Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills — New Review

It used to be my Saturday morning ritual to watch the previous night’s episode of The Last Leg, so when I saw Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills at a work book sale, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The back cover promised that the book would show me that ‘being proudly different can see you find your feet’, which is a message I’m on board with.

I also decided that I would always try to uplift people, make them feel good, and remind them that life is good at every opportunity.

Best Foot Forward, Adam Hills

A lot of what I love about The Last Leg carries over into Best Foot Forward; Adam Hills is earnest, and his focus on positive comedy is uplifting. The stories he tells about the people are joyous and moving. I particularly loved the whole chapter on his appearance with Kermit the Frog. Best Foot Forward, like The Little Book of Otter Philosophy and What Katy Did made me want to be a better person. (It also made me jealous that I don’t have ‘a passion’, but that’s not the fault of the book.)

You know the beginning of Moby Dick, when the narrator says that when he finds himself growing grim about the mouth and wants to knock people’s hats off, he takes to the sea? Well, I feel like knocking people’s hats off.

Rory Gilmore, Blame Booze and Melville (Amy Sherman Palladino, Daniel Palladino)

Best Foot Forward’s ability to make me look ‘on the bright side of life’ is even more impressive in the context of the week I was having. I hadn’t seen anyone in person in over a month, I was wrapping my head around a new work system and trying to do two weeks’ work in 4 days. To put it simply: life didn’t seem all that good. And yet, I still bought in to the premise of Best Foot Forward. I never resented it for its positivity.

If I knew anyone else who liked The Last Leg as much as I do, I’d consider sending them this book to read. But then I’d think again, because I want to keep it on my shelf to read again. So instead I’ll just recommended that any such people buy their own copy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Yes Man by Danny Wallace — Reread Review

It’s been a long time since I last read Yes Man, but it’s had a lasting impression. In the intervening years, I’ve picked up every Danny Wallace book that happens to have come across my path. (At a quick count, that’s at least three other titles which I’ll get around to reviewing one of these days.) I’ve liked them all, but none of them have made me laugh like Yes Man did. Now that I’m so much older, I did worry that it wouldn’t have the same effect, but I’m glad to report that it did.

Let’s face it – there was no way in the world that Lizzie could think I was serious. I was a drunk man, suggesting she take a train – a train! – from Australia, on the basis that Edinburgh was ‘good’ because it was ‘big and funny and loadsa people’.

Yes Man, Danny Wallace

Yes Man made me laugh out loud several times, but the book isn’t just a comedic autobiography, though that was certainly what I remembered about it. It surprised me, this time, by also being a genuinely touching love story, and a satisfyingly tricky whodunnit. (I was convinced I was right about that, and when I turned out not to be, the clue was right there all the time!)

“Why are Germans phoning you up under the impression that you’re a three-man teenage boyband? Because I’ve known you for a while, now, and you are nothing like a three-man teenage boyband —”

Yes Man, Danny Wallace

And Danny Wallace’s quest to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything also made me think about the ‘yes’es in my own life. There haven’t been too many of those this year, what with working from home and social distancing rules preventing me from traveling to see my friends, none of whom live close enough for me to walk to. Still, I was able to find some, which added a nice uplift to my mood.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry — Reread Review

Moab is My Washpot is one of those books I read once, as a teenager or young adult, found one quotation that really mattered to me and so decided that I must love. (I suspect Brideshead Revisited, which I will revisit, is another.) Rereading it, not only did I not remember vast swathes of the book, I also found myself not really enjoying much of it.

I am not actually sure that I am capable of thoughts, let alone feelings, except through language.

Moab is My Washpot, Stephen Fry

Perhaps this is jus because I don’t really get on with autobiography, but I just didn’t find it that interesting. Stephen Fry’s description of himself as a child is quite different to what I might have imagined, but his life is still fairly normal. There are a few funny incidents – though on this reread, I found the story of the mole rather too infused with artificial significance.

Stephen Fry’s tone seemed patronising to me, in a way it didn’t when I read Mythos and, presumably, in a way it didn’t when I was a young adult because more of the material was actually new to me then than it is now. There were passages and offhand references which seemed quite dismissive of certain groups of people – namely his fans and anyone who enjoys revising media multiple times.

And then I saw him and nothing was ever the same again.
The sky was never the same colour, the moon never the same shape: the air never smelt the same, food never tasted the same. Every word I knew changed its meaning, everything that once was stable and firm became as insubstantial as a puff of wind, and every puff of wind became a solid thing I could feel and touch.

Moab is My Washpot, Stephen Fry

In short, it was fine, particularly if you go in with measured expectations. It didn’t hold up to the memory I had of it as being in some way supremely insightful. Even the one quotation that I liked had no resonance for me now.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig — New Review

Reasons to Stay Alive was an unexpected gift from Ally and, after slogging through my last two books, was a delightfully quick read. When I bother with twitter at all, Matt Haig is one of the people I follow, so I was vaguely aware that he’d done writing about mental health, but I hadn’t actually read any of his books until this one!

There’s a cushion. Let’s just stay here and look at it and contemplate the infinite sadness of cushions.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Given the serious subject matter, it’s impressive how light the book is, without ever seeming not to take depression and suicidal impulses seriously. The descriptions are vivid and clear, and seem to give a pretty good insight into what it’s like to live with combined depression and anxiety.

The one thing depression has told you is that a day can be a long and intense stretch of time.
THEN ME: Oh God, yes.
NOW ME: Well, then don’t worry about the passing of time. There can be infinity inside a day.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Although the book is called ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, I wouldn’t really class it as self-help. There’s not advice in there, as such. As Matt Haig himself says, reading about other people who’ve experienced depression and come out the other side can be a comfort. There’s not any one way to actually get out the other side and so, although Matt Haig describes some of what works for him, it’s certainly not a step-by-step guide.

