Bedsit Disco Queen



tracey thorn

I suspect that like a lot of people, I like Tracey Thorn “a bit.” I bought her hits with Everything But The Girl ‘Missing’ and‘Walking Wounded’ and her collaboration with Massive Attack on ‘Protection,’ but that’s as close as I get to being a fan.

So why read her life story? Well I like any insight into the backstage world of pop stardom. At the age of 34 I still secretly harbour dreams to be a singer in a popular group and I cannot see how it can be anything less than the perfect lifestyle.


But of course it is. In Tracey’s intensely warm, readable and personal account she shares the highs of the unexpected resurrection and hit singles with her partner Ben Watt as EBTG, to the lows of being written off by critics and their struggle through Ben’s crippling illness.

I can see why this book from one of our more understated and maybe underappreciated artists became a Sunday Times bestseller. Part memoir, part social commentary, we are led on a gripping journey through the last few decades of the music industry. It feels like she’s telling us all about it over a pot of tea and plate of biscuits round the kitchen table.

Like Morrissey’s Autobiography, her early years are the best to read, full of exciting nostalgia and obsessions with boys, bands and fashion. As with so many of her generation, it is Punk that then sparks her into life and she soon forms the promising Marine Girls who go on to become favourites of Kurt Cobain. Continue reading


The Almost Nearly Perfect People



The Almost book cover


The last few years has seen our enthusiasm for all things Nordic grow. From their bleak television dramas to their chunky knitwear, it seems we can’t get enough of the Scandinavians.

In this timely book, writer Michael Booth leaves his adopted home in Denmark to travel through the five Nordic countries to discover the truth behind the myths and successes of these northern folk.

  • Why are the Danes the happiest people on earth when they pay the highest taxes?
  • Why do 54% of Icelanders believe in the existence of Elves?
  • Why do the Finns believe all Swedish men to be gay?
  • And most worryingly, why have 5% of Danish men had sex with an animal?!

Booth doesn’t just present us with the answers to these questions and other interesting facts, he writes with humour and gentle teasing about his findings. Some have accused him of being snotty, but I don’t agree, he’s just offering his opinion based on what he experiences from the point of view of his own liberal outlook. Fantastically readable and very funny, there is nothing to skip over here, a book packed with fascinating content. Continue reading

Great author, great director, great film, great read



 crossed keys book

Being a huge fan of film director Wes Anderson I could not wait to dig into this book which I’d heard was the inspiration for his great new movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Society of Crossed Keys contains Anderson’s selections from the writings of the great Austrian author Stefan Zweig.

The book is split into four parts, including a discussion about Zweig’s life and work, extracts from his memoir, a chapter from his only novel and one of his best loved stories in full.

 A Conversation with Wes Anderson

Here Anderson talks with Zweig’s biographer George Prochnik in a fascinating discussion where they introduce the author and examine the context in which his work was received at the time and survives today.wes anderson

Anderson describes how he hadn’t heard of Zweig until six or seven years ago when he bought a copy of Beware of Pity by chance. He then discovered the rest of the Austrian’s work and says here that The Grand Budapest Hotel contains elements “stolen” from several of his stories.

“M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig.”

Prochnik could be describing Anderson’s own films, known for their luxurious colours and eccentric cast of characters, as well as Zweig’s writing when he says “even in the little sketches he gives, there’s something so visually charismatic in just the suggestion of what these places were. We somehow feel an aura of that luminous life…”

grandbudapest lift

The World of Yesterday – selections from the memoirs of Stefan Zweig

These extracts make up a sizeable chunk of this book and rightly so as they are delightful to read. I am certainly keen to discover his full memoir now as I found this glimpse to be as the back cover described “an unrivalled evocation of bygone Europe.” A Europe before the First World War that I feel we do not know today.

zweig world of yday

Zweig describes the sense of security integral to his country, and the belief in progress over any religious or political factor. How people became stronger, healthier and more attractive thanks to sporting activities.

“We lived well, we lived with light hearts and mind at ease in old Vienna…”

Zweig offers beautiful, insightful windows into the lives of Austrian-Jews, the liberal optimism of the times, changes in attitudes towards sexuality and his early days as a writer.

“I felt to some extent that this ‘security’ complex weighed me down, made me more likely to be fascinated by those who almost recklessly squandered their lives, their time, their money…and perhaps readers may notice this preference of mine for intense, intemperate characters in my novels and novellas.” Continue reading