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Evie

My Life in Books

Is anyone else watching this?  6.30pm on weekdays, BBC2.

Anne Robinson is definitely not the right person for the job of host, though it's one of those programmes where much depends on the guests.  I watched the first two in the wrong order - today's was awful, partly because Sue Perkins is one of the most irritating people on the planet and Giles Coren not much better, but also because the pace was so frenetic, Anne kept interrupting, and the insane need to keep showing film clips instead of allowing the guests to talk was infuriating.  Much as I love Gregory Peck, I would rather they spent another couple of minutes talking about Moby Dick than showing the great Mr Peck harpooning a rubber whale.

I then watched yesterday's, however, and that was better.  At first I was incredulous at the pairing of PD James and Richard Bacon, but it turned out to be inspired - Richard B. was a revelation, and was wonderful with 'Phyllis' as he kept calling her, and she responded wonderfully to him, and was generally wonderful herself.  She is amazing for 90!!  Still too much interrupting from Anne and too many film clips, but some interesting snippets from the guests along the way, and was an enjoyable half hour.

It's a shame it's all so rushed - it's a great idea, a sort of Desert Island Discs for books, but it's all done at breakneck speed without any real discussion.  Interesting that the books chosen as the top books by each guest so far are three classics plus Flashman.

So - basically another opportunity missed by the BBC, but still fun.  Love the fact that the BBC is having a year of books...why not make programmes about books every year?
TheRejectAmidHair

Re: My Life in Books

Evie wrote:
So - basically another opportunity missed by the BBC, but still fun. †Love the fact that the BBC is having a year of books...why not make programmes about books every year?


"... another opportunity missed by the BBC ..."

That's the problem, isn't it? I certainly don't mind lighter programmes on books, or a "bit of fun" once in a while. It's when everything has to be fun, I find it tiresome. Why is it that the †Beeb never wants to go for anything more substantial? Why can't we have a television version of the TLS with serious discussion of serious themes? The BBC are putting on an entire season of books-related programme. And yet, not a single programme in the series has serious intellectual content. I think that's a sad reflction.

It's the ethos of modern television, I'm afraid - everything has to be fun. †Well, when fun is so ubiquitous and so unremitting, I frankly find myself longing for a bit of misery...
Apple

Himadri Wrote:
Quote:
That's the problem, isn't it? I certainly don't mind lighter programmes on books, or a "bit of fun" once in a while. It's when everything has to be fun, I find it tiresome. Why is it that the  Beeb never wants to go for anything more substantial? Why can't we have a television version of the TLS with serious discussion of serious themes? The BBC are putting on an entire season of books-related programme. And yet, not a single programme in the series has serious intellectual content. I think that's a sad reflction.

It's the ethos of modern television, I'm afraid - everything has to be fun.  Well, when fun is so ubiquitous and so unremitting, I frankly find myself longing for a bit of misery...


They have to justify something which is considered minority interest with the fact it is being paid for by the license payer, ie everyone and as such they have to try and make it accessible to everyone not just high brow intellectuals. (I am with Evie on this one though I can't stand Ann Robinson)
Evie

Well, I do watch TV mostly for fun - it's the notion that something serious, like books, can't be entertaining as well that is tiresome. †I do like my fun to be thought-provoking too. †I think Sebastian Faulks is doing a good job on a Saturday night at playing it relatively straight, despite the minor faults (Faulks' faults!).

But when Sue Perkins was trying to promote Crime and Punishment as the book among her choices that she would pick as the top one, and Anne was trying get her to choose The Very Hungry Caterpillar instead, it was annoying.

Desert Island Discs is a great programme - it's this sense that on TV things have to move quickly, that people can't listen or watch for more than 30 seconds at a time, that gets in the way. †Presumably that's why we have to have all the silly visual gimmicks in the Faulks programme - it's much less annoying when he is just talking to the camera!
TheRejectAmidHair

Apple wrote:
They have to justify something which is considered minority interest with the fact it is being paid for by the license payer, ie everyone and as such they have to try and make it accessible to everyone not just high brow intellectuals.


