Friday, 26 July 2013

Books and Stuff (the stuff being surprisingly topical)

A regular round-up of my book news.

What I've been reading this week...

I finished reading Harry Pearson, Achtung Schweinehund! A Boys' Own Story of Imaginary Combat.

Now this is a book that's been doing the rounds as recommendations are spread by word of blog.  I bought it after reading the review by Michael Awdry at 28mm Victorian Warfare and, as he cites the reviews that prompted him to read it, those interested in internet tropes and memes could track it down to Reviewer  Zero.  I'm not proposing to do that, but if you do and it's an interesting exercise, do blog and let me know about it!  The majority of the reviews have been positive (I'll get on to the exceptions later).

The book is a personal and funny account of growing up in 1960s and 70s England, surrounded by relatives who'd served in the World Wars and reading Commando comics, playing with toy guns, making military models and other war-like pursuits (he's at pains to stress that these are all imaginary and that neither these games or his later interest glorify or detract from the terrible realities of war).  On the way he branches off into the history of the manufacture of toy soldiers, Airfix and Action Man/GI Joe.  It's all great fun and a rather enjoyable nostalgia-fest (even for someone like me, who's a bit younger, never made models and didn't have an Action Man).

Unsurprisingly, the boy grew into a man interested in wargaming.  Now this is where it may be a little contentious.  I believe that it's a purely generational thing (and hardly a surprise given what we've read so far), but Pearson turns into a fanatically Historical Wargamer and is truly disdainful when it comes to fantasy wargaming (and by implication Sci-Fi, though he never bring himself to mention it) and role-playing games.  Some bloggers have taken issue with this, and certainly as we've seen in recent days over that silly article in the Telegraph, it can hit a nerve.  And this is before he gets onto LARPS and re-enactors!  I see it as his own personal stance: like it or not, it what he thinks and, as it's his book, he can say it as he likes.  Personally, I still find the stereotypes he trots out to be funny and do detect a knowing eye winking at me as he does so (again, compare it to the Telegraph article, which was just ill-informed and too-clever-by-quarter).

But this is only a symptom of a larger problem in the book, which comes out when Pearson goes into the history of wargaming (a section which I found fascinating - but then I like that sort of thing).  Pearson obviously feels that there was a Golden Age of wargaming in England: not when it was the pursuit of the social elite and professional soldier, but the 1950s and 1960s when wargamers were men who had served in the wars, all seemed to know each other by name, had colourful feuds and found it devilishly hard to get hold of figures.  Unsurprisingly (because that's how nostalgia works folks!), this was the period Pearson 'just missed out on' but he knows people 'who were there'.  So of course Pearson doesn't like Orcs  or the Lovecraft Mythos [in passing, I'm surprised that he doesn't quote what CS Lewis is supposed to have said at one of Tolkein's famous readings to the Inklings - "Not another fucking elf!"].  He's happiest  re-playing Napoleonic battles on thirty-foot tables over four days with thousands of figures correctly (ie, 'authentically') painted.  Not for him pitching an handful of investigators against zombies...

I would heartily recommend his book: it's funny and an good read.  It's probably best if you're 45 or over and don't the piss being taken out of your hobbies.  When it comes down to it, this is a book about nostalgia - and the wargaming section is just as nostalgic as the bit where he's using his granny's walking stick as a sub machine gun.

What I've bought this week...

Iain M Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata - £2.99

Martin Gilbert, Winston S Churchill: Vol III, 1914-1916 - £1.99


  1. Sounds like a good read. And you seem to be quite the bargain hunter.

    1. I've got enough time on my hands to scour the charity shops...

      The Iain Banks was from The Works if anyone's interested.

  2. I have the Martin Gilbert series. It was in my Dad's effects after he passed. Have not had the time to get to it yet. Great review. I may have to check out his book.

    1. Great stonking books, aren't they?

      My local Oxfam has the volumes up to 1945 (including the Randolph Churchill ones and companion volumes) in very good condition. I'm buying them for stock, but I wanted this one for myself as it covers his time at the Admiralty.

  3. A perfectly balanced review Edwin and I'm pleased that you enjoyed the book; one is always vary of recommending something so strongly. I have to agree wholeheartedly with your observation about nostalgia and the book been of its time; I'm sure that there will be others who tell similar but different stories in the years to come.

    1. Yes, as I wrote the bit about all the wargamers knowing each other by name and having colourful feuds, it made me think about the blogosphere!

      I wonder what people will write of our time...

      As it is, I sometimes find myself talking to people about the Internet in the early 90s.


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