Book Review – Man Up – How Do Boys Become Better Men? by Rebecca Asher

In these times of #Metoo, high profile scandals involving a lot of people in the public eye, and more noted levels of toxic masculinity, Man Up by Rebecca Asher is a timely, well researched study into the issue of where traditional male behaviour fits in the world.

The book looks at the issue that are facing the ideal and concept of what makes masculinity. So the books studies the main stage of life, from schools, the teenage years and adolescence, to masculinity in the work-place, father-hood, friendships between men at all stages in life, and the traditional male bonding activities, and how they shift and change in time.

Using a lot scientific studies to back up her findings, Rebecca Asher puts forward a number of theories and ideas, about what masculinity is, and how it has changed in the inter-net era. As a deputy editor on Woman’s Hour,  she will be aware that many of these issues are becoming more prevalent, with the easier spreading of new stories, and right-wing and left wing publications and political bodies taking opposing sides on the issue.

However, the book is not about what is happening now, it is about changing how things might be in the future, and how do boys find their ways to being good men, so how we treat Boys and Girls at school is something of an issue, with boys falling behind in academic circles, whilst their behaviour can lead exclusion and expulsion, or their prospects in the job market as a result of this.

The book is not really a call to arms, as the studies used only look at how things have been, rather than looking at how they could be, but the book is an interesting and informative read with plenty to say, for both genders, about the challenges that face the human-race as a whole.

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Book Review – The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale

Book Review

The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale

Picador Books

7 out of 10

The stories found in The Fat Artist are not for the squeamish, they are not for the delicate of stomach or sensibility, they are not for the easily offended, or people with a fixed opinion of beauty, humanity or decency. They are however, stories for people who like things that are out of the ordinary, things that are outside the narrow confines of modern taste.

Over the seven stories in the book, we are introduced to a number of different characters, from the slightly strange to the desperate, people looking for a way out of jobs, relationships, maybe life even.

The title story looks at the plight of Tristan Hurt, an artist who becomes his own nightmare installation. Gorging himself on dangerously high levels of food, he becomes the heaviest man who ever lived. His naked body, becoming bigger and bigger with every day, every viewer bringing him food to eat, he lives in the room, his every need taken care of by staff and technology. As the novelty of his installation wears off, so do the audience, until he has gained a certain amount of notoriety, of fame even the most toxic type cannot fill the void in his life.

In Don’t Worry Baby, Miles and Odelia are a couple with a young child on the run, and their new lives come to an abrupt during an eventful holiday, and the plane ride that takes them far away from the town and the life that they once knew.

In If I had Possession Over Judgement Day Caleb struggles to hold down two jobs, one involving the transport and care of live squid, and when a different, easier type of life beckons, he takes the easier way out, which leads, unsurprisingly to catastrophic results.

The writing in this collection is of a uniformly high standard, touching on the types of characters that populate the work of Bukowski. Benjamin Hale cares about both his readers, and the characters in his book, and he is a definite talent to watch out for.

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Book review – Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Book Review

Fire and Fury -Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

6 out of 10

We all knew what to expect from this book, the story of how a man, completely unfit for the office, unprepared for the role, and temperamentally unsuited to it became the American President.

Donald Trump saw running for President as a way of promoting his own brand, of becoming more than a slightly faded reality television star, a dinosaur close to extinction. What he, and his party of advisors didn’t expect was that he would be the President. His team were loyal to the Trump brand, and obviously included three of his children, Donald Jnr, Eric, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, as well as a few trusted aides, such as Steve Bannon, or the number of ill-fated press secretaries, who changed as more as the always contradictory Trump changed his mind, but none of them were prepared for politics, or had the patience to see it through to the end.

Trump is a president for the age though. His tweets, his junk-food diet, his toxic masculinity all play into a world-view that is more about publicity than it is about workable policy. Trump was a business man, with deep-pockets, very thin skin, and out-dated views of the world. He was used to getting his own way, never hearing no for an answer, so when the media started writing less than flattering information about him, it became Fake News. When someone made a point he disagreed with, he simply raised his own voice, like a petulant child.

What is obvious in this book is the level of toxicity within the Trump white-house. The high turn-over of staff, and how more thought seemingly goes into making Trump happy moment to moment than it does into having a long term plan for American prosperity, growth and development.

If this was a work of fiction, there would be complaints about the lack of believable, likable characters, but this is real life, in one of the most important offices in the world. The book was well researched and written by Michael Wolff, who had clear, unfettered access to many of Trump’s closest allies, but none of whom were that close or loyal to the President. Although, surprisingly this book was close to never being published, it is but the tip of the ice-berg in what will doubtless be published and become public knowledge in one of the most controversial Presidencys of all time.

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CD Review – Andy Twyman – Chickenbrain – One Man Band Blues

CD Review – Andy Twyman – Chickenbrain – One Man Band Blues

The one man band Andy Twyman has produced a set of his own songs and covers on his first release, Chickenbone.