Highbrow intellectuals pay their licence fees as well.
county_lady

Why can't we have both the fun programmes and a monthly in depth discussion on books and not about authors' lives?
Mikeharvey

I'm enjoying this series in spite of being suspicious of it.  I agree that Bacon and James was a good pairing.  And  I agree that it would be good to have a serious programme about books with in-depth discussion, but I suppose we never will - not until we have a TV equivalent of Radio 3.
Apple

Himadri Wrote:
Quote:
Highbrow intellectuals pay their licence fees as well.
I would hope that they do!! †Wink

What I meant was, to make it worth their while making it they have to make accessible to the majority of people and try and get as many viewers as they can for it, to justify it being made in the first place and the majority of people are not high brow intellectuals, for example I come from an area where the majority of people are more likely to relate to Shameless and Jeremy Kyle.

Mike Wrote:
Quote:
I'm enjoying this series in spite of being suspicious of it. †I agree that Bacon and James was a good pairing. †And †I agree that it would be good to have a serious programme about books with in-depth discussion, but I suppose we never will - not until we have a TV equivalent of Radio 3.
I always thought that that was meant to be the point of BBC4 - to be a TV equivalent of Radio 3 but lately it has a lot programmes which are repeated from BBC1/2 and vice versa.
mike js

I watched the first two of these. Richard Bacon and P D 'Phyllis' James were a really interesting pairing and I enjoyed much of the first episode. The second episode didn't seem to work at all.

I agree about theTV/film clips being unwelcome. Just because this is discussing books on TV, why insist on visuals. Isn't the subject books read during a life, not adapted screenplays watched?
Evie

Quite - and when Anne interrupts what a guest is trying to say about why a book is important to them to show a clip of a TV or film adaptation, it's just rude!  (Mind you, am happy to see Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff any day of the week, but that's another story...!)

I am enjoying it (though agree that the second one just didn't work well at all), and it is, like Desert Island Discs, showing another side to some of the guests - such as Richard Bacon, for whom I have a new respect, and Hardeep Singh Kohli today - couldn't help but think of Himadri when he was talking about moving to Britain from India in the 60s at the age of 4, and growing up in Glasgow.

It would benefit from a better presenter - Anne R. says she loves books, and I'm sure she does, but she doesn't really seem to have a feel for literature, and is still too shrewish and bossy.  Shame Sue McGregor couldn't have done it!
Marita

Is ĎMy Life in Booksí something we could do on this board?
Evie

That's a great idea, Marita.
Apple

Mike Wrote:
Quote:
I agree about theTV/film clips being unwelcome. Just because this is discussing books on TV, why insist on visuals. Isn't the subject books read during a life, not adapted screenplays watched?
I agree too, with that but I can see why they do it, again its going back to "majority appeal" thing for example I know people who watched the (utterly fabulous) BBC Bleak House adaption a couple of years or so ago and loved it but had no idea it was book, (a couple of them had never even heard of Charles Dickens!) so there are a number of people out there who would recognise the books more by their adaptations, and if it wasn't for a lot of adaptations a lot of classic books would not get bought. Its a tenuous link but an example of this would be my friend who I got into reading that I have mentioned before a few times, she bought Wuthering Heights on the strength that it was mentioned in Twilight! She asked me about it, I told her it was great book (Wuthering Heights that is not Twilight!) and I mentioned an adaptation was going to be on shortly but warned her it would only give her a gist of what the story was, so then she watched the TV adaptation which came on - loved it and then bought the book and she was blown away by the book.

Also people like my husband who doesn't read at all, yet he has sat and watched the adaptations with me and (sometimes) enjoyed them his only knowledge of the books I read are from the tv adaptations.

Finally, it is brilliant idea Marita I was thinking along those lines as well that it might be a good idea to do something similar on here.
Chibiabos83

Absolutely - sounds like fun Smile
Rebecca

Isn't it funny how we all differ. I enjoyed Sue Perkins and Giles Coren; I think because I know the books they chose.

I found Clare Balding and Hardeep Singh Kohli a little strained; were they wondering why Anne Robinson was there?

