Undisputed Truth – Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman

October 9, 2017

If you’re not into boxing, you might dismiss Mike Tyson as a thug, convicted rapist and washed-up sell-out.  There’s some truth in all these labels, but his autobiography, The Undisputed Truth, is a portrait of an infinitely more complex and confronting character, one who is completely outside the box.  His voice, too, is entirely unique, the product of a rough upbringing, years of therapy and rehabilitation and a more-than-passing interest in history and philosophy.

Tyson’s uniqueness comes from having lived life at the extremes.  He grew up in unimaginable poverty in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a brutalising environment which he would become his element and he would return to throughout his life.  His father was absent, his mother was a madam who filled their house with domestic violence, all night parties and strings of men.  For young Mike, there is a straight line from neglect to leaving school at seven to finding a sense of belonging with local petty criminals. His lisp and poor hygiene made him the subject of bullying, and when he lashes out violently, his community gives him accolades.  At the age of eleven, he has taken revenge on all those who persecuted him, and has become so infamous that grown men come to fight him.  In a dark reflection of the American dream, mugging, robberies and burglaries bring him material success in the form of clothes and pigeons, the latter a local passion that will stay with him into adulthood.  By the time he’s thirteen, he’s in juvenile detention. Read the rest of this entry »

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Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway

January 12, 2011

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

Green Hills of Africa has aged as gracefully as its diabetic, alcoholic, suicidal author did.  Firstly, it’s all about big game hunting: Hemingway and his wife and his mates tramp around Africa blowing away lions, rhinos, cheetahs and anything else that moves, presumably so the animal’s dismembered body parts can make a nice conversation piece in their living rooms.

Secondly, it’s all about manly men doing manly men things, with the only significant female character being Hemingway’s wife, Pauline Marie Pfeiffer, referred to as P.O.M. (don’t ask me to explain the acronym).  And while she is tenacious – tenacious enough, in fact, to make old Papa liken her to a “terrier”, which she understandably objects to – she is usually relegated to the role of cheer squad in Hemingway’s war against African Bambi’s mother.

And thirdly, Hemingway’s use of native trackers and porters to carry his trophies and eskies of beer has more than a whiff of colonialism and is the kind of unequal economic relationship that makes people very, very uncomfortable nowadays.

But to hell with all of that.  Green Hills of Africa proves that a good author can make any subject interesting, even one that you previously had an aversion to.  It’s also a memoir, meaning that it’s full of insights into man himself that Hemingway tragics like me can slaver over. Read the rest of this entry »


The Romantic: Italian Nights and Days – Kate Holden

December 13, 2010

As a guy, The Romantic wasn’t the easiest novel to read in public.  First, there’s the girly title.  Then, there’s the cover – a nude woman  lying with one breast slightly exposed – that made me worry people would think I was reading the book equivalent of Zoo.

I could get around this by reading with the novel flat against a coffee-shop table, or on my lap when I was reading on the bus, but this presented a new problem – the curious passenger.  See, people who don’t bring a book or iPod on the bus get understandably bored and look around at what their neighbours are doing.  And since The Romantic has generous lashing of sex throughout, and people only pick up the a few words when glancing at a page, anyone who sat next to me over the past week probably knows me as “the guy who reads porno on the bus”.

Oh, well.  It was worth it, not just because I’ll probably have a two-seater to myself from now on, but because The Romantic was damn good.  It’s beautifully written, brutally honest, and, yes, very sexy. Read the rest of this entry »