Clough: The Autobiography

The way I had discovered Brian Clough was actually through pure coincidence; I’d been browsing a variety of YouTube videos of esteemed managers and interviews, when I found one with Clough – A Calendar Special, so it was called. I remember being struck, as soon as Clough opened his mouth, by the way he seemed to control the room with what he said. Once he began to talk, other people listened. The more videos I watched, the more I realised that perhaps the most fascinating aspect about him was his unpredictability; you never knew what he was going to say next. And you could be sure that in most cases it was something controversial. He was indeed a inimitable character, one which will most likely never be seen in the footballing world again.

Although Clough was terribly brash and conceited, his career as a player, and a manager, stand to be seen. As Muhammed Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up”, and Brian certainly could. He and Peter Taylor achieved unprecedented success during their managerial partnership at Derby and Nottingham Forest, ensuring that they’re both forever engraved in the annals of footballing history.

Clough’s autobiography was as good as I’d expected it to be, let’s leave it at that. It’s difficult to review a non-fiction book, but for anybody who respects Brian Clough and appreciates all the work he put into his forty-year career in football, it’s a purchase you won’t regret.

The Verger by Melker Garay

Author(s): Melker Garay
Publisher: Norlén & Slottner
Year of Publication: 2014
Number of Pages: 156
Genre: Theology
The Verger (Amazon UK) | The Verger (Amazon US)

The uncle of Melker Garay was a verger (an official in a church who acts as a caretaker and attendant) whose life had abruptly ended after he fell from the roof of the church almost two years before this book was written. He was a reserved man who didn’t create much of a stir while he lived. Things might have stayed that way if it hadn’t been for a number of old rolls of wallpaper he left behind. It transpired that these rolls made up a small archive. When they were unrolled, on the back of the wallpaper Garay discovered lots of handwritten notes, largely written in the form of dialogue. His reflections seemed to have occupied an unusually large space in his thoughts.

Judging by his notes, he had a complicated relationship with God. Within him, he seems to have had two irreconcilable wills: one to blame God, the other to protect God. His opinion of theology was, on the other hand, less complicated. According to Garay’s uncle, the only explanation for theology having been able to survive through the ages may be the fact that God has a quality that is invaluable to theologians, namely that He is completely unfathomable. This quality, which theologians would presumably have discovered at an early stage in their investigations, is what one might call the salvation of theology.

There is also a discernible degree of humour in his notes. Be that as it may, in Garay’s uncle’s world of ideas there does seem to have been a couple of gentlemen, Melker and Thomas, who often turn up in his notes. However, it’s not clear to Melker Garay who they are, but it’s evident that these two men have had great influence over his theological aphorisms.

Fundamentally, this is a novel that in a different way brings up the doubt in faith and the will to find a sustainable image of God. Questions like ‘how come’ and ‘how can you know’ are central themes.

 

Revolution by Russell Brand

Author(s): Russell Brand
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of Publication: 2014
Number of Pages: 320
Genre: Non-Fiction, Politics
Revolution (Amazon UK) | Revolution (Amazon US)

Revolution was riddled with pure affectation and ostentation, from start to finish. Brand’s rambling prose conveyed nothing; instead what seemed more important to him was to ensure that he inserted as many pompous and bombastic words into his sentences as possible. Naturally, one’s irritation grows with each page that’s turned as Brand continues to dwell on the same point with the implication that there’s going to be an astounding conclusion; alas, we are invariably left disappointed as the chapter comes to an abrupt end, marking the beginning of yet another frivolous rant.

I have to confess that I closed the book for good by about the tenth chapter, as there’s only so much vacuous tripe that a person can withstand before feeling inclined to drive a nail through one’s head.

Anxiety: Panicking about Panic by Joshua Fletcher

Author(s): Joshua Fletcher
Publisher: Self-published
Year of Publication: 2014
Number of Pages: 140
Genre: Self-help, Psychology
Where to Buy: Anxiety: Panicking about Panic (Amazon UK) .
Anxiety: Panicking about Panic: (Amazon US).

Undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding self-help.

I’ve always been sensitive and labelled a ‘worrier’ by those close to me, which is probably why anxiety has had such a significant effect on me. I’ve wrestled with anxiety for several years now and it seems to come-and-go, depending on my circumstances at the time (whether I’m stressed, worried, or unwell).

I decided to take it upon myself to read up on anxiety and discover for myself what it is that gives me so much trouble. It was at this point that I discovered Joshua Fletcher’s book and my whole world changed. It transformed my mindset, simply because I had an understanding of what was happening to me whenever I was having a panic attack, or just feeling anxious.