We all seem to agree Ms Robinson is not right for this programme but who would we all prefer? I've been doing nothing in particular, the BBC only had to ask and I would have been there in a flash!
Ann

I watched it last night for the first time and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I loved all the old copies of her books that Clare Balding brought in ( as well as the photo of her on Mill Reef) and Anne R was not bad at all. I have time for anyone who loves books even though I dislike her very much usually.
Evie

The reason I don't like her in this is that we only know she loves books because she has said she does - her love of books doesn't come through at all.

I agree about the old books Clare brought in, and I love smelling books too!  I also loved PD James's copies of her books, which she had clearly had for decades and were much loved.
Marita

I agree with you about Anne Robinson, Evie. Itís as if she canít understand that a book could be that important to anyone. Thatís the feeling I get anyway. I try to ignore her and focus on her guests.

Marita
Sandraseahorse

Until Clare Balding brought her books in I was thinking that the series would have worked as well, if not better, on the radio.  I too wanted to touch the books and smell them.
Evie

I thought the Snows were very boring last night, though their final choices were fun, especially Peter's - good for him!  

Anne really is appalling - her bias for journalism came through in the Trevor McDonald programme, it's clearly the only thing she gets excited about.  Still waiting for an ounce of intelligence on her part to show through - looks like I might be waiting in vain.

I really do hate the way she always asks, whenever a guest chooses a novel, what the plot is, as though nothing else about a novel is interesting; she has no other question, anyway.  Fortunately most of the guests go quickly beyond this to talk about more interesting aspects of the novels they have chosen.

And I can't stand Sir Trevor as a newsreader, but he came across very well on this, and his explanation of his love of TS Eliot's poetry was inspiring.  Rebecca Front was very sweet.

The first one was still by far the best programme.  Looking forward to the rest - hope it might become a regular seasonal feature in that 6.30 slot.
Evie

Flippin'eck, Sister Wendy! †Haven't seen her for years.  Another incongruous pairing - Sister Wendy and Laurence Llewellyn Bowen - but they were great with each other, and Sister Wendy brought the best out in Anne, who was very animated and interested and even quite sweet!  Will look out for the TJ Clark book, and really must read Jan Morris's Venice, which has been on my TBR list for a few years.
Evie

Did anyone see this last night?  (Or am I the only person still watching...?)  I have it recorded, but am not sure if I want to watch it - Alastair Campbell and Jeanette Winterson, two people I dislike enormously.  People can be surprising, though.
Ann

I very much enjoyed this episode although it was certainly a strange pairing. I like Laurence LB more than I thought I would and they were both very kind to each other which was lovely.
Chibiabos83

You're not the only one, E/V - I've just started watching. A bizarre pairing, Winterson and Campbell, and I wondered if sparks would fly, but they were both excellent. And both had an obvious passion for books. Anne: "For those who haven't read it, would you briefly summarise the plot [of Madame Bovary/Jane Eyre/anything]...?" But a much better programme than I'd imagined it would be. No in-depth analysis - as one would expect from a programme of this length which skates over ten books each time - but for what it is, very enjoyable.
Evie

Thanks, I will watch it - didn't expect to like Richard Bacon or Trevor McDonald, but both were great on this.  It's just the thought of the two of them together being smug and arrogant (Winterson and Campbell, I mean).  Perhaps books really do have a civilising influence!  I don't doubt their passion for books, just whether I can overcome my prejudice.  :0)
Chibiabos83

I'm very bad at judging people's reactions, but I don't expect you to find either of them smug or arrogant. And I loved Jeanette Winterson's story of her mother's revised edition of Jane Eyre!
county_lady

Evie, Hubby an I are watching. He was bored stiff by the Snows and enchanted by Sister Wendy and LLB! I've enjoyed most so far as long as I tune out most of Anne Robinson. We still have to see last night's (we record on a series link) so I'm glad Gareth thought they were excellent.
Rebecca

Jeanette Winterson was wonderful...I've only read Oranges but now I want to read more of her books.
Evie

County Lady, I agree with your husband on all counts!  And with you about Anne - she's not right at all for this, and seems bored half the time and patronising the rest.  Unless she can talk about journalism, then she becomes a bit more animated.  I still think the first one was my favourite, with Richard  Bacon and PD James.

