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About the Author

Vivian Leopold James was born on Oct. 7, 1939, in Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. His father was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the beginning of World War II and died when the American transport plane carrying him back to Australia crashed into Manila Bay.He changed his first name to show more Clive after Vivian Leigh became famous for starring in Gone With the Wind. After graduating from the University of Sydney and working briefly as an assistant editor on The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. James set sail for London in 1962. The first volume of his autobiography, "Unreliable Memoirs", which was published in 1980 and rose to the top of the best-seller list in Britain, described his childhood in Australia. Its sequel, "Falling Towards England", covered, in often painful detail, his mostly unsuccessful attempts to gain traction in London, where he shared a flat with the future filmmaker Bruce Beresford. Pembroke College, Cambridge, came to the rescue, offering him a place. Mr. James did manage to earn a degree and even embarked on a doctoral dissertation. Eric Idle, the future Monty Python star, welcomed him into Footlights, the student theatrical troupe; he became its president. He pressed his poems on every journal available and parlayed his enthusiasm for Hollywood. A scrambling career in literary journalism followed, recounted in "North Face of Soho". His essays were first collected in "The Metropolitan Critic" (1974). Later collections included "At the Pillars of Hercules" (1977) and "From the Land of Shadows" (1982). His television criticism, issued in book form in "Visions Before Midnight" (1977), "The Crystal Bucket" (1981) and "Glued to the Box" (1983), was gathered in a single volume, "On Television," in 1991. Clive Leopold James passed away on Sunday 12/01/2019 in Cambridge, England at the age of 80. show less
Image credit: Clive James

Series

Works by Clive James

Unreliable Memoirs (1980) 1,005 copies
Falling Towards England (1985) 362 copies
May Week Was In June (1990) 239 copies
Latest Readings (2015) 218 copies
Flying Visits (1984) 201 copies
Brilliant Creatures (1983) 182 copies
North face of Soho (2006) 167 copies
Always Unreliable: Memoirs (2004) 157 copies
Snake Charmers in Texas (1988) 156 copies
Brrm Brrm (1991) 119 copies
The Blaze of Obscurity (2009) 105 copies
A Point of View (2011) 93 copies
Sentenced to Life (2015) 92 copies
From the Land of Shadows (1982) 88 copies
Poetry Notebook: 2006-2014 (1864) 82 copies
Fame in the 20th Century (1993) 81 copies
The Silver Castle (1996) 77 copies
The Remake (1987) 72 copies
The Metropolitan Critic (1974) 43 copies
Collected Poems (1848) 39 copies
The River in the Sky (2018) 34 copies
Injury Time (2017) 34 copies
Nefertiti in the Flak Tower (2012) 24 copies
At the Pillars of Hercules (1979) 23 copies
Gate of Lilacs (2016) 19 copies
Poem of the year (1983) 4 copies
Iwerddon (Welsh Edition) (1993) 2 copies
Poetry 1 copy

Associated Works

The Divine Comedy (1308) — Translator, some editions — 21,526 copies
Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks: The Essential Alan Coren (2008) — Introduction — 148 copies
Aunts up the Cross (1965) — Introduction, some editions — 89 copies
Collected Poems 1944-1979 (1979) — Introduction — 64 copies
The Best Australian Essays: A Ten-Year Collection (2011) — Contributor — 29 copies
Off The Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse (2016) — Contributor — 29 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2006 (2006) — Contributor — 23 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2010 (2010) — Contributor — 23 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2007 (2007) — Contributor — 21 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2001 (2001) — Contributor — 20 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2011 (2011) — Contributor — 16 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2003 (2003) — Contributor — 15 copies
The Best Australian Poems 2017 (2017) — Contributor — 15 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2014 (2014) — Contributor — 9 copies
Elders : interviews with Andrew Denton (2010) — Contributor — 5 copies

Tagged

14th century (232) Australia (137) autobiography (271) biography (298) Christianity (175) classic (508) classic literature (118) classics (810) criticism (139) Dante Alighieri (530) Divine Comedy (139) epic (180) epic poetry (159) essays (544) fiction (1,015) heaven (126) hell (186) history (116) humor (254) Italian (424) Italian literature (667) Italian poetry (132) Italy (290) literary criticism (159) literature (843) medieval (246) medieval literature (161) memoir (199) Middle Ages (143) non-fiction (377) philosophy (121) poetry (2,335) Purgatory (161) read (108) religion (406) Renaissance (101) television (108) to-read (946) translation (126) unread (117)

Common Knowledge

Members

Reviews

More years ago than I care to think about, I read and enjoyed the first three volumes of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs. His humour oozed from the page; I could relate to his stories; and I spent much of the time in helpless laughter. My mind's ear related so much of the text in James' inimitable voice. So I was looking forward to this volume.

