Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse

Thinking About It DMAnother slightly out-of-the-ordinary title for me: Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse by David Mitchell.

The book is a collection of columns he has written for the Observer over the past five years. Normally, I’d be a bit cynical about already-published material being given a fancy cover and marketed as something new but in certain cases, I’m willing to put aside my reservations. From what I’ve seen of David Mitchell, I like him. Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look are both witty, and I find him absolutely hilarious on Would I Lie To You? He’s legendary for his rants, but I wasn’t familiar with his columns, so I was pleased to see that they were very much in keeping with what I’d have expected from him. He has a great command over the English language.

In the columns, he writes about everything from his thoughts on the monarchy to celebrity chefs, and everything in between. On the whole, it was enjoyable to read but with a couple of caveats. The first being that in a collection of columns like this, there’ll always be some that work better than others. It’s also not a book that I’d recommend reading from start to finish in one go, as it does get a little bit ‘samey’ after a while.

However, that said, I found myself highlighting an insane number of passages throughout that either made me laugh out loud or go ‘yes! Someone else thinks that too!’ I’ve picked my favourite out to quote here, as they’ll probably give a better idea of what I liked about this book than anything else I could go on about:

[On Downton Abbey]
I’ve seen every single episode. I think it might be my favourite programme. I enjoy it enormously. I also think it’s shit.

[On branding]
It’s like when you start worrying that blue looks yellow to everyone else and that when they say ‘blue’, they’re thinking of yellow, and vice versa. How can you check?

[On the rules of grammar]
If those who misuse the apostrophe are not adversely judged for it, then why did I waste so much time listening in class?

[On television]
There’s no other David Mitchell walking around, who, having eschewed TV, has an imagination unstunted by assiduously following the plot of Dynasty. Unless it’s that pesky novelist.

[Still on the subject of television]
Regurgitate half-remembered facts from your A-level syllabus on a panel show, I’ve found, and you’ll get lumped in with the learned.

[On the popularity of Harry Potter]
Others’ loss of perspective about its merits made me lose my own. Maybe I was trying to lower the average human opinion of the oeuvre close to what it deserves by artificially forcing mine well below that level.

[On politicians]
The intense joy because his opponents have messed up, and so he’s closer to his aims without having to do anything good, made me want to puke.

Reading through the highlighted passages to pick out these quotes actually reminded me of what I liked most about this book. The common theme in all of these columns is that David Mitchell is really taking the time to question some of our most bizarre social conventions. It’s refreshing.

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

100 Year Old Man

Allan interrupted the two brothers by saying that he had been out and about in the world and if there was one thing he had learned it was that the very biggest and apparently most impossible conflicts on earth were based on the dialogue: “You are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid.” The solution, said Allan, was often to down a bottle of vodka together and then look ahead.

The title of this book has interested me since it was first published two years ago, but it’s taken me until now to get around to reading it. I’m delighted that I finally did.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is an absurd but utterly charming book by Jonas Jonasson. It made me smile from beginning to end.

Just before his birthday party is due to start, 100-year-old Allan Karlsson decides that he’s had enough of the retirement home he’s living in with all of its rules and regulations. He climbs out of his bedroom window and heads towards the nearest bus station. On the spur of the moment, he decides to steal a suitcase that was entrusted to him to watch, and that’s where our story begins.

In alternating chapters, we learn about Allan’s life up until now. Over the years, he has, amongst many other things:

  • Saved the life of General Franco from a bomb he planted himself
  • Got drunk on tequila with Harry S. Truman on the night Roosevelt died
  • Saved the wife of Chairman Mao
  • Saved the life of Winston Churchill
  • Asked Stalin if he’d ever considered shaving off his moustache
  • Comforted a ten-year-old Kim Jong Il when he learned about the death of his ‘Uncle’ Stalin
  • Became lifelong friends with Albert Einstein’s less-intelligent brother, Herbert
  • Given Nixon advice on how to use corruption to get ahead politically (which he possibly paid too much heed to)

Despite his extraordinary life, Allan himself is a very ordinary person. All he wants for himself is a bed to sleep in, food to eat, something to do during the day and vodka to drink. His simple desires are what make him so appealing. He has no interest in politics and his only concerns in relation to the people he comes into contact with are how they treat him. For example, the reason he dislikes Stalin is because he shouted at him. Having said that, while he’s innocent in his desires, he’s by no means unintelligent. He also knows how to be crafty and cunning when he needs to be.

Getting such an overview of the major events in the twentieth century through the eyes of Allan Karlsson was an interesting experience and in a way, puts them into perspective. Allan takes no sides, he finds friends of every religion and political affiliation and there is no prejudice in him. He’s baffled by the anti-Semitic and racist people he encounters in his youth, and his reaction on first meeting a black person is disappointment that they’re so ordinary. There isn’t a hint of greed in him and he accepts everything that comes into his life gratefully. He’s endearing, and while he’s naive in some respects, he’s more Odd Thomas than Forrest Gump.

In the present-day, we follow Allan and the suitcase as, on the run, he picks up a motley crew of people that can help him. Well, three people and an elephant called Sonya. On his trail is the original owner of the suitcase and a police officer. Again, this is treated lightly, with near-miss after near-miss, and some great backstory for each of the ‘villains’ of the tale.

Overall, this a light and charming romp, which I really enjoyed reading and would thoroughly recommend.