If you’re someone who is constantly anxious and worried about things then overtime your body acclimatises to this condition of living and adjusts accordingly, resulting in a chemical imbalance. Your body attempts to restore balance by occasionally sending out large doses of chemicals from the brain, which then coarse through the body – a reason for why you might feel strange sensations or a plethora of physical symptoms during your anxious episode/panic attack. The primary two chemicals released are Adrenaline and Cortisol, both are harmless but are used in a ‘Fight or Flight’ situation, or when your body perceives you to be in danger.

During a panic attack, Fletcher highlights that it’s important to remember that these feelings are brought on simply because of the huge amount of Adrenaline surging through your veins, and that once the gland has exhausted itself, or just decides to stop, the panic will be over and you will return to normality. Naturally, you will be slightly shaken, perhaps even tired and weak, but this is due to the effect the chemical has had on your nervous system, hence the leftover feelings of being ‘on edge’ and tense.

I’d recommend picking this up if you’ve ever experienced anxiety, as it provides great insight into how anxiety works and why you feel such bizarre sensations that at first may have alarmed you.

Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson

Author(s): Mike Tyson, Larry Sloman (editor)
Publisher: HarperSport (Branch of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Year of Publication: 2013
Number of Pages: 564
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction, Sports
Where to Buy: Undisputed Truth (Amazon UK).
Undisputed Truth (Amazon US).

“I’m rich, Mario,” I said. “I don’t have no watch, no money, no phone, but I feel so peaceful. No one’s telling me to ‘go here’, ‘go there’, ‘do this’. I used to have cars that I never drove and I wouldn’t even know where the keys for them were. I had houses I didn’t live in. I had everybody robbing me. Now I have nothing. Nobody calls me, nobody bothers me, nobody is after me. It’s so peaceful. This is rich, man.”

One can’t help but feel a profound sense of pity for Mike Tyson, whose life has been pervaded by depravity and sorrow. It’s almost as if in each year of his life he’s been forced to deal with a slew of devastating events which have served to rock the foundation he attempts to balance his life on. We all know of “Iron Mike Tyson”, the ferocious, two-time Heavyweight Championship boxer, infamous for tearing a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear off with his teeth; but how much do we know about Michael Tyson, the man behind the persona?

Raised in the ghettos of Brownsville, Brooklyn, Mike Tyson openly admits that he never really had a loving relationship with his mother. While he was desperate to receive attention and love from her, she failed to reciprocate his affection. Tyson was meek and frightened of most people; he was incessantly picked on and bullied throughout his childhood. Despite the fact he was capable of fighting back, he simply didn’t believe that he had the power in him. Eventually, Tyson turned to the streets and embarked upon a life of crime, enticed by the promise of a fraternity that gangs could offer vulnerable kids like him. However, it wasn’t long before Tyson found himself at the centre of a destructive vortex, and having seen several of his friends be killed by rival gang members, he began desperately searching for a way out. A boxing trainer by the name of Cus D’Amato would give Tyson that opportunity to escape.

The time Mike Tyson spent with D’Amato was to be, by far, the happiest period of his life. He finally had something to be passionate about. He was given direction by D’Amato and began to instil a routine and structure into his day-to-day life. Tyson viewed D’Amato as the father he’d never had and worked as hard as he could to impress him. It was clear from the get-go that the fourteen-year-old Mike Tyson could go far; he showcased great technical ability and strength in the ring and would consistently knock out his sparring partners – who were, in most cases, years older than him! Tyson began to participate in Junior Championship tournaments around the New York area, all of which he won with ease. He even went to the Junior Olympics, where he faced off against some of the best boxers in his age group; yet he’d often find himself picking up wins by forfeit, as his opponents would sometimes fail to show up. This was allegedly due to their discovery of the amount of damage Tyson had inflicted upon his opponents in previous matches.

By 20-years-old, Mike Tyson had become the youngest Heavyweight Champion ever – a record that is intact to this day. Though, sadly, Cus D’Amato would pass away before getting to witness the milestone both had worked so hard for. Without the guidance of D’Amato, Tyson began to return to his former self. The malevolent facade he had adopted during his childhood to fend off bullies was reinstalled, this time to fend off the fawning sycophants who only wanted Tyson for his money.

After having retained the championship for several years without any real challenges, Tyson became complacent, some might say he was even bored. He began to splash out heavily on cars, houses, women, and drugs. This was a pattern of behaviour that he adhered to for at least another decade, though he took a brief sabbatical whilst he served his three-year sentence in prison for the alleged rape of Desiree Washington. There was speculation that Tyson would change his life around upon release, but this failed to come to fruition; instead, Mike would fall almost immediately back into the step of his undesirable habits without realising and walk an unsteady path. Ultimately, it would be the several stints he spent in rehab that would save his life.

