrying that I’m too PC, I’m practically a liberal caricature.

Having said that, I did enjoy it and I’m glad I finished it. There’s some thought-provoking ideas and answers to questions you maybe didn’t even consider previously and, ultimately, that’s why I read these kinds of book. But I think my next read will be a lighter, fiction book!

Photography, opinions and other random ramblings by Stephen Darlington