I came to this book not because I was a particularly huge fan of Viv Albertine’s band The Slits (though I do like their album Cut) but because I had read some glowing reviews for this autobiography. It covers the guitarist’s childhood, time in and around the punk scene, motherhood, and is written with candour and energy.
For me, the most interesting part was following the disbanding of The Slits, i.e. the end of everything Viv had worked towards and dreamt of for a number of years. As a reader you suddenly realise that the main thing for which the autobiographer is known is over, and yet we are only halfway through the autobiography. Even just reading about it, there is a profound sense of emptiness, a worry that there is nothing that can happen next.
As a novelist and founding member of Belle & Sebastian, Stuart David is well placed to write the story of the band’s formation. It should be noted that this book only covers the very early years of the band – if you are looking for an account of their progression towards being the band they are now, try Paul Whitelaw’s Just A Modern Rock Story, though I found this to be far less personable, fun and evocative than In The All Night Café.
The basic plot is as follows: Stuart D moves to Glasgow to try and start a band, where he meets Stuart Murdoch (who you might recognise as the de-facto leader of B&S) who is also trying to start a band. Stuart D moves in to a shared flat and meets various characters, and they both enroll on a ramshackle government-sponsored course in music and nervously frequent open mic nights.
The only other book I have read by Stuart David is the fantastically sweary The Peacock Manifesto, and in comparison this has such a relaxed, easy reading tone.
Of course, the book ends with a triumphant B&S, Stuart M’s band, well on the road to international success times. As such, this is a memoir written by a man who did not get his band up and running, but did help another man get his band going. The victory is bittersweet, but Stuart D takes it all in his stride – he’s along for the adventure. He comes across as a man resolutely not cut out for fame, and partially explains why he left the band after their fourth album.
(I also commend it for it’s cheeky title, though I won’t give anything away about that).
I don’t know if there is a patron saint of curiosity (or possibly, for the curious?) but if there isn’t, Richard Feynman would make a good one. This book of anecdotes by the renowned Noble prize-winning physicist does feature some physics, but mainly it just features Feynman being curious about things and then finding ways to find things out about them. He is intelligent, mischevious, frequently funny. If Richard Feynman were writing this review he would probably have to go and find out more about patron saints, just to make sure that first line is correct. His approach is pretty inspirational, and I did try to find out if there was one, but I couldn’t find any relevant information, so maybe there isn’t one.
This is a decent introduction to various corners of the internet which are either completely hidden or ensconced in communities. I say ‘decent introduction’ because Bartlett does not offer in-depth technical explanations of things like TOR and Bitcoin, though he does do a good job of giving the reader sufficient information to be able to understand the difference they make to the world.
His real strength is in exploring the human stories behind the various online personas he encounters – trolls, camgirls, libertarians. He is an entertaining and personable writer capable of both getting his interviewees to open up, and then giving fair assessment and by the end of this book I felt I had slightly increased my understanding of why people do the things they do online.