The Readlist: February 2016

Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn

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For years I’ve became lazy with my reading: I haven’t beem setting out to read something challenging, mainly due to time constraints, and often settled on some paperback bought in The Works. As a result I read a lot of crime fiction and I still have a soft spot for it. I had no awareness of Anthony Quinn before picking up this book on a whim in Waterstones Piccadilly but I’m glad I did.

It’s a classic crime story set in the 1930s with a serial killer on the loose in Soho who’s murdering prostitutes – and one gets away. Quinn manages to effortlessly weave numerous different strands of society into one, from a closeted homosexual to those in the middle classes via the sleazy world of the London working girl with the backdrop of pre-war London, fascism and anti-semitism. Indeed, you have sympathy for each and everyone of the main characters – something I never thought I’d say after the ending of Chapter 3 – and the storytelling passes between them.

This isn’t a crime story that has everything nicely wrapped up at the end but equally it doesn’t try too hard to be macabre either. Gentle enough to be a light read but heavy enough to keep you going – and in a change to the kind of books that I used to read from The Works, it’s nice to have the occasional word popping up that I don’t recognise. Quinn has clearly been influenced by classic crime fiction but manages to make his own mark on it. Well worth a read.

Bread by Ian Gregg

Popping into a charity shop for a vinyl hunt I stumbled across this book for 99p. It was released a few years ago and it’s part auto-biography, part business manual and charts the rise of chain bakery and indigestion giver Greggs. I find business history fascinating for some reason, particularly expansions and takeovers of other firms – I used to sit up at night reading Wikipedia pages for chain stores as a young teenager and can still recite to you the chequered history of most supermarkets. (I was soooo cool)

Greggs is still fairly new where I live – we were deep in Bakers Oven land, a slightly more upmarket brand Greggs took over in the 1990s. The products were slightly more expensive and the branches often had instore seating and bread baked fresh in store rather than delivered overnight. The differences between Baker’s Oven and Greggs faded as time went on and they opted to continue only with the Greggs name. This caused much anguish when I was at school and peers boycotted the new Greggs for all of two minutes as a result, even as I tried to explain the products were exactly the same and it had been Greggs in all but name for years. It’s recently been refurbished so no longer resembles a Baker’s Oven branch with the muted browns and big ovens in the shop.

Also: another chain bakery, Don Millers, closed their popular Queensgate store in Peterborough due to high rents. Who moved into the unit immediately after? Greggs. I’ve always wondered if they’ve been losing money being there. Anyway…

Gregg’s operated from vans to begin with, delivering baked goods to the housing estates around Newcastle and Teeside before expanding into shops and eventually baking their goods themselves rather than sourcing them from wholesalers. As with any business, it was near to crumbling at any point in the early shop days as they faced the difficult purgatory between having a small enough number of shops that they could easily manage (five, say) to expanding. With expansion you’d need a new bakery but in order to open that you need cash, and another ten stores to gain some return on it.

Greggs the BakersTakeovers of other local bakeries, often those that had been underloved and poorly managed for years, meant they were able to expand fairly quickly from the 1970s onwards. This is the most interesting part of the book as the company deals with their issues. As soon as it hits 2000 that’s when things start to get awry and the timeline jumps all over the place – indeed, the last quarter of the book is fairly incomprehensible.

It suffers from being a list of men at times – clearly Ian wanted to mention all those that helped shape the business, but page after page are dedicated to their life stories and I found myself skimming over numerous parts out of fear for my sanity.

There’s some interesting points here: Ian had no real knowledge of the business when he took over as his parents wanted him to pursue a ‘proper career’ so he went out researching to learn as much as possible. He claims this allowed him to expand strategically as he had no favouritism over particular parts of the business. If something needed doing he’d do it for the right reasons and wouldn’t bury his head in the sand but equally Greggs don’t go around screwing people over. Although they have just announced job cuts and closure of some regional bakeries.

Just by chance there’s a Guardian article at the moment that basically summarises the book: How Gregg’s conquered Britain and its refocus as a Food To Go chain over a traditional bakery.

Tender Is The Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

I’m currently around 2/3 of the way through this and thoroughly enjoying it after having my reservations to begin with. What I will say at this stage is that it’s remarkable that a book written in 1934 presents a better understanding of mental illness than many people have in 2016. More in next months Readlist.

LONG READS & ARTICLES

I’ve *finally* taken the plunge and subscribed to the New Yorker and get it delivered weekly direct from America. Surprisingly, the deliveries are quite speedy and the latest issue arrives every Friday just days after its release in the US. There’s something far more pleasant about reading it in its ‘true’ form over a screen like I have done for years.

Here’s some articles I’ve enjoyed this month…

INDEPENDENT’S DAY Archie Bland on what made working at the Independent special and the camaraderie and team spirit that those working on it had.

RICHARD AND MOODY Lowculture on the ridiculous headlines and stories in cheap celebrity magazines. My favourite story of the type was headlined ‘RICHARD: the night I wanted to kill myself’ and it was literally a story about Word crashing before Madeley could save a chapter of his autobiography. We’ve all been there.

ALWAYS CLEANING WINDOWS An old New Yorker piece on skyscraper window cleaners

PRISON BUS CRASH Buzzfeed on a horrific bus crash in America.

STANDING IN THE WAY OF CONTROL New Yorker long read on TMZ gossip website – does it have morals? Should it be praised? Interestingly one titbit from the article is that one of the original names bandied around during its creation was ‘Buzz feed’

WHAT, A PARK? Water parks at Disneyland might seem an odd thing now but when it first opened it was *the* big attraction, now slowly rotting away.

IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE Gay saunas are an alien concept to me, like something from a by gone age though I understand their appeal in an age before apps. There was a documentary on gay saunas on C4 the other day, and the general consensus was it was a bit rubbish so read this article on one sauna’s final hours instead.

CORDENING OFF A CRIME SCENE I know this should technically be in March’s Readlist given the article date but this is a look at James Corden’s success in America. I’m still not entirely sure why the backlash over here in Blighty took place… maybe something to do with the many, many stories Popbitch write about him? Personally, I’m pleased at his success and I’m impressed at how he’s gone someway to reinventing the talk show wheel.

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