Category Archives: autobiography

As it Happens, Jimmy Savile

Jimmy Savile autobiography, book review by Ruth LivingstoneI borrowed Jimmy Savile’s autobiography from our local library. Unsurprisingly, given his notoriety, it wasn’t on display. But I ordered a copy from the archives held in the warehouse.

For those few who don’t already know, Jimmy Savile was a flamboyant, eccentric, and a (once) much-loved celebrity, with a successful career as a DJ and his own long-running TV show, Jim’ll Fix It. But he was mainly revered for his astonishing ability to raise millions of pounds for charity. Continue reading As it Happens, Jimmy Savile

Stet, by Diana Athill

Stet, Diana Athill, Diana Athill was an influential editor who worked for several publishing houses in London. This memoir covers the 50 years she spent in the industry.

The book is remarkably interesting for far more than its insights into the world of literary publishing. Diana Athill is honest in her descriptions of her relationships with colleagues, competitors and writers. She also drops tantalising hints about her colourful personal life, the details of which are covered, I assume, in some of her other autobiographical books. Continue reading Stet, by Diana Athill

Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

Coming through Slaughter, book review by Ruth LivingstoneThis is an interesting book, first published in 1976. It has a weird structure and, initially, I was completely bemused by it.

The subject of the story is Buddy Bolden, a black American musician living in New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century. Buddy was famous for his cornet playing and for being one of the early pioneers of jazz music. Continue reading Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

On Tana River by David Livingstone

Just finished reading this book, written by my father in the early 1960s. If you are interested in a vivid description of the early work of missionaries in this remote area of Kenya (on the Tana River), then this book will be of interest.

My father, who died recently, was commissioned to write this book by the Methodist Missionary society.

What I liked:

The book really consists of a series of self contained anecdotes or episodes. This which led me to think this would be really suited for publication as a web blog – if such a thing had existed in the 1960s!

My father brings each anecdote to life, often beginning by writing in the present tense. I love the way he paints pictures with words and he chooses words with care – neither too complicated, nor too simple.

He refers back to historic events, neatly citing the sources of his information, elegantly and without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

Most importantly, he writes about the Africans with affection and respect. His enthusiasm for his ministry is very evident.

What I didn’t like:

The book reads as a series of articles (indeed, this is how it was commissioned) and, athough there are linking themes, there is little sense of progression or development.

The stories, often beginning in the present tense with a lively, active voice, tend to end with passages written in the past tense and with a passive voice. I believe my father used this technique deliberately in order to deliver a generalised, evangelical message at the end of each section of the book. This is, of course, a typical preaching technique. But, as someone more interested in the stories than in the theological content of the mission work, I found this deadened the impact of some anecdotes.

I would, of course, have been very interested in how the conditions affected my father, personally. And how did my mother cope with life on the mission station and with three young children – myself and my two brothers? None of this is touched on. My father mentions my mother once, in passing and we don’t feature – except one line with the fact that the youngest of us nearly died from diarrhoea!

On Tana River (A Story of Kenya's Tana Church)