Whilst the media portrays Mike Tyson as a vulgar thug with no place in society, once you read Undisputed Truth and learn of the tragedy that has pervaded this man’s life, you’ll begin to understand how potent environmental factors are to the sculpting of a person’s psyche. Would any of us have turned out to be decent citizens if we’d have been in Tyson’s shoes? Absolutely not. It’s a combination of trauma and desolation that made Tyson who he was for so many years, but to have had the strength to turn his life around is worthy of a great deal of respect. I only hope that Mike Tyson is able to be forgiven for his tumultuous past.

The Elephant Man by Christine Sparks

Author(s): Christine Sparks
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of Publication: 1980 (republished in 1986)
Number of Pages: 288
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
The Elephant Man (Amazon UK) | The Elephant Man (Amazon US)

Books that are based on a film are always difficult to craft, especially when most of your audience know what’s coming, but Sparks’ ability to accurately convey the poignancy that encapsulated the entirety of Joseph* Merrick’s life was more than enough to overcome this obstacle.

When reading, you have to actively engage with the words in order to absorb them, hence why the evocation of emotion is so much more potent in this scenario as opposed to the film, which simply requires you to sit back and passively watch. Both will inevitably make you teary-eyed, but my point is that through the medium of books you feel as if you are there with him, suffering as much as he through the incidents that we see occur.

Merrick was a man who, because of a slew of severe facial deformities (which were later conjectured to be Proteus Syndrome) lived a very isolated lifestyle due to his fear of being ridiculed and tormented. These worries were justified, however, as he spent his late adolescence through to his mid-twenties as a part of a freak-show. It was here that he was dubbed a freak for the first time, aggressively manhandled and beaten, whilst also being fed a bare minimum in his decrepit domain within the show’s grounds. Alone, cold and scared; can you imagine the terrors he must have endured throughout his short, turbulent life?

Sparks’ writing gracefully flows from page to page, allowing you to become lost within the world she so expertly describes. As a result, you feel the angst, the dread, as well as the sheer terror that Merrick has to endure; it’s rare to read a book that can evoke so much emotion. Perhaps it’s because Merrick was a real person who truly faced these abhorrent incidents that we feel so deeply saddened by reading it.

The New Philistines by Sohrab Ahmari

Author(s): Sohrab Ahmari
Publisher: Biteback Publishing
Year of Publication: 2017
Number of Pages: 144
Genre: Non-Fiction, Art, Politics
Where to Buy: The New Philistines (Amazon).

Why do so many people who visit modern, contemporary exhibitions leave us feeling unfulfilled and disappointed? Could it be to do with the fact that we’re living in an age where a pair of glasses left on the floor at an art gallery now have the potential of being mistaken for an exhibit? (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/27/pair-of-glasses-left-on-us-gallery-floor-mistaken-for-art)

The truth, as Ahmari so eloquently points out, is that identity politics has seeped through the cracks, with identitarians shamelessly infesting the world of art with their warped views of the world and ostensibly rebellious causes behind why they’ve provided us with exhibits that are qualitatively far worse than what we’ve ever been confronted with before. A coat draped over the back of a chair is, in their mind, viewed as art – and we’re falling for it! Thousands upon thousands of people flock to these galleries to stand before exhibits which feature things that you could easily do yourself, or could be accidentally assembled by a child who has grasped at arbitrary objects around them. At what point did we, as a society, decide that art no longer needed to aesthetically pleasing and value work that quite clearly took no effort or skill to create?

Despite my feelings of agitation invoked by nature of the subjects touched on in this book, I learnt a lot from Ahmari’s knowledge of art and politics. He takes the time to explain things in layman’s terms, thus avoiding the unnecessary convoluted language we’re often faced with in books like these. Although it was relatively short, I put this down to the fact that all the points were concise and clear, as well as easy to understand. To have included another chapter would have simply been pleonastic of Ahmari, as all that was necessary to say, was said.

I’d recommend this to anyone who feels a pang of indignation when they’re reminded of what the world of art has degenerated into, as you’re certainly not alone in that respect.