I'm afraid to say that I was disappointed, though I don't think the reasons were anything to do with Clive James. The first three volumes dealt with his childhood, his adolescence, his decision to move to the UK and his student years. Well, I've done all those (well, I was in the UK already, but like James I moved out into the world, as we have all done). But this book tells the story of how Clive James established his career as a writer and media personality within the milieu of the London literary establishment - and interesting as that is, that's a world I only know at third hand (at best). Interesting, but it doesn't have the same immediacy. And as James has to spend time building the background to the situations he found himself in, and the personalities he was dealing with, the opportunities for wall-to-wall humour are fewer. (They re still there, of course - the opening of chapter 15 had me in stitches - but the fact that I can pinpoint exactly the best bit says a lot.)

That doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with the book; indeed, it's a necessary stage in Clive James telling his own story. And there are valuable lessons in here, about how to handle setbacks, and how to promote cultural events, and how to sell books to publishers. There are many pen portraits of personalities both well-known (Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Peter Sellars, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Tynan) and not so well-known (for example, many of the literary editors that Clive James encountered to get his writing into print). These are interesting, sometimes amusing and always valuable. There is also a fair amount about James' song writing career with Pete Atkin, and he also talks a lot about his poetry.

There are two other things about this book which contributed to my feeling a bit let down by it. Firstly, I'm rather older than when I read the first three volumes, so perhaps my "Gosh! Wow!" reaction has been blunted by time and my own experiences. And we have been deprived of the man's distinctive voice, so that it is no longer so fresh in the memory - hence, less readily recalled to read out his words in my head. Some of his phrases did come to me in his own voice, but it took a greater and more conscious effort.

Do not let this stop you from reading this book. Clive James remains one of the wittiest and most intelligent cultural commentators ever to grace our pages and our screens, and we are the poorer for his passing. I suspect that most of the issues I had with this book came out of my reading it in isolation from his other memoirs. The view James gives of the London literary establishment, of Fleet Street and of the first twenty years of British television are all important and it is good that we have them.
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½
 
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RobertDay | 4 other reviews | Oct 23, 2023 |
Clive James became famous by appearing on television but he did his best work writing about it. I picked this up in an idle moment and had difficulty putting it down again. I also couldn’t stop laughing. James was such a funny critic that he often found himself accused of performing stand-up routines rather than writing criticism. In fact, as demonstrated by this selection of reviews first published in the Observer newspaper in the 1970s, he combined wit and critical insight with rare skill.

His often mesmerising prose was suffused with high intelligence and a refreshing lack of snobbery. James subjected himself willingly to the full sanity-threatening diversity of ‘70s British television and found a deranged sort of enlightenment. He was the first television critic to appreciate that its supposed ephemera could be more entertaining and culturally significant than the alleged ‘quality’ output. He knew that the weather forecaster telling you about the coming storm, with the irritatingly chirpy manner and wildly strobing jacket, the hysterical and barely articulate sports commentators, the hapless continuity announcers unable to get through the shortest of links without fluffing, were the true stars of the medium; they were of television in a way that the passing famous thespians and playwrights were not. He was always quick to praise the well-written sitcom or popular drama serial over the latest pedestrian adaptation of a classic novel. Some concluded that James preferred trash to art, but they were mistaken. He just recognised that TV had its own unique strengths and they had little to do with Great Literature or Art.

For those of us of a certain age and background Visions Before Midnight carries an intoxicating Proustian rush as the once famous and now forgotten names of TV personalities and shows roll by. But there’s more to this book than the dubious if seductive pleasure of nostalgia. What happened on the box was a reflection, however distorted, of what was happening outside it and these wittily perceptive pieces are also valuable cultural history.
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gpower61 | Oct 15, 2023 |
Another wonderful read in this series. Make sure you read [b:Unreliable Memoirs|398913|Unreliable Memoirs|Clive James|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1332737164s/398913.jpg|388360] first. I'm currently studying a bachelors degree for the second time (at age 33). It's so moving to realise that my early experiences at university were not unique, but were common enough that many of my fellow students today must be going through exactly the same thing, only with Facebook.
 
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robfwalter | 2 other reviews | Jul 31, 2023 |
To me, this book is an absolute classic. There were parts where I was unable to read any further because of the tears of laughter in my eyes, but that probably prevented the more serious damage that could have resulted from reading on and laughing even more. However a great book needs more than humour, it needs to mean something, and this book addresses profound themes concerning family, love, confidence, life choices, regret and self-acceptance. I have read this book before, but I was astonished to find so much that I hadn't noticed on any previous reading. The author struggles with feelings of regret and frustration about how he acted as a child and young man, but he also tries to forgive himself for those transgressions. This makes it a very compelling read and it is well served by Clive James' clear prose and perfect comic timing.… (more)
 
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robfwalter | 11 other reviews | Jul 31, 2023 |

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