Nicky Pellegrino finds few subjects are safe from Times columnist.
I can only imagine the knots Caitlin Moran must have tied herself in while trying to bring some sort of order to her latest book, Moranthology (Ebury Press, $36.99).
After the success of last year's feminist rant, How To Be A Woman, it made perfect sense for her publishers to capitalise on her popularity by putting out a collection of her columns and features from the Times newspaper. The trouble is that Moran contributes on such an extensive range of topics - from television reviews to politics to celebrity profiles to comic accounts of late-night conversations with her husband. As a result, Moranthology is a hodgepodge of good writing, a sort of literary lucky dip. My mistake was in trying to read it from cover to cover when really it would benefit from being enjoyed as randomly as it seems to be arranged.
Don't get me wrong - there is a lot of good stuff in this something-for-everyone collection. Moran is smart, honest, sparky, opinionated and amusing - all the things that make a good columnist. And the Times seems to have given her pretty much free rein since she began writing for that newspaper 19 years ago.
Moran's first foray into journalism came aged 15 when she was the Observer's young reporter of the year, and she gives an amusing account of her visit to that newspaper's offices followed by ill-fated early attempts at column writing that foundered because at that stage she had nothing to say.
These days Moran has everything to say, much of it hilarious. She kicks off Moranthology with a funny, frothy piece about her ongoing bid to get husband Pete to come up with a pet name for her, followed by one on the perils of caffeinated hot drinks.
But it's not all chuckles. Moran was one of eight kids, raised on a disability benefit in a three-bedroom Wolverhampton council house where she was home-schooled. As a result, although solidly middle-class these days, she leans hard left in her politics. Some of the more serious pieces are a bit too English for us to care about but there is an ardent column on library closures that sadly isn't and a straight-talking piece on the reality of living on a benefit in which she recounts the Moran family television set being taken away halfway through Twin Peaks.
Inevitably there are sections I couldn't have been less interested in: her fawning reviews of TV dramas Sherlock and Dr Who for example, or her opinions on Downton Abbey. Still Moran makes up for it with a sprinkling of idiosyncratic celebrity interviews: encounters with Keith Richards and Paul McCartney, and a big night out with Lady Gaga. The biographical stuff is just as entertaining and confessional as those sections of How To Be A Woman were. From the marijuana addiction that induced panic attacks to her teenage eating habits, Moran is amusing and real.
So why read this book? Well, because it'll get you thinking as well as laughing. And because, thanks to her belief that "the world is, still, despite everything, a flat-out amazing place", Moran's approach to writing about it is generally pretty amazing, too.By Nicky Pellegrino