SubScribe: A deadline junkie's rescue package: journalism books for Christmas 1 Google+

Friday, 20 December 2013

A deadline junkie's rescue package: journalism books for Christmas 1

Season's greetings. So you should be partying all the way to next Wednesday, but you can't. You've got to work all over the weekend and you haven't even thought about shopping yet. Your nearest and dearest are pestering you for ideas on what you might like and you haven't got a clue.

Now SubScribe hates to promote Amazon over local bookshops, but at this stage in the game it's likely to be your best hope if you want one or more (and you will) of these books in your stocking. A few are current and may be available in a real walk-in shop, but most will need to be sourced online. So pour yourself a whisky, have a browse through this lot and you'll be the star of the show for coming up with an idea of what you want that's more interesting than a mascara wand or a pair of boxer shorts.

The collected works of...

Your mother taught you always to think of others before yourself, so here are a few Christmas 'specials' that might appeal either as gifts or to put by your guests' bedsides to keep them out of your hair for a few hours while you make the presentable after all the partying or snatch a lie-in for yourself..
"Yesterday I was snapped walking up Holland Park Avenue, going into Tesco, buying eggs, driving up the M40 and relieving myself in Oxford services. I'm not joking. I feel fairly sure that if I were to catch fire, no one would try to beat out the flames or find an extinguisher. They'd simply record the event on their phones.
And then you have those people who think it's a good idea to climb over the security fences at zoos. Maybe they think the leopard or the tiger looks cute but, of course, as soon as they're actually in there, they quickly realise that it wasn't such a good idea after all. Usually as the creature is eating their leg.
What would you do if you saw someone being eaten in a zoo? Throw things at the animal? Try to find a rope so what's left of the person can climb out? Yes, I'd do something like that too.
But most people, if the internet is anything to go by, whip out their cameras and make a grisly little film."

Jeremy Clarkson in full rant in the latest compilation of his Sunday Times columns. In Is it Really Too Much to Ask - the World According to Clarkson, vol 5  he seethes about everything from sheep rustling to women in the Cabinet, from the demise of the high street to the advent of HS2. The only problem is that these columns go back to 2010 and so seem out of date - as with the ash cloud - or dated - as with the 'everyone has to photograph everything' piece above. Everyone who is anyone has written about everyone having to photograph everything.

The Telegraph has brought out a whole terminus of omnibus editions. Terry Wogan's Something for the Weekend collection published last month is even more whiskery than Clarkson's, featuring columns published in the Sunday Telegraph as far back as early 2008.

Anne Cuthbertson's Charmers and Rogues avoids the problems of topicality through its timeless subject - the things people's pets do. Billy Bob the spaniel, for example, rugby-tackled the paddling pool in the middle of the puppy pre-school classroom and then proceeded to fill it. I'm sure everyone was in fits at the time, but does anyone other than Billy Bob's owner care? Or that he likes squirrels and baguettes, dislikes the fact that he can't reach the catfood and once ate a duvet? We all love our pets, just as we all love our children, but most of us are less keen on everyone else's. They have to be really special, like Marley, to make us want to read about them.

For sporting types, the Telegraph has its Book of the Ashes (probably not the ideal Christmas gift for a cricket lover this year) and the Complete History of British Football.

It has also raided that most productive archive - the letters department - to publish a fifth volume of correspondence that didn't make it into print. The chapter headings in Am I Missing Something are exactly what you'd expect of the paper's readership: royalty, politics, sport, radio and television, our roads and English grammar. There is also a section for family life, in which many correspondents appear to be pitching for that bottom right-hand slot:

Of course the archetypal writer of letters to newspapers is Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. The blog of the same name claims that this was the pseudonym of a prolific correspondent to The Times before the Second World War. The Thunderer does not - and did not - publish letters anonymously, so it is posited that the author was someone high up in the military and/or Civil Service and was able to persuade the paper to withhold his name.

Locally, however, it is suggested that the phrase was coined by a 1950s editor of the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, who told staff to make up letters and sign them 'Disgusted'.

Whichever you believe, the mix of serious issues and petty worries to be found in the Letters to the Editor page of most papers generally makes for good reading. Nigel Cawthorne has combed the Advertiser's files to produce a little loo volume - and called it Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. This immediately jars because it's not the phrase we expect and nor is it a clever play on words. Maybe there are copyright problems, maybe the printers made a mistake with the cover and dustjacket, or maybe the explanation lies in his introduction:
"They weren't just disgusted in Tunbridge Wells. They were also peeved, niggled, indignant, acrimonious, belligerent and, more often than not, outraged."
As with the Telegraph's offering, Cawthorne's chapters are each devoted to a particular gripe - town slackers, disorderly disasters, shopping hell, the war - to produce a portrait of a closeted community that is rather too pleased with itself and rather too judgmental of others.