I have just watched last night's, and am very glad I did - I still found Jeanette Winterson awful, but she does have interesting things to say about books - and yes, the story of Mrs Winterson rewriting the ending to Jane Eyre was priceless!  (Jeanette has lived off her tales of her dreadful childhood for too long, though.)  I liked Alastair Campbell's book choices - would like to read the one about Lincoln.  Also really must read Orlando.
Chibiabos83

Argh! Two minutes in and I already want to smack Anne in the mouth... Smile
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
Alastair Campbell and Jeanette Winterson, two people I dislike enormously. †


Oh, goodness, me too. I do think JW says some interesting things that I agree with, but her vast self-belief and dismissiveness of people who are not her annoys me hugely. AC is also a vast walking ego, with no sense of his own lack of talent. Unfortunately a great many people get swept along in his wake (viz. him talking about his crappy novel at the South Bank).  I haven't managed to catch any of these programmes but obviously will have to try.
Mikeharvey

I enjoyed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire last night.  And her lovely joke volume from Evelyn Waugh.  And her choice of Alan Bennet's 'The Uncommon Reader'. And now I know how Elizabeth McGovern comes to be living in England.
Evie

I enjoyed last night's too - the Evelyn Waugh joke book was wonderful - I love the way she said 'He knew I wouldn't read it!'.  And I agree, the choice of the Alan Bennett was great - as was her anecdote about him refusing to stay at Chatsworth, preferring a 'crumby hotel'.  A good friend of mine is a very good friend of 'Debo', so it was good to see her in the flesh at last - have only seen photos before.  Elizabeth McGovern was very charming.  And chose Middlemarch, not just as one of her books, but as her top recommendation!  I loved her comment that it was 'a book to live your life by' - my sentiments exactly!

It really is a lovely series - great shame it's coming to an end.  I do hope they might make it a regular series - there has been lots of discussion of it on the BBC's Points of View messageboard, nearly all of it positive, despite continued reservations about Anne Robinson as host.
Sandraseahorse

I've just caught up with the episode with the Snows and I'm afraid that I must dissent with those who thought it was boring.  I found Peter Snow's choices very odd - perhaps he was trying too hard to be a "character."

But I enjoyed several of Dan Snow's choices and liked  his anecdote about listening to Derek Jacobi reading  "The Illiad" on audio while he (Dan) was at the helm on a hairy Atlantic sailing.  Although I haven't read "Dreadnought", I agree with his comment that great history writing can be as unput-downable as a novel.
Mikeharvey

I thought Thursday's programme with the comedienne and Larry Lamb was the weakest so far.  Her choice of books was disappointing and betrayed a lack of wide reading.
Evie

I agree - though I did enjoy Larry Lamb's choices.  Sarah Millican was lovely, but as you say, her reading choices were disappointing and she was the first person not to choose anything literary.  I had only been thinking how surprising it was that the choices had focused so much on classics and serious non-fiction, apart from the 'guilty pleasures' - but all of hers were very lightweight.

Last one tonight, I think - sadly!
Apple

Sandraseahorse Wrote:
Quote:
I agree with his comment that great history writing can be as unput-downable as a novel.
So do I, a well written interesting factual history book can be riveting and is one of my favourite reads and I much prefer a factual history book to a novel.
mike js

I've watched about half of these overall, I suppose, and have generally enjoyed them. Robert Harris was very interesting, and read well from Lucky Jim too. Hooray for Just William.

I cannot quite recall Trinny Woodall's choices, largely because I was somewhat disturbed by her lips - are they real?

Has anyone read any Robert Harris? I'd like to give Enigma a try.

p.s. Will we be trying a 'Life in Books' thread on BigReaders? I think this could be very interesting and fun, though I fear that if I were to contribute there would be nothing surprising to many regulars, in my choices.
TheRejectAmidHair

mike js wrote:
p.s. Will we be trying a 'Life in Books' thread on BigReaders? I think this could be very interesting and fun, though I fear that if I were to contribute there would be nothing surprising to many regulars, in my choices.


