Life on Air,
David Attenborough, BBC books, £18.99|
How refreshing it is to read an autobiography that does not require sleaze and impropriety to sell copies. Following Ulrika
Johnson and Edwina Currie's unabashed attempts to do just this, Attenborough's working memoirs of his professional career from being turned down from a job in radio at the age of 26 to becoming one of Britain's best-loved programme makers of natural history are as charming as they are interesting.
If you enjoy his films, ranging from Life on Earth to the Life of Mammals, then you'll enjoy this book. His enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and the book is full of amusing anecdotes of a job that by its very nature is unpredictable.
Yet Attenborough's career has been more varied than many assume. At a time when television was experimental and lacking audiences, his first break came when he was offered a job working as a trainee producer for the Zoo Quest series. He went on to become Controller of BBC 2, introducing colour television to Britain, but he never lost his love of rare wildlife in its natural habitat.
In 1973 he abandoned administration altogether
to return to documentary making and writing. From bat caves in Borneo to gorillas in Rwanda, his reminisces are both modest and entertaining.
Life of Pi,
Yann Martel, Cannongate, £12.99
Trapped on a lifeboat, following a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean, with a hyena, a monkey, a whinging zebra and a 4501b Bengal tiger called Richard Parker, the story of the oceanic wanderings of a boy called Pi sounds all a bit far-fetched to be given serious debate. But this book did win the Booker Prize and, whatever one's thoughts about this coveted literary award and its past beneficiaries, any work that wins that accolade deserves reading. And you won't be disappointed. This is a magical, but ultimately sad, tale of survival, full of wonder and beautifully written.
The narrator insists that it 'will make you believe in God', and it is true that the Muslim-Christian-animistic Pi does have reason to thank the Lord above for some of the good that happens on his journey, but there again the poor boy's terrible situation hardly bears the hallmarks of a kindly Being watching over him. However,
if the book doesn't change your views on religion, it will certainly enforce your belief in the power of imagination.
The shipwreck does not occur until you have passed the 100 page mark but the fact that Martel compels the reader to press on for a further 220 pages when restricted to one boy and a 20ft lifeboat says something about his remarkably imaginative, exotic and entertaining prose. This is a unique book, undeniably worthy of the Booker Prize.
Author of the quarter
News from No Man's Land is your third book in four years. Who or what first prompted
you to begin writing about your experiences? I've written around a dozen books, but my agent tells me to keep quiet about it because people will wonder why they've never heard of any of the
others; NFNML is in fact the third of an autobiographical trilogy, the
first (Strange Places, Questionable People) being an account of my life, the second (A Mad World. My Masters) a set of travellers' tales, and this one a look at the habit and practice of journalism.
If you hadn't been a journalist, what profession would you have gone into? I would like to have been an academic, but I didn't get a good enough degree. In particular, I think archaeology would have suited me.
When you go to a war zone, what are the things you pack first in your suitcase? The comforts, because those are the things that matter most plenty of CDs, plenty of books, bath oil, good shaving soap and aftershave, and plenty of single malt whiskey - for preference, Cask-Strength Laphroaig. Some tinned oysters and pate de foie gras, some good old brown sauce (HP for preference). Then maybe a pack or two of cards and a chess set, and plenty of good meaty 17th-century poetry. Finally, a pair of really good, comfortable boots (I get mine at Trickers). Everything else you can just pick up locally.
What is your next project? Getting to Baghdad in time for the bombing - no easy task, for someone who has been banned from Iraq since 1991.
What do you miss most when abroad? The Suffolk countryside, the King's Road, the Chelsea Arts Club.
When writing a book, have you got a preferred place of work and a favoured writing routine? I can't afford either, because I'm always on the move. In the same way, I can't demand silence while I write. Instead I like to put my headphones on and listen to some pretty noisy Russian music - Shostakovic or Prokoviev.
What do you do to relax? I'm pretty relaxed anyway. I feel you have to be, if you are always racing around. Reading and music, when I'm on the road, and wandering round bookshops when I'm at home in Ireland. And when I'm in London I like to spend my time with all the friends I never see the rest of the time.
What are you reading at the moment? A new account of the murder of a leading 17th-century figure, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, which led to the so-called 'Popish Plot', and the new translation of Proust (though I'm still only on volume one).
Who is your favourite author? Hard to say, because there are so many authors I like. I'd have to include Greene and Dickens and the wonderful Philip Roth, and Evelyn Waugh, and the explorer Sir Richard Burton, and the poet and essayist Edward Thomas, some of whose work I always keep with me.
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