It takes a particular kind of man to want an embroidered polo player astride his left nipple. Occasionally, when I am tired and emotional, or consumed with self-dislike, I try to imagine myself as someone else, a wearer of Yarmouth shirts and fleecy sweats, of windbreakers and rugged Tyler shorts, of baseball caps with polo players where the section of the brain that concerns...
It takes a particular kind of man to want an embroidered polo player astride his left nipple. Occasionally, when I am tired and emotional, or consumed with self-dislike, I try to imagine myself as someone else, a wearer of Yarmouth shirts and fleecy sweats, of windbreakers and rugged Tyler shorts, of baseball caps with polo players where the section of the brain that concerns itself with aesthetics is supposed to be. But the hour passes. Good men return from fighting Satan in the wilderness the stronger for their struggle, and so do I.
The winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, Howard Jacobson, brims with life in this collection of his most acclaimed journalism. From the unusual disposal of his father-in-law's ashes and the cultural wasteland of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the melancholy sensuality of Leonard Cohen and desolation of Wagner's tragedies, Jacobson writes with all the thunder and joy of a man possessed. Absurdity piles upon absurdity, and glorious sentences weave together to create a hilarious, heartbreaking and uniquely human collection. This book is not just a series of parts, but an irresistible, unputdownable sum which triumphantly out-Thurbers Thurber.
Drawing his title from an old Groucho Marx joke in A Night at the Opera, Man Booker Prize–winner Jacobson (The Finkler Question) gathers a selection of his columns since 1998 from the Independent, in no particular order. With wry humor, razor-sharp observations about human nature, and an insouciant wink-and-grin at the many and busy little dramas that make up everyday life, he reflects on a coterie of subjects ranging from men’s fashion (“The Chatfield Pant”), Aboriginal musicals (“Corrugation Road”), and “Leonard Cohen in Concert” to the pleasures and pitfalls of reading (“Books Are Bad for You”) and dining out alone (“Dining Out Solus”). In “If It’s ‘Readable’ Don’t Read It,” he reports on a neuroscientist whose experiments have proved that reading Shakespeare is a worthwhile endeavor; now, Jacobson cagily observes, “it would be fun to have scientific proof of what we know: that simple books make simpletons. And limpid prose is sure to leave us limp of mind.” In “The Twentieth Century? Tosh,” he skewers the attempt of some in every age who feel bound to try to break the mold, to live within and without society. No sooner do we fight authority, Jacobson reminds us, than we create a new version of it. “Our fate: we are never to be free.” Jacobson’s staccato style carries the narrative through flights of fancy, tales of misadventure, character sketches, and pauses for reflection. (Mar.)
The 2010 winner of the Man Booker Prize serves up selections from his columns at the Independent. Although the essays are uniform in length, they range over a wide variety of Jacobson's (No More Mr. Nice Guy, 2011, etc.) interests, passions, peeves, quirks and queries. Volcanoes, terrorists, Kafka, opera, the BBC, royals, weeping, beach books, the Holocaust, art, Dickens, bicycles, Americans, British politics, Leonard Cohen, Sarah Palin--these and numerous other topics bang about in Jacobson's mind until they escape into the world. A number of stylistic and thematic similarities emerge. He adores Shakespeare, and specific allusions to the Bard appear often--as do playful uses of quotations, especially from Hamlet. Dickens is another favorite. But Jacobson also writes several times about the importance of literature that challenges rather than entertains or sedates. Brains grow when engaged and stagnate when soaked in treacle. He also writes about how governments and laws exist to make certain that the best sides of our nature hold tight reins on the worst--e.g., our desires for revenge and for harshness of all kinds. There are numerous personal pieces, too--about the death of a good friend, playwright Simon Gray; about the tenseness, then reconciliation, with Harold Pinter; about learning at a wake that he was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. And there's an amusing piece about his fondness of Wagner, a fondness not shared by his wife. Jacobson is certainly thoughtful and emotional but, like Mark Twain, can jolt you with laughter when you least expect it. Rich and flavorful--best ingested in small amounts so the savory pleasures linger.
An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), the highly acclaimed The Act of Love, the 2010 Man Booker Prize-winning, The Finkler Question and, most recently, Zoo Time. Howard Jacobson lives in Soho, London.