I did try starting one, but it didn't seem to take off:

http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/about1478.html
Evie

mike, I did notice there was a distinct lack of SF among the choices on the TV programme - shame.  So you can redress the balance on Himadri's thread.  I am sure you can still squeeze Middlemarch in there somewhere!  ;0)  (Himadri has given us an extra choice, after all.)
mike js

Oh, thanks for the link to thread, Himadri. I had managed to miss that. Shall pop over there and take a look.

And thanks, Evie, I'm sure I remember reading one or two SF books as a break from my studies of the classics. Surprised)
Evie

I very nearly included PKD's A Scanner Darkly in my list - an important book for me, and one I'd definitely recommend to anyone.
Green Jay

mike js wrote:
I've watched about half of these overall, I suppose, and have generally enjoyed them. Robert Harris was very interesting, and read well from Lucky Jim too. Hooray for Just William.

I cannot quite recall Trinny Woodall's choices, largely because I was somewhat disturbed by her lips - are they real?

Has anyone read any Robert Harris? I'd like to give Enigma a try.

p.s. Will we be trying a 'Life in Books' thread on BigReaders? I think this could be very interesting and fun, though I fear that if I were to contribute there would be nothing surprising to many regulars, in my choices.


This was the only episode I've seen so far. I was really quite impressed, - because my expectations were so low !  Wink  - though Anne is weird. I think her face is so stiff she can't talk properly any more.

Trinny Woodall's lips are not entirely natural but they are not quite so much like a cartoon fish's as they have been at times in the past. Her books were rather fun - her send-up of Barabra Cartland and the fact that she had about 70, all the same plot, on her boarding school shelf as a girl, which she lent out. The Count of Monte Cristo was her main choice.

I have read Robert Harris - Enigma, Fatherland (the best one) and Archangel, but not the ancient Roman ones. My husband started Pompei but gave up pretty soon.

I did feel that both guests, whatever their preferred reading matter, genuinely felt keen about reading and about their choices and liked reading aloud. I love William Brown, so that was a winner with me.
mike js

Thanks, Green Jay. I have ordered a copy of Enigma anyway, so shall give that a go.
Apple

Mike js Wrote:
Quote:
Has anyone read any Robert Harris? I'd like to give Enigma a try.
I have read it its really good, interesting characters and an engaging entertaining plot, but if I was to be totally honest with you  I'd recommend Fatherland more, I'd say read that one first it is much better than Enigma, it has more more pace and is one of the best "what if" alternate history stories I have ever read, I'd also recommend his factual book Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries, which also makes for compelling reading - if you are interested in that sort of thing.
mike js

Thanks, Apple! I shall see how I go with Enigma, now that I have ordered it. Will put Fatherland on to-be-read list
Green Jay

Apple wrote:
†I'd recommend Fatherland ... one of the best "what if" alternate history stories I have ever read.


Yes, totally agree with that, Apple.
mike js

So I have a copy of Enigma now, and am already well into it. Perhaps I should have tried Fatherland instead, given your recommendations, but I have an interest in cryptography, Bletchley and especially Alan Turing, so the background of the former novel appealed to me. I shall let you know how it goes when I've finished (probably on my reading blog thing, just to keep it going.)
Green Jay

I was hoping to catch up with all the programmes I missed but they had disappeared from our catch-up TV system, except the one I did see. That's probably gone now, too.  Sad
Chibiabos83

A new series of this starts today. It will be the usual mix of good and bad, but might be worth a look. Chris Hollins' choice of the Shoot Annual will surprise few people who have witnessed his mindless witterings on BBC Breakfast - no, I mustn't criticise, as of course these are supposed to be five books that mean something personal to the subject. He must have read something else since his teens, presumably. I'm quite looking forward to Pam Ayres and Don Warrington on Friday. He's still a dish.
Evie

Yes, I was delighted to see this was back - there were a few duds in the previous series (Sarah Millican sticks in the memory), but on the whole it was often surprising in a good way.

Really glad the Beeb have stuck with the series, even if it's only occasional.

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