Rekindling an interest

For a long while I’d harboured the idea of acquiring an e-reader. I reasoned that I would be much more likely to read if I could take books with me in a format that would be more portable and also searchable. However, I could never quite bring myself to pull the trigger because, for many years now, I just haven’t had the compulsion to read books.

The last book I read was On The Road by Frank Skinner, over five years ago. Since then, my mother has bought me Michael J. Fox’s second autobiography (Always Looking Up) and, with grand intentions, I bought myself Richard Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth when it was released. I haven’t made it beyond a skim of the first chapter of either, despite the fact I do want to glean what lies between the hardback covers of each. I just haven’t been compelled enough to physically carry them with me on my daily commute when I would have the dead time to read them.

This perceived barrier to entry had also caused me to miss out on a number of technical books that I might otherwise have read and I had become acutely aware that, over the last few years, new techniques were passing me by. I used to jump at the chance of reading about some emerging practices in the Web development scene. If I look back ten to fifteen years on my Amazon order list it’s loaded with technical tomes.

But, somehow, I just got out of the habit of reading and I wasn’t sure that even if I took the plunge and bought an e-reader, I’d be able to sustain the urge to do so. After attending The Future of Web Design back in April I learned of several development books that I wanted to read and decided that I should at least give the e-reader route a try.

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The Long Way Round

I read Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman’s tale of their motorcycle expedition Eastward from London to New York while we were on holiday recently, and found it to be an enthralling read.

The book begins with a short excerpt from much later in the journey, before delving into the background of the two actors, lending some insight as to how they ended up taking on the treacherous trip.

Throughout the story the viewpoint changes between Ewan and Charlie’s narration, giving a good insight into how each stage of the trip is affecting them personally. Maybe it’s due to me being closer in age to Ewan, but I found his chapters a bit more readable than Charlie’s at first, mostly due to Charlie being a bit of a sulk at times.

The book really shines when they’re out in the middle of nowhere, relying on the goodwill of strangers to put them up for the night, or to repair a part on one of the bikes. Some of the trip comes across as soul destroying from the futility of their efforts against the harsh terrain, but it’s these sections which are the waypoints of the journey, and it’s hard to put the book down until they’ve emerged relatively unscathed at the next scheduled stop.

I’ve always admired Ewan McGregor due to the way he’s forged his own path through his career, trying his hand at each facet of his chosen art, so it was good to learn more about the man through the course of the book. His worries and his weaknesses are almost refreshing to read, when compared to the polished image of most movie stars.

It’s this aspect of the book that keeps it enjoyable to the end, as even when the most physically demanding part of the journey is over with, the men still have the emotional turbulance to deal with due to the time spent away from their families.

It’s that aspect that the book communicates to a far greater extent than the tv series, which went more for the drama of the geographical journey than it did the resulting spiritual one. By the last page I felt as if I’d been on that journey with them at times, despite me sitting in the warm Mediterranean sun whilst I read.

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Frank Skinner by Frank Skinner

I picked this autobiography up in early January, planning to save it as my holiday book on that ill advised trip to Malta. Although the holiday wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, the book was genuinely entertaining and shed a whole new light on Frank, or Chris Collins as he was born.

I’ve always found him entertaining in small doses, although I find his chat show a bit too cringeworthy to watch on a regular basis. Back in Y2K (haven’t heard that one in a while), Fliss and I went to see the play Cooking with Elvis starring Frank, and it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It was three parts smut to two parts smut and made no pretentions of being otherwise.

And that’s Frank, at the end of the day, and his book says as much. He comes across as a bit rough and working class because he is exactly those things, and although he’s enjoyed some fine success in the last ten years or so, what went before is a tale of a man who stumbles along wondering the same thing many of us wonder far too late into our lives – “what do I want to do when I grow up?”

His tone is informal and friendly throughout, and by the third page he says that if you’ve read that far then he considers you a mate and he might as well tell you the rest. It’s a nice touch, and as the book flits between present day and his childhood, you get a good idea of where Frank has been and where he’s at, all of the time never seeming to take life too seriously.

Along the way he breaks up with his girlfriend of the time, and their relationship had formed a prominent part of the commentary before that. He never wallows in the misery in a way that makes you feel you should drop your gaze, though, taking things like this in stride as much at the time of writing as he appears to have done all through his life.

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