Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am excited about a book. (Amazingly, not my own.) I mean: I am excited about the buying, sending off for, and waiting for arrival of, a new book.

I used to get hysterical almost every month about some new book or other. (You may imagine I was quite tiring during this period.) There was a new Rose Tremain, AS Byatt, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie, Lorrie Moore, Muriel Spark, Jay McInerney, Sebastian Faulkes-rhymes-with-jokes (the only way to remember the correct pronunciation). I would be banging down the door of the bookshop.

Now, that does not seem to happen. I have moved away from fiction, for a reason I cannot quite identify. It might be age; it might be that I am writing non-fiction; sometimes I think the world is too strange for made-up stories, just at the moment.

It's probably just a phase, but it coincides with some of my favourite writers going through a bit of a flat patch. It's a little unfair to expect novelists to go on dazzling and dazzling, year after year. If you have written Midnight's Children, you can't just clone that, over and over. Money and The Information should be enough, in a way. Birdsong was such an extraordinary book that I still remember finishing it, in a small, white-washed room, high up in a crumbling French house, looking out over cypress groves, and having to be late for dinner, because it took half an hour to compose myself. One should not demand that level of brilliance, endlessly repeated.

But now I am excited. This may be a terrible blatant show of middle age, but I am thrilled because the book is a mighty stand against jargon. It does not sound that dizzying, written like that, in a short, flat sentence. But it's one of the things I care about now. It's The Banned List, by John Rentoul, and it takes up the banner put down by Orwell, in 1946, and carries it swinging over the barricades. I am counting the days until the man from Amazon arrives.

Rentoul, a columnist I could not admire more, started it as a bit of a joke. It was a small blog, hidden away in The Indy. I think he just got fed up with everyone on the radio talking about 'going forward' (as opposed, presumably, to racing backward), and 'year on year', and 'at this point in time'. Rather than just muttering about it and shouting at the wireless, he began a crusade. Readers got excited and started sending in their own pet loathes. All platitudes, management-speak, cliché, jargon and other exhausted tropes and idioms were taken out behind the bike shed and duffed up. It was magnificent. It took on a wild life of its own.

And now it is a book, and I can't wait. I might not have a solution for the sovereign debt crisis or the Euro smash or the stuttering state of GDP, but I can join in the battle against rotten prose. And now I shall have a handbook to do it.


No pictures today. Even though words are my business, and my daily love, I have none good enough to express the level of bleakness, blackness, dreichness and dreariness of the weather outside. It is as if someone has emptied a bowl of old washing up water over my head. Everything looks old and grubby.

So here a couple from the archive:

24 Oct 4

24 Oct 5-1

25 Oct 1

24 Oct 2


24 Oct 10-1

The hill, which has not actually been visible these last four days:

24 Oct 11.ORF

This is what the thrilling book looks like:

 Banned list

Sorry for rather blurred photograph, but at least you know what to look for in your local, independent bookshop. Or, if you are out in the sticks like me, with straw in your hair, you can find it at Amazon here.


  1. There is nothing quite like getting a book you're excited for - enjoy!

  2. I must get that book! I feel that blogging makes me write in cliches! And when I'm tired I often lapse into them in speech! I even use them in punctuation, note the use of the exclamation mark!!

  3. Guilty as charged! But cliches are my little helpers - I work as interpreter/translator and sometimes do pretty high profile gigs. I use cliches and platitudes of this kind to establish rapport with my client or listener. As soon as they get what they expect they kind of gloss over the rest and go to sleep, metaphorically speaking. They are also useful for getting out of a sticky situation - like a smoke screen. I should really buy this book and learn the ones I don't know yet!

  4. This John Rentoul doesn't seem exactly popular with his readers on blogs.independent.co.uk though?

  5. Kim - thank you.

    Trifle Rushed - actually, I am quite fond of some cliches (sorry, comment box won't allow accents), but it is the vapid, empty language I hate, esp that of the boardroom.

    Sabina - that's so interesting. And there is nothing like a well-loved figure of speech.

    Johanna - that is nothing to do with language, but everything to do with being a Blairite. Rentoul still sticks up for Tony Blair, who is loathed by most Indy readers. So that's a rather old family argument.

  6. This seems like a good book for over Christmas. I shall look it out.

  7. @Tania: Ah, thank you. These things aren't always immediately clear to a foreigner like me ;-)

  8. Holy cow, amazon/u.s. is sold out, and I don't know the sellers offering "gently used" copies (the book's been out only since 10.10.11). Must lay hands on a copy of this book; I want to smack those (myself included) who are so lazy as to rely on regurgitated phraseology. Makes me itch.

    I've been playing catch-up on "Backwards," and I was caught by your reference to leafless trees as shy. Made me smile, for my darling daughter (now a woman of 40-some years) used to say the late autumn trees looked "poor" without their leaves. She said it made her sad. A good tickle usually made her happy again, but I always think "poor" when the leaves drop. Now I shall have to add "shy" to my list of autumn descriptives.

    As always, thanks, Tania.


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