Going for the same lo-fi shtick used by such performers as Seasick Steve, he has stripped the blues back to their foundations. A homely voice is mixed in with raw sounding guitars, and percussion to give a sound that is full, and impressive. Using a myriad of different guitar techniques, from slide to expert fingerpicking, the record makes a refreshing change from blues where it is polished to within an inch of its life.

His own songs, such as ‘Chickenbrain’, ‘Struck by Lightnin’’ and’Claudia’ show a pleasing grasp with song-writing and arrangements for a performer he seems only in his twenties, although the cover images come across as being self-consciously contrived, rather than authentic.

He also bravely covers such songs as ‘Smokestack Lightning’ ‘My Babe’, ‘Champagne and Reefer’ and Mr Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’, but the youth of his voice is really revealed here.

A few live gigs, and time will roughen up his voice, but this is one album that promises much from a new figure.

Ben Macnair

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Book Review – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer

Book Review – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer

All The Light We Cannot see is a novel that is sold as a book about war, but it is a lot more than that. With three main protagonists, it looks at war, at people, at redemption and humanity in its widest sense.

Marie Louise Leblanc has been blind since she was six, and Werner Penning has been an orphan,working in the same mine that killed his father. The final character is an old man, finding a world through his radio. War is never far away, but so too is hope, Marie Louise and Werner find that they have a lot in common, even when he is killed in action, and she survives all that the war has to offer her.

Marie is a woman of invention, not letting the tragedy that she lived through get to her. She looks after a small house that her father has made for her. Even though the Germans would like it, it doesn’t fall into their hands.

At just over four hundred pages, there is a lot in All The Light We Cannot See, but it requires that level of writing to get the many points across to the reader. The book is one of the best written books that I have read recently looking at a time in our history, that we would much rather forget about.

Ben Macnair


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Book Review – A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Book review – A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

David Grossman’s Man Booker International prize winning novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar is one of those short novels that packs a lot into its short frame. At less then 200 pages, this tale of a comedian in a small Israeli town talks a lot about friendship, the state of the world, and what passes for comedy and entertainment in different parts of the world.

The story starts with the unnamed narrator at a comedy club. This follows a phone call that the narrator receives from someone who he has forgotten, but as he watches the comedian on the stage, and the phone call he remembers him vaguely, as someone he went to college with, but the comedian attaches far more importance to their relationship.

As he is on stage, the audience, and the readers are not sure as to what to think. Is the comedian really falling apart? Is he trying to be offensive? Has he forgotten where the boundaries of taste and decency are?

We are never sure, as to whether it is real, or a series of accidents. As he gets closer and closer to the line, and goes over it, the audience’s nervous, delayed reactions show that neither they, or the man entertaining them knows where the lines are.

So as he mines ever deeper and darker recesses of his life for public consumption, and taboo subjects are bought up, more and more of the audience are left in an uncomfortable silence, a lot voting with their feet and leaving, the remaining audience wanting to see the spectacle unfold before their eyes.

As the story reaches its end, the narrator, and his former college friend, who have gone on distinctly different career paths are left, with unanswered questions about time, destiny, friendship and what it all means.

The story is a timely one, with talent shows becoming ever more desperate for good viewing figures, and the tragic back-story being as important as the talent on display. A Horse Walks into a Bar is a reminder that some things are best left unsaid, by both individuals, and societies as a whole.

Ben Macnair

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Book review – Treats by Lara Williams

Book Review

Treats by Lara Williams

Over the course of 21 short stories, Lara Williams introduces us to a number of different characters, all at moments of crisis, or in the developments of crisis, or whole lives are revealed in the space of a few pages.

We have the post university come-down, of no jobs, or unrewarding jobs, of partners who are never what you hoped that they might be, of taxidermy, of sly humour, of the blackness of the human heart.

With an eye on both surprise, and comfort, on the familiar, and the unknown Williams sets out to expose 21st century life, morals, ethics and mores in a way that is both realistic, and startling. We see in It Begins the post university job interviews, that lead to jobs, and the people you meet along the way, the broken relationships, knowing that you are worth more than a very bad first date.

In A Lover’s Guide to Meeting Shy Girls or Break Up Record we meet heart-breaker in chief Devon, and his girl-friend Emily, and their break-up whilst watching Annie Hall, or in Both Boys, were two a girl meets two boys on the same night, and the story that unfolds for all three of them.

It’s a Shame about Ray covers the life of Ray, and the decisions that he makes, and in avoiding becoming the very thing that he hates, he becomes something else entirely. Dates looks at all of the rituals that we go through when first dating someone new, the questions to avoid, and the questions to avoid answering.

Taxidermy is the story of Neala, who in less than three years loses her boyfriend, her job, and her hair, and finds solace in stuffing animals, whilst Penguins looks at how the older we get, our friends seem to get busier and busier.

At 125 pages we are only shown a small snapshot of the interior lives of these characters. Some of the tales are sketches rather than full blown stories, but the all add up to something special within the pages of this very unique collection of short stories.




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