Saturday, October 11, 2008

The power of words recalled

One of the most affecting books I've read in recent years is EXTRACTS FROM THE RED NOTEBOOKS, by the English journalist Matthew Engel. It's his personal scrapbook of quotations on many topics, and words spoken by and about some individuals who have shaped our world for good or ill. The saying themselves are often witty, or appalling, but it is their sequencing and juxtaposition that give the book its cumulative punch. The idiocy of Bush Jr, the saccharine ooze of nice Tony, the yapping and flapping of Thatcher and her acolytes, are beautifully caught in a sprinkling of words, none of them wasted. Most of the time, Engel's chosen quotations show a gentle but devastating sense of humour, proving that the power of a joke or an anecdote is largely created by the listener who knows when to laugh, or cry. The book was compiled and published to raise money for teenage cancer (from which his son Laurie Engel died, aged thirteen). It's still on sale at Amazon. See

A sample of EXTRACTS FROM THE RED NOTEBOOKS, quoted from Adam Sisman's biography of A.J.P. Taylor: "One don who had criticized Alan [A.J.P. Taylor] for his journalism was asked to appear on television for the first time. The invitation specified the fee. 'Thank you for your kind invitation, which I am delighted to accept,' replied the don. 'I enclose a cheque for £35.'"


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