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review 2020-02-14 23:21
Inspiring pictures of recent UK history
Sheffield in the 1980s: Featuring Images of Sheffield Photographer, Martin Jenkinson (Images of the Past) - Mark Metcalf,Justine Jenkinson

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I worked in Sheffield and lived in the area for almost 10 years and had visited it on occasions as well before that, and although it was long after the 1980s (I arrived in the UK in the early 90s), I was familiar with Martin Jenkinson’s work, had seen some of his iconic photographs of the period, and could not resist the opportunity to sample some more. This was a particularly interesting and intense period in the history of the city, with the closures of many steel and cutlery manufacturing companies, the pit closures in the region, and with many strikes and much social unrest, that Jenkinson recorded in his work. It is impossible to look at his pictures and not wonder about recent events.

This book combines a great selection of images from the period with some background text, that rather than providing lengthy explanations about each image, is organised as an introductory write-up for each one of the sections. Although there isn’t much writing, the brief summaries offer a good overview to people who might not be familiar with the historic-social circumstances of the era and provide a solid context for the fantastic images.

The book is clearly a labour of love from Jenkinson’s daughter, and it includes a foreword by Helen Hague, a reporter who has worked at a number of local and national newspapers and was a personal friend of the photographer, a Tribute, written by Chris Searle, summarising Jenkinson’s career, and a number of sections that help organise the photographic content: Who We Are Exhibition (that was an exhibition at Sheffield’s  Weston Park Museum of Jenkinson’s work, which run from November 2018 to April 2019), Steel (that includes images of strikes, a section on cutlery and silver, one on retail and the public section [including images of women taking up various jobs  that were still an uncommon sight at the time], one on rail freight), Local Government (National and Local Government Officer’s Association [look out for David Blankett], SYCC and fare cuts [about increases to the public transport fares, hotly contested], the Manpower Services Commission [a new programme to fight unemployment, also hotly contested], Campaigns and Protests (People’s March for Jobs, Cutler’s Feast [where Margaret Thatcher was not particularly welcomed, but she went nonetheless], The Miner’s Strike [this is one of my favourite sections and many of Jenkinson’s iconic photographs are featured here], Eversure [a wonderful picture of a wedding couple visiting a picket at the factory where they both work],  the National Abortion Campaign, Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland, Sheffield Campaign Against Racism and Anti-Apartheid, Anti-Nuclear Protests, Sheffield Street Band), Sheffield & Its People (another great section including some pictures of Hillsborough Football Stadium that are impossible to look at without thinking about the later tragedy), a section referring to The Martin Jenkinson Image Library, and a final section of Acknowledgements.

This is not a nostalgic book about the Sheffield of the 1980s, although there are pictures of some very recognisable landmarks, but rather a book about certain aspects of the period and its people, and they show the concerns and interests of a man who had worked in the steel industry and suffered in his own flesh the changes brought by its demise. It’s not a book of pretty pictures, although there are some beautiful images, but that is not the aim. They are pictures that tell a story, and not always a nice one. As Helen Hague says in the foreword: ‘Martin Jenkinson had a gift for capturing the moment.’

The book is packed with black and white pictures chronicling a city and its people in an era of major political, social, and economic changes, and anybody interested in the 1980s in the UK will find plenty to enjoy and to make them think in this book. I know many writers find inspiration in images, and here they will have a field day. In case you want to get an idea of what type of images you might find in the book, you can check the Martin Jenkinson Image Library(here).

A fabulous book for lovers of photography with a social conscience, and for anybody interested in the recent history of Sheffield and of the UK in general.

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review 2013-08-26 00:00
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City - Choire Sicha Review originally posted on Bibliophilia, Please.

Welcome to this week's edition of "When Good Books Go Bad" featuring Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City by Choire Sicha. Yes, that is a bit harsh, but disappointing books are disappointing, and this one really didn't work for me. I enjoy the occasional bit of non-fiction and history is my favorite thing ever, and I was super duper excited to get my hands on Very Recent History. So where did it go wrong?

When I started Very Recent History, I was grinning like an idiot because I was sucked in from the first page. (Seriously, my boyfriend actually took interest in what I was reading for about 17 seconds.) The writing style is clipped and very funny. I could easily imagine it as something that Ford Prefect would write about New York City for other aliens around the universe to read. (I have no problem at all comparing Sicha's writing style to that of Douglas Adams because it is quite good - just no sci-fi.) Anywho, it was quirky and cute, and it kept me smiling for the first fifty pages or so.

Unfortunately it seems, good things cannot last. Where the quirkiness of Very Recent History was endearing at first, it began to get a little tedious. I enjoyed being treated like a non-human visitor doing research on one of Earth's largest cities at first, but it got boring after a while. Dental work, denim jeans, sex, marriage, venereal disease, and the landscape in the city were described in great detail as if the reader had never read about such things before. Again, I grant that it was funny. However, it distracted me from what Sicha was using this style to say. I started to think about other things I could be doing instead of reading - like cleaning house. (That's how I knew it was time to stop.)

Although I quit reading early on in the book, I still appreciate what Sicha was doing with Very Recent History. Though the book was not for me, I recommend it to anyone who likes quirky non-fiction and/or Douglas Adams.

- DNF -

To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received a copy of the novel from the publisher through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an unbiased review. It has in no way affected the outcome. All expressed opinions are awesome, honest, and courtesy of me.
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review 2013-08-08 00:00
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City - Choire Sicha I suffered through this. I found it tedious; it felt like required reading. There were glimpses of what I think would be considered innovative or novel, but the payoff never really came for me. I probably just didn't get it.
Check out the FULL REVIEW on my blog Guiltless Reading
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review 2013-08-03 00:00
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City
Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City - Choire Sicha The narrative moving this narrative non-fiction forward is the story of a group of interconnected young men, most of whom are homosexual and several of whom seem to be bankers or stock brokers. This is the story of their struggle to navigate a big city (never specified, but I’d bet it’s New York) and the vagaries of their financial and romantic situations. Interspersed with this narrative are sections describing society in 2009 as though to someone so far in the future that even the most basic of terms need to be explained.

I loved the parts written as a pseudohistory, explaining our society to someone of the future. Even mundane parts of our lives can be strange or humorous if you really examine them, as this book forces you to do. This part reminded me very much of The Motel of the Mysteries, a book written as though someone was staging an archeological dig at a motel from today some thousands of years in the future. Had this been the entire book, I would happily have given it 4 stars. Unfortunately, these parts got more uncommon as the book progressed until the second half was almost entirely narrative. Additionally, readers should be warned that these fake history sections subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) promoted a definite political view point by imposing value judgements on current society. Even when I agreed with this political commentary, I found it a little annoying because it’s just not what I signed up for when I decided to read this book. Very sneaky, Mr. Sicha.

The narrative part of the book was fascinating, but hard to follow. Of the dozen or so men in the story, five of them had names beginning with J! Now, maybe the author was trying to make a point about people in the big city being interchangeable and if so, kudos to him for an effective literary device. However, this was a choice that made it incredibly difficult for me to remember who was who. Many of the guys were connected because they’d dated the same other guy at some point and that, on top of the similar names, meant that I found the narrative muddled. Had the book been all narrative and no funny historical anecdotes, I would probably have given it two stars. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something very odd and very literary.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.
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