We hear not only from Disgusted, but also from Disillusioned, Astonished, Anti-Grumbler, Confirmed Grouser, Another Grouser, Imperialist, Sympathiser, Outsider, Disbeliever, One Who Suffered in a Raid, Citizen, A Ratepayer, A Compound Ratepayer and A Taxpayer. Other writers sign with their initials or their occupation: a physician, eight milkmen, a trader. Indeed, there are four or five pseudonyms for every full name. Which makes the Editor's comment at the end of this letter so comical

It also seems that you couldn't trust those names that were published:
SIR - I was greatly surprised to find a letter in last week's paper giving my address and signed in my name. I beg to say I had nothing whatever to do with this letter; neither have I the slightest idea as to what person had the audacity to publish such a letter in my name. Hoping you will kindly insert this in your next week's paper.
Yours faithfully,
57 Colebrook Road
May 4th, 1927
Other writers are appalled at the idea of sport being played on a Sunday, alarmed by the decline in common courtesy and ashamed that the town's public conveniences do match up to those in Eastbourne and that there is no public library as found in Enfield or Stoke Newington.

Some people are never so happy as when they have something to complain about.

Back to the present day for the Bedside Guardian 2013. This is an annual treat not only for the tofu-eating sandal-wearing bearded lefties but for anyone interested in good writing and firm opinions. It is true reflection of the character of the paper, with poetry, recipes, arts reviews and celebrity interviews as well as the expected coverage of Leveson, Snowden, Greenwald and Miranda, the polemics on the state of society and the reportage from Syria and beyond.

The milestones of the year, Mandela apart, are there: the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the new Pope, the death of Thatcher, the retirement of Alex Ferguson, Murray's Wimbledon win, the man who ballooned into space, and the last typewriter coming off the production line.

Here's a bit of Nancy Banks-Smith on The Archers

You don't have to agree with the writers -  indeed they may make you fume - but this book does a better job at encapsulating 2013 than any of the 'end of year reviews' that we'll be served up in the next ten days can hope to do. Light your fascist-leaning father-in-law's blue touchpaper and retire.

Charlie Brooker makes an appearance to say he's reducing his word emissions, but he also has his own anthology out with I Can Make You Hate. The Guardian has also published a book entirely devoted to Wikileaks,  but we have to wait until next year for Nick Davies's definitive account of the hacking saga.

Hugo Rifkind. Photograph: Evening Standard

Over at the Times, Hugo Rifkind has spent the past six years pretending to be everyone from David Cameron to Carla Bruni, not to mention the God Particle and Paul the psychic German octopus.

He discovered this talent for impersonation after an interview with George Brock, then the paper's managing editor now the head of journalism at City University and a professor to boot. Rifkind had recently been appointed the Times diary editor, but he was already tiring of celebrities refusing to speak to him, so he approached Brock to ask if he might indulge in some extra-curricular activity?
"Anything you like as long as it's not another of those columns in which people drone on about how they've spent the week. Because there are enough of those in newspapers already."
Brock has probably never spoken a truer word. It set Rifkind thinking. Perhaps he could write a column about how someone else's week, preferably without having to talk to them. And so My Week was born and this is a collection of the parodies the author thinks worked best.
Here's a snippet of his Mayor of London

Rifkind points out in his introduction to the book that not only did he pretend to be all these people, but he also had the surreal experience of Mohamed al-Fayed pretending to be him. His efforts also ended up in Pseuds Corner because, he says, Private Eye didn't realise he wasn't really a Spice Girl.

The magazine does realise when it's onto a good thing, however, and so it has again produced its Annual, as well as a Cartoon History of the past 50 years.

Cartoon collectors can also indulge themselves with Giles from the Express, the Best of Alex from the Telegraph and the best of all: the Best of Matt. (You can also buy Matt greetings cards, mugs and calendars, but this blogpost is about books.)

To finish this section, it may be worth mentioning a couple of older books that are still doing the rounds.  Most of us have had days when we've struggled to find anything to fill our bit of the paper, so we can feel for the poor reporters so desperate for copy that they are driven to write about a fire brigade not being called out on bonfire night. Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage reproduces some sensationally banal stories from local papers and equally bizarre headings, such as
Ungrateful cow snubs rescuers
 and this old chestnut
Psychic show cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances
 Whether you regard the book as side-splittingly funny or a waste of money obviously depends on your sense of humour - and if you see local journalism as a laughing matter. Just don't expect to get hours of entertainment from it.

The same applies to this collection from the New York Post. It is branded as the best headlines from the paper, but it also includes a bit of history and a random selection of pages. Some of the page layout will look dated to a British eye, but here are a couple of covers that stand almost any test.

Oh dear, we haven't even got near the true journalists' Christmas wishlist. Best, I think, to break this books guide into sections. So that's the collections done. Next up, fiction.

A new SubScribe website with archived blogposts and new features is being prepared and should be ready to make its first appearance early in the new year. If you have any ideas of elements that should be included - or avoided - please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or email. Thank you.




  1. You do not know how happy this has made me.
    Relieved (New Zealand)

  2. That's terrific...glad to have been of service...what did you go for?