Monday 28 February 2011

My Life in Books

I was intending to finish another Persephone book today, but that was wildly ambitious, since I have over 200pp left to read of it still... so another Persephone review will be turning up at some point, and for now I'll just thank Claire and Verity for their stirling work. (Thanks, ladies!) Persephone Reading Week[end] seems to get bigger every year, even if the number of days have shrunk - and I'm sure lots of us have added potential reads to our real or imaginary tbrs. I realised I still ahve 26 unread Persephones on my shelf, so I shan't be buying any more for a while (though have my fingers crossed for winning one of the competitions I entered.)

So, instead of a review, I'll mention My Life in Books. Has anyone been watching this? Anne Robinson almost succeeds in putting away her steely glare, and asks authors and other famous people to talk about the books they have loved throughout their lives, and a bit of biographical info thrown in. I think it's a great idea, and has led to some interesting programmes. There's one on every night for two weeks, and we're in the middle of 'em now - all so far available to watch here, if you like in the UK (and maybe if you don't - I'm never sure about these things.)

So far, I think I most enjoyed the programme with Sue Perkins and Giles Coren - both pretty funny people, with interesting choices. Perkins' mention of The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale, about a rich, eccentric playgirl Joe Carstairs, was especially intriguing. Also one of the few surprising choices - my only criticism is that most of the guests seem to have loved a diet only of classics. Truly fanatical readers have to find their own niches in the libraries of the world, surely, rather than simply love received wisdom. But perhaps the BBC persuaded them to pick books they had video clips of?

Some great pairings so far - I wouldn't have expected PD James and 'disgraced ex-Blue Peter presenter' Richard Bacon to have much in common, but they actually had a lovely conversation. I can't wait for Debo Devonshire's episode, coming up this week. Jeanette Winterson and smarmy-spin-doctor Alastair Campbell could be interesting... What is wonderful, though, is how enthusiastic the guests are about books - they really do love reading. They discuss re-reading, or the merits/demerits of adaptations, to the manner born; they chat about Austen, Dickens, Melville, Dostoevsky with affection and knowledge. I can't believe a programme this bookish and, yes, intelligent is being shown on a terrestrial TV channel - this NEVER happens. Much as I genuinely enjoy the TV Book Club and their presenters (more on't next week), the content - outside of the author interview and the actual book discussion amongst the delightfully literature-lovin' presenters - often dumbs down a little. I saw an episode the other day in which the first thing the guest said was "I've never been much of a reader." Indeed.

So, head over and have a watch, if you can. You (like me) will doubtless come away wishing that you and other bloggers could be taking the place of the guests... well, if so, watch this space...


  1. PRW was wonderful! How fantastic to have 26 Persephones beckoning :-)
    I don't have access to this programme at the moment but I'll try YouTube. Thank you for the highlights... I would like to watch the P. D. James one and some of the others look really interesting.

  2. Like Cristina, I will be trying to find this program through any means available! I first heard about it the other day while listening to a have the best shows over there.

  3. Simon, this program sounds really interesting; I just tried to watch it online, though, and it wasn't available in my area (which is Canada). That always annoys me when that happens.

  4. Yes, I've been avidly watching. Thoroughly enjoying it and wishing there could be a lot more programmes like this in general on TV. My husband made the comment to me that he wondered if some were trying to prove something by just having classics on their lists. Hmmm... My favourites so far have been Clare Balding who 'sobbed' all the way through one of her books, and Peter Snow who loves Stephanie Plum. LOL. Hardeep Singh Coli is one of my favourite people but I can hardly believe he reads a communist manifesto as a guilty pleasure. Methinks he doesn't quite get it... Excellent programme and am hoping for more.

  5. I've only seen the first two so far - I thought PD James was wonderful. I will be catching up on iplayer.

  6. I haven't seen this programme yet, as I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy it. However, I will try and catch the next episode.

    I also agree with you about 'The TV Book Club'. I enjoy this programme, but like you, I find it quite strange when the guest reviewers say that they don't read books much. Why were they asked on the programme, if they don't have any enthusiasm in reading!?

  7. I was just catching up on this series yesterday night and thinking how wonderful it was. It's informative and really all about the books without any dumbing down and I thought the pairings were excellent. And you can tell how much they all love the books they picked. I've watched 3 episodes so far so looking forward to more!

  8. When I heard that Anne Robinson was going to present My Life in Books I was very worried, but I have been surprised by how much I've enjoyed it. I still think she is the worst presenter possible (because she admits to hating fiction) but somehow the guests have made it work. I really hope that they bring it back for another series - preferably without Robinson in the chair.

  9. Like Seagreen Reader I have, so far, only seen the first two. Sue Perkins's (is that the preferred grammar these days?) obvious enthusiasm for literature was a pleasure to behold.

    I tend to agree with Jackie with regard to the presenter. With no disrespect to journalists, I'm sure there are plenty of novelists who would have made excellent and dare I say it more appropriate hosts. I suppose the TV people would say that a welcoming well-known face will help attract a general audience, rather than one made up solely of those who are already bibliophiles. That being the case, why go for someone who is now best known for sneering condescendingly at those who appear on her show?

  10. I have commented on this programme on my blog today.

    The recorder is recording this weeks worth and I will watch at the weekend and then do another post.

    I hope they revisit this series and make some more.

  11. Cristina - I know, an embarrassment of riches! Shame you can't see this programme - hopefully you'll be able to find it accessible somewhere. PD James was wonderful - and can't wait for Debo!

    Darlene - hope you find it! Do you know, I don't think I've ever listened to a podcast - which do you listen to?

    Virginia - isn't it annoying? I'll let people know if someone tracks down an accessible source.

    Cath - I saw the one with Trinny Woodall being recorded, and I think there is a definite case of picking classics to impress... It's surprising how few of the books chosen are non-classics - would be much more interesting if they had slightly varied tastes. Can't say I was impressed with Balding's choice of The Da Vinci Code, though...

    Joanne - it's such a good idea for a series - I'm going to catch up with yesterday's tonight.

    Spangle - a mystery, isn't it? The presenters of TV Book Club seem to really love books (more than Anne Robinson, one might imagine) but their guests tend to be touting celeb biogs. I wish they didn't have this need to dumb down.

    Sakura - exactly! I was worried it would be people pretending to love reading, but for some (esp Sue Perkins, for example) their enthusiasm shines from the screen.

    Jackie - she said she hated fiction?! Where? How ridiculous to have her, then! She's hidden her distaste well - although she does seem to get more excited when people pick journalism or other non-fiction.

    David - well said! They could have picked any author. But few authors seem to do much presenting - can't think who I'd have picked. At least it wasn't someone dreadful like Jeremy Paxman.

    Jo - when I was at the recording, they mentioned that they were hoping it would become a regular programme. Have to wait for the viewing figures, I suppose! I don't know if they count iPlayer views.. I've only watched one ep live.

  12. I'm loving this programme, and, to my surprise, I think Anne Robinson is an excellent chair. I do hope it becomes a regular.


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at