When someone hands you a book and says “If you don’t like this it’s all over between us” three things spring to mind:
* “Oh, God. It’s going to be awful and I’m going to have to lie about it”
* “Oh, God. It’s going to be awful and I’m not going to be able to lie about it”
* “Well, maybe it won’t be too awful”
The book in question is America by Joe Queenan. I’d never heard of either the book or the Author before, and didn’t really know what to expect until I was read the index. Any index that includes the words “Michael Bolton, comparison to Ebola Virus” bodes well in my mind.
And the rest of the book is equally good. The basic premise is that Joe Queenan is a man of taste. He has not seen the bad movies we have all seen and regretted. He knows the gap between the badness of Phil Collins and Billy Joel to be gargantuan. He has never seen Cats.
And all that is about to change. Joe decides to immerse himself in the cultural atrocities his fair country has to offer, and this is the result. It may just be me, but some of it made me slightly uncomfortable. For a start, the first album I ever bought was Phil Collins, No Jacket Required. The second probably would have been a Billy Joel album. I still own Billy Joel albums. I have not only seen 42nd Street, I’ve performed songs from it. I have known the delight of performing in, and the inability to ever rid your brain of the lyrics from Pirates of Penzance. I have seen Les. Mis from the second row in a West End production and thought it was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. AND IT WAS. I will brook no argument on that one.
So although I couldn’t disagree that Andrew Lloyd Webber is to musical theatre what Big Brother is to meaningful social commentary, there were moments where I couldn’t agree with the definition of “cultural atrocity”
But that doesn’t really harm the book in any way. This isn’t about a man whose tastes are exactly like yours. This is a man who is plunging head-first into a world he has nothing but disdain for. And yes, at times it’s a little too clever. But what we consider in good taste differs from person to person. Some people worship at the temple of Celine Dion. Some consider her Canada’s declaration of war on the rest of the world.
But it’s well written. It’s funny, and made me laugh. Inconveniently, I was on a bus at the time, and got a few odd looks. There were moments in the book that were just a joy to read. When he describes a dream in which an organisation controlling the world and trying to dumb it down comes for him, I was enthralled. It’s one of those books that I raced through because I couldn’t put it down, but I spent as long reading the last chapter as I did the rest of the book because I didn’t want it to end.
In short, a great book. Unless you’re a Michael Bolton fan.
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