Idle Reading
With 2004 looming before us like a fat moose, now is the perfect time to take a look at Python Eric Idle's "Books of the Year -- 1998":

My book of the year is

Barney's Version
Mordecai Richler
Totally hysterical. That rare bird - the really funny novel. I completely recommend it to everyone. Wonderfully honest and incorrect. Great.

My second favorite was

Peter Cook
A biography by Harry Thompson
A hilarious account of the life of the funniest man in the world. If you are at all a Peter Cook fan get it now. Not published in the States.

Here are some others I enjoyed.

The Grave of Alice B. Toklas
Otto Friedrich
Magnificent essays by the consummate master of historical writing. I just adore him and sadly learned he has died. From Mozart to the last emperor of Rome (a woman), his essays are never less than enthralling and informative.

Truman Capote
George Plimpton (editor)
An odd shape for a book - rather like a TV documentary, all talking heads, but a nevertheless revealing look at this odd but wonderful writer. Some people are bitchy and more revealing about themselves, notably Mailer and Gore Vidal, but still the sense of shock when all his New York friends dumped him, and his inability to realise it was predictable, make it both sad and interesting. What a talent he had.

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
The movie sent me back to the book and "O" level English days. I can re-read Dickens for ever. This is surprisingly wittily written. I had forgotten how funny he is in his narrator voice. Brilliant. Classic.

The Royals
Kitty Kelley
Much more interesting than I had expected. Particularly fascinating about the young wives. Fergie comes out as a nightmare. It will probably be the last unvarnished portrait of Diana for a while. What a manipulative person. Good to remember how she preyed on other people's husbands (Will Carling etc).

Before the Deluge
Otto Friedrich
A portrait of Berlin in the 1920's. Magnificent, chilling, account of the rise of Nazism. How insignificant they were. How free Berlin was. How quickly power vacuum and deflationary economics can lead to fascism. Chilling. Brilliant. He is a great historian.

Philippe, Duc D'Orleans
Christine Pevitt
A fascinating history of the Regent of France, the nephew of Louis XIV. I had never really read the history of the Regency before (since A level). John Law and his attempt to create money. All the fabulous intrigues of the Court at Versailles, the amazing attempts at poisoning and so on. I really liked Philippe, and got an excellent picture of him from this book. Very interesting and highly readable.

The End of the World
Otto Friedrich
Re-reading bits of this excellent history of the times when people believed the world was going to end. Usually millenniums... germane for 1999 and all the millennial bullshit we can expect.

Cities of the Plain
Cormac McCarthy
And then comes the occasional book that make it all worth while. The book you dread will end because you know you won't find another that is like it for this year or many a year. This is the final act of the border trilogy. The final inexorably tragic story of the love affair of a young Texan cowboy for a Mexican whore, that has, you know it, to end tragically. But the nobility of the writing and the way he plays it out. Ah yes, the writer de nos jours. Some of these pages take your breath away, and will continue to do so long after we are dust.

Becoming Human
Ian Tattersall
Fascinating book on the evolution and human uniqueness that takes its point of departure the arrival of the extraordinarily different homo sapiens Cro-Magnon, in Europe 25 kyr's ago. Written by a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and primate behaviourist, this is not an easy read but a great and worthwhile study of our origins and our place in nature.

The Demon-Haunted World
Carl Sagan
The alas late semi-great Carl. A wonderful populariser of science, here attacking the assholes of new age beliefs and stupid twaddle. He really does demolish a lot of the unconventional wisdom which passes for the Gospel according to Shirley Maclaine.

Click here to read the rest of the list.