My Story by Ronnie Kray

Author(s): Ronald “Ronnie” Kray, Fred Dinenage (editor)
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of Publication: 1993
Number of Pages: 174
Genre: True Crime, Autobiography

My Story is a book by Ronald “Ronnie” Kray, who made up one-half of the notorious Kray twins alongside Reginald “Reggie” Kray. The twins effectively ruled the London underworld for most of the 1960s until their incarceration in 1969, after they were charged with the murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell respectively. Both were sentenced to a minimum of 30 years. Reggie Kray spent the majority of his sentence at HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight; Ronnie Kray spent the majority of his at Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane.

This is the autobiography of Ronnie Kray, which was written with the assistance of Fred Dinenage in 1993. Despite the twins having been imprisoned for almost twenty-five years at this point, there was still a huge amount of interest and awe in the pair, particularly due to the horror stories that were told about the lengths they had gone to in order to retain power. This was capitalised on by many who had known the Kray twins, and many who claimed to have been close to them, but actually weren’t. The public had heard about the stories from everybody apart from the two who experienced it first-hand. But this was to change in 1988, when Our Story was released.

It received widespread praise and rave reviews upon release and quickly rose in the bestsellers chart. However, Ronnie Kray was unsatisfied. He felt as if the book had skimmed over their lives as gangsters, but had not delved deep enough into who Reggie and Ronnie were as people. This was the impetus for My Story, in which Ronnie opens up like never before, sharing the highs and lows of his life, as well as what life is like inside Broadmoor Hospital – a place that has made paper headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past.

Overall, the book is fascinating as it gives the reader an insight into the mind of a man who, despite the atrocities he carried out, on the surface seems quite ordinary. He shares with the reader his philosophy and general outlook on life; he touches on mental health and the gravity of it, which is plainly ignored when that individual is locked up; and also outlines what his childhood was like, expelling many of the myths that psychologists had used to formulate a distant evaluation on him.

You can find the book on Amazon here: My Story by Ronnie Kray.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

An interesting read. Holden strikes me as slightly unhinged, to be honest. His capricious moods and almost nihilistic outlook on life allows the reader to gain an insight on what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of someone like that, in this certain period – the 1950s. It seems, of course, a different world in comparison to the lives we lead in the 21st century.

There were parts in this book where I could’ve imagined Salinger sat at his typewriter, simply making it up as he went along without any real plan to what he was typing. The plot fails to make a great deal of sense, but it’s the context and the time that this book was written in that should be focused on.

It’s widely known that in those days (the 1950s & 1960s), you were expected to “Do as I say, not as I do”. Despite sounding outrageous and unreasonable to us now, back then it was accepted as good parenting. And so, to have a main character like Holden who curses constantly, and unashamedly rejects the values of his parents and society in general, it was naturally received by the general public as shocking and dismaying; but to others, it may have been seen as refreshing. Why? Because Holden would’ve become a hero to some. Not in the conventional sense of the word, but because people related to him and they sympathised with the way he felt.

Furthermore, the narrative style of the book, which is casual and conversational, was something that hadn’t been seen before – certainly not by a book in the mainstream. So, again, this was another refreshing moment, hence why The Catcher in the Rye has earned itself the privilege of being dubbed a classic.

If you’re after a copy of this book yourself, then you can find it half-price here: The Catcher in the Rye

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The Lonely City revolves around the study and exploration of loneliness and what it means to feel, or be, lonely. Laing herself experienced the feeling after plans to move into an apartment with her partner fell through following their separation, which resulted in Laing finding herself alone and isolated in a place that would, should, have been shared with another. She had moved from England to New York, a drastic change which she struggled to adjust to. During her time in New York, she took notice of the art that was scattered around and found herself entranced by one piece in particular by Edward Hopper, known as Nighthawks.

From here, Laing investigates the lives of an eclectic mix of artists, ranging from Edward Hopper to Andy Warhol to Henry Darger; all lived troubled lives plagued by isolation and despair, exacerbated by the loneliness which was pervasive throughout their lives right up until the very end. Laing also mentions Peter Hujar, who, like his contemporary David Wojnarowicz, battled AIDs in the 1980s; a time when society had just become aware of AIDs, was unaware of how it was contracted, yet saw the devastation it caused to those who had to bear it, which only served to evoke even more hatred towards the gay community, where the disease was rife. Due to the fact there was no cure, AIDs was massively stigmatised and the sufferers were consequently secluded and ostracised because of the fears that encapsulated it, particularly the worry of how it was able to spread. These situations provide the reader with an insight into the most crushing examples of loneliness and just how varied the emotion can be.

Altogether, I found this book to be beautifully written and Laing herself to be articulate, intelligent and creative in her ability to convey a plethora of ideas about loneliness. Essentially, a thought-provoking study of an emotion all of us will face at one time or another.

You can find the book here on Amazon: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.