Book Reviews: Pleasure In The Free State, Or The Pulse Of The Bookshop

March 12, 2019

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The Pleasure Of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser

Queen of the Free State by Jennifer Friedman

Pulse by Felix Francis

The Snooty Bookshop: Fifty Literary Postcards by Tom Gauld


This eclectic collection of essays from 43 writers – some literary superstars (Doris Lessing, JG Ballard, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and others) and some less well-known authors, at least to mainstream readers – is released as part of the fundraising for Give A Book, a charity that delivers books to groups of people in the UK who may not have access to them, including poor schoolkids and prisoners. Fittingly for a project that practically seeks to encourage reading, The Pleasure Of Reading is packed with material that aims for the same goal using intellectual and emotional means. The essays are rich with nostalgia, but are never cheesy, instead warmly recreating the context in which each writer discovered the power of words and the worlds they could introduce – and so, by inference, formed the first influences on the future, significant careers of their readers. Editor Antonia Fraser also gives each writer a chance to list some of their favourite books and to justify their reasons for those choices. There are a number of interesting overlaps in those selections, providing fodder for another potential essay – on the topic of lasting inspiration. And in the thoughts of the readers who became writers who want others to become readers, there is a great deal of insight into what it takes to be an author with a chance of success. The title is a clear missive: if you consider yourself a reader, this is worth a look. – BD


Queen of the Free State is a childhood memoir that covers a young girl’s life up to teenage years in a small Free State town. Jennifer grows up in the 1950s,  watching the world around her with the sharp vision of a child, enriched with  fantasy images she creates herself, informed later by personal opinion and adult behaviour. Being Jewish and English-speaking, she experiences a distant and suspicious attitude in this rural Afrikaner community.   Much of the story is told in  great detail as the young girl watches everything happening in her world. This sometimes gets rather tedious. In context, as a memoir in which a period in time is relived, though, it works well enough. – DB


Pulse takes you inside the Emergency & Accident ward of a local UK hospital, then to major racecourse events as a spectator watching steeplechase, and introduces you to Dr Ranking, an emergency specialist who suffers from psychiatric disorder but uses her diagnostic skill to solve a mystery that is put aside by the local constabulary and coroner. This is fiction writing in the best tradition, giving the reader interesting and worthy background information as the story unfolds. The race course drama, with its medical and veterinary support, the management, the jockeys and the betting, makes this an interesting and intriguing read with a dark secret running along to the finish line. – DB


Tom Gauld is a cartoonist who contributes to a number of top-end publications, including The Guardian and New Scientist and combines a distinctive, relatively simple illustration style with incisive deadpan humour. This book is, rather than an annual – the format many cartoonists utilise to showcase their work – a portfolio of postcards centred around the themes of books, writing and literature. The clever binding protects the postcards while allowing the reader to take one out of the collection from time to time should they feel a particular gag will appeal to a friend or colleague. In that regard, The Snooty Bookshop is a lovely resource for writers, but in terms of its humour and value to general readers, it’s no less enjoyable, with sophisticated, beautifully delivered observations inspiring consistent and sustained smiles. – BD[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]