Never say ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘cheer up’ unless you’re also going to provide detailed, foolproof instructions.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Perhaps because of that, I don’t think the book is only for people with experience of depression or anxiety. It’s an interesting, easy read, and although it’s not the kind of thing I’d usually pick up, I did enjoy it. The positive thinking is contagious, which is probably part of the point! I know of a few people who’ve said it was life-changing for them, but it didn’t quite get to that level for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Nella Last’s War by Nella Last — Reread Review

Every time I read Nella Last’s War, or watch Housewife, 49, I start wishing I could write as engaging a diary of my own. But I just don’t seem to have the knack of making my own days or thoughts seem interesting, not to mention my total inability to be consistent. I started a new diary system at the beginning of this year, but I haven’t touched it since early June, and even then I was sporadic.

I’m dreadfully balanced at times, and can see both sides – the weakness and strength of both viewpoints. It must be my Libra birth star, or as the boys used to say when they were cross, ‘just ornery cussedness’.

Nella Last’s War, Nella Last

Of course, Nella Last’s diaries have been edited. Days in which nothing of interest happened have been cut out, leaving only the entries which contribute to a narrative. Maybe, if I did that, I could make my own life seem interesting! (Assuming, of course, that I wrote enough entries to require editing.)

I thought Nella Last’s diaries might be uplifting reading, during lockdown. There ought to be some similarities, living through a national emergency, everybody’s lifestyle changing so quickly and out of their control. But I’ve really struggled to sit down to any reading. Now that I’m home all the time, it just never seems to be at the top of the to-do-list. As much as I did enjoy Nella Last’s diaries, it took me far longer to finish them than it usually takes me to finish a book.

She says she prays to God to strike Hitler dead. Cannot help thinking if God wanted to do that he would not have waited till Mrs Helm asked him to do so.

Nella Last’s War, Nella Last

Perhaps that’s why I just don’t have very much to say about Nella Last’s War this time around. I enjoyed it for the same reasons I enjoyed it last time, because Nella Last had a gift for making her life sound interesting. I took a lot of quotations from it for my own diary, if I ever actually get around to writing one!

It’s definitely worth a read, if you haven’t already, but do be warned it might make you wish you could replicate the effects!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham — New Review

As a huge fan of Gilmore Girls, I picked up Lauren Graham’s autobiography without hesitation when I saw it at a work book sale. I’m not the kind of person who reads much celebrity gossip, and I can count the number of autobiographies I’ve read on the fingers of one hand, so I can’t necessarily judge Talking as Fast as I Can against other books of its kind. What I can do is say that it was a light, easy read which seemed to take me hardly any time at all to get through.

There were times when the writing was self-consciously self-deprecating in a way that didn’t necessarily seem natural to me, such as when Lauren Graham ‘reveals’ the Hollywood secrets of losing weight and getting exercise. Despite this, I enjoyed most of the content of the book — especially the focus on Gilmore Girls. It made me want to rewatch the series, which can hardly be a bad thing.

Of the two autobiographies I’ve read in recent months, I’d say I liked Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick slightly better, but Talking as Fast as I Can might well be the perfect quick read for someone’s summer!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick – New Review

I’m not usually a big reader of autobiographies — I don’t even have an autobiography shelf on goodreads, and I obsessively categorise everything. I might never have picked Scrappy Little Nobody up had I not heard Anna Kendrick talk about writing it in some interview or other. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it must have left a good impression, which the book certainly lived up to.

Once I started reading, I connected with Scrappy Little Nobody immediately. It made me laugh within the first couple of pages. Not only that, but one of Anna Kendrick’s stories from her childhood felt like it could have happened to me. When a bully attempted to frame her for writing mean graffiti about her friends, Anna tried to prove it couldn’t have been her by measuring the distance from the ground, and comparing it to her own height.

That’s how you save a friendship: compulsive documentation!

Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

I’ve done something not entirely dissimilar: when the leaders of my former writing group tried to tell me I wrote too often with C and A, and not enough with anyone else, I counted how many times I’d written with C to prove that they were wrong. I also started including a table alongside my monthly writing report to show that I’d initiated attempts at writing with every other writer. A habit I’ve kept up, even though I’m three writing groups removed from that situation by now. Enough about me: did you know Anna Kendrick kept a notebook of Claudia Kishi’s outfits from The Baby-Sitters Club books?

Claudia was sprawled on the floor, halfway under her bed…She was wearing a wonderful Claudia outfit – a purple-and-white striped bodysuit under a gray jumper-thing. The legs of the bodysuit stretched all the way to her ankles, but she was wearing purple push-down socks anyway. Around her middle was a wide purple belt with a buckle in the shape of a telephone. And on her feet were black ballet slippers.

BSC Outfit Archive

The publisher’s official website informs me that Scrappy Little Nobody is a book of ‘autobiographical essays’, which explains why it jumps around in time a little, rather than being in strictly chronological order. I didn’t particularly feel that each essay had a conclusion, though, they seemed more like collections of anecdotes around a unifying theme — which is pretty much what I wanted, anyway! The voice comes through very well, and Anna Kendrick has succeeded in seeming down-to-earth, despite her fame. Some of the stories touch on topics – drug use, sex and crime – which I was somewhat surprised to find talked about with so much apparent honesty, which helped Scrappy Little Nobody feel authentic and not neutered to be safe for public consumption.

This book might be for you if you liked Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart, though the style is a little different. (I enjoyed Is it Just Me? but readers who found Miranda too twee are less likely to have that problem with Scrappy Little Nobody.)

Next, I’ll be reading The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford.

Rating: 4 out of 5.