Monday, 22 August 2016

The Pub - Book Review

For a person that loves pubs as much as I do there can be few more pleasurable reads than a well written book about pubs, especially when the book is illustrated with some of the finest pub photography I have seen to date. The Pub, by well known author Pete Brown, is a stunningly well written and erudite excursion into the pub as a defining British icon, and with a little history and context thrown in, it draws you into the simple fact that a pub is not just a place to sell beer, wines and spirits, but in Pete's own words, "a cultural institution". Pete describes the book as a "personal journey" and while the book only mentions some 350 out of the 50,000 or so pubs in the country, you really do get the feel for why the pub, to many, is regarded with warmth, affection and a probably a touch of living nostalgia.

Now this isn't a small volume. It is coffee table sized, but the size is used to show in both words and photos, what Pete is driving at when he talks about the various pubs he has chosen for this book.  The book has a short introduction from Pete himself, pointing out that your own favourite pub may well be absent and that he has sought to represent the broad diversity and character of pubs, so if yours isn't included, he is sorry, but he had to be firm in achieving something manageable. This makes sense. Instead what you will find is a wonderfully representative selection of pubs and a neat and sensible set of chapters, dividing the pub into types  such as historic pubs; architecturally interesting pubs; coastal pubs; railway pubs and more. Here is the beauty of writing about pubs - you can use your own categories and chop it up in any way you want - and if written well - as this book is - you can be both personal and at the same time speak the familiar language of the pub buff, as well as reaching out to those who simply like to go to pubs on occasion.

Perhaps though the hardest thing of all is to describe in a way that can be easily understood, what pub culture is. Pete takes a bit of time over this and rightly so, for it is the culture of the British pub that makes it what it is. The backdrop may be its history or its architecture, but it is what goes on inside that makes it a pub. Here Pete excels. He "gets" pubs - and not everyone does - and this is reflected in his writing.  He identifies - correctly in my view - that it is that most difficult to pin down aspect, atmosphere that makes the pub what it is and his pubs are chosen to reflect that. No easy task that, but I think it fair to say that Pete has a pretty good bash at it, repeatedly (in a good way and with a sense of astonishment and wonder), describing local characters and landlords in a way that inspires you want to go and experience them yourself. If you don't believe that, read the description of the scene in either the Snowdrop in Lewes or the Hatchet Inn in Andover. Or any of it really.  You can just dip in and out and will find something to love, or a pub you make a mental note to visit sometime in the future.
Following his personal sub-division of pub types, Pete then does a run around the country by region. He astutely recognises that what the British pub is really like "often depends on which part of Britain you are in".  Each area is given a bit of  a pen picture and is then exemplified by picking a number of great pubs to talk about in detail and giving other pubs shorter descriptions under the "Also Try" banner.   It works.  London gets a large chunk of course, possibly reflecting the author's place of residence, though I did feel that the sections on Scotland and Wales could have been beefed up a little.

But these are minor points. Pete Brown's use of simple words, elegantly put and the clear enthusiasm for his subject, together with his sharp and witty observations, make this a book I recommend unreservedly. The superb photography is a wonderful bonus.

The Pub is published in hardback by Jacqui Small.  Price £22.00 

And for those interested in such things, Pete Brown is most assuredly a Pub Man.


John Clarke said...

Can I use this in Opening Times please? Usual acknowledgements etc.

py said...

Did you get it from Waterstones or off Amazon?

Tandleman said...

Py. Don't be an arse. It was free. Why else would I write such nice things?

py said...

I was just wondering how easy it was to obtain. What would you have said about it if you had paid £22 like everyone else?

Tandleman said...

Exactly what I said before. Funnily enough when you get sent books you don't have to review them.

Now piss off out of it before I bar you like others have done.

py said...

Most reviewers disclose whether they got a freebee. Bar away, probably best you bar anyone who doesn't agree with you. That's the point of blogs like this, isn't it, a vast echo chamber of old middle class white men riddled with group think.

Tandleman said...

I don't do this for freebies and turn down far more than I ever accept. As for disclosure sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Don't care either way as freebies are such a rarity.

Others make a living from this stuff and have to tread a thinner line. UP to them.

As long as I comply with group think then I'm fairly safe I reckon.

So don't worry about being barred just yet. I'll toy with you a while longer from within my cloak of anonymity.

But I might surprise you